Amidst a rough couple of weeks for Facebook, there are now renewed calls to break up the social media giant, but Facebook Files whistleblower Frances Haugen thinks this will not solve issues with the platform.
Facebook was thrown into the spotlight in early September when the Wall Street Journal began publishing a series of damning revelations about the platform based on internal documents shared by Haugen. This reporting led to a Senate hearing at the end of the month where the company’s safety chief was questioned for a grueling two and half hours on the impact Facebook products have on the mental health of teens. A couple of days later, Haugen appeared before the Senate where she said that the company should declare “moral bankruptcy” and shared her opinion on how the platform should be regulated.
But what really renewed the calls for a breakup of the platform was when Facebook’s family of products — including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger – went down for nearly six hours between October 4 and 5 in an unprecedented outage affecting billions of users and millions of businesses. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014 and bought Instagram for $1 billion two years before that. The outage shed light on how the integration of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram made these platforms vulnerable to single points of failure.
Renewed calls for the breakup of Facebook
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was vocal in her calls for breaking up of big tech during her campaign to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, responded to the outage tweeting concisely:
We should break up Big Tech.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) October 4, 2021
US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has supported Warren in her stance, tweeted:
If Facebook’s monopolistic behavior was checked back when it should’ve been (perhaps around the time it started acquiring competitors like Instagram), the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp & IG for either communication or commerce would be fine right now. Break them up.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 4, 2021
NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden echoed similar thoughts:
Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram all going down at the same time sure seems like an easily-understandable and publicly-popular example of why breaking up a certain monopoly into at least three pieces might not be a bad idea.
Somebody should tell Elizabeth Warren.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 4, 2021
And earlier in August, the US Federal Trade Commission filed an amended complaint against Facebook in which it once again argued for the divestment of Instagram and WhatsApp. The company on October 5 filed its second motion to dismiss this lawsuit.
But Haugen argues this is not the solution
In her wide-ranging testimony that lasted over three hours, Haugen was asked if breaking up the tech giant would help solve any of its issues. “I’m actually against the breaking up of Facebook,” she replied.
“If you split Facebook and Instagram apart, it’s likely most of the advertising dollars go to Instagram, while Facebook continues to be this Frankenstein” with not enough resources to moderate harmful content, Haugen said. “These systems are going to continue to exist and be dangerous even if broken up,” Haugen added.
She then elaborated on her answer by explaining how the problem with Facebook fundamentally boils down to the design of algorithms and breaking up the company would not address this problem because the same engagement-based algorithms would create similar issues among the broken-up companies.
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