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America’s Weak Spot: A Look Into Our Overreliance on a Monopolistic Social Media Giant

Updated: Mar 25

On October 4, I began my day in a frustrated huff. My Facebook messenger—down. WhatsApp—inaccessible. Instagram—wiped off the face of the planet! Facebook and its subsidiaries were shut down for nearly six agonizing hours, disrupting the work of countless businesses and the social lives of media-obsessed Americans. This exposed a glaring weak spot in the American fabric: an overreliance on social media and the concentration of much of the world’s communications in the hands of one powerful business conglomerate, Meta Platforms, Inc.


The outage was further aggravated by recent revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who alleged negligence in eliminating violence and misinformation from the platform. The former Facebook employee claims that the media giant favors profits and power over eliminating hate speech and other such threats to its users. The shutdown added more fuel to the raging fire.


Meta, the social metaverse company owning Facebook, stepped in and reassured the public that the shutdown was not due to a cyber attack but rather due to a configuration change in their systems. The company’s systems were no longer able to communicate with each other, locking even Facebook’s employees out of their emails. All business operations came to a standstill, with effects felt across digital commerce, small businesses, nonprofits and political organizations. 


The reach of social media is incomprehensibly expansive. Facebook boasts approximately 2.89 billion users worldwide, making it the biggest social network on the planet. Roughly 297 million of these users reside in the United States. To amplify the scope of the shutdown, more than 200 million businesses (internationally) use Facebook's business tools to connect with their customers. Not to mention the 2 billion monthly WhatsApp users and the 500 million daily users of Instagram stories. 


The media giant holds numerous media platforms and subsidiaries under its business umbrella, the most prominent of these being WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus VR. However, the true number of Facebook’s acquisitions is much higher. Its expansive reach has led to allegations by the Federal Trade Commission that Facebook is a monopoly illegally steamrolling over its competitors. Sweeping up WhatsApp and Instagram for nearly 20 billion dollars has created a Big Tech dynasty that is much more difficult to control.  Indeed, the bigger Facebook gets, the closer it flies to the sun, the harder it falls—as witnessed by the world on October 4. 


It is haunting to realize how deeply intertwined Americans’ social lives are with Facebook, seeing as the conglomerate owns a significant number of our most popular media applications. Yet, we must also remember how much the rest of the world relies on Facebook’s services, with the outage being felt severely in countries that benefit from WhatsApp as an alternative to SMS messaging.


WhatsApp’s combined user base in India and Brazil alone comes close to half a billion, and the shutdown shook the foundation of many using WhatsApp as a critical tool for business and in-app payments. The full financial effect of the shutdown on businesses is not yet known, but we can assume it was devastating for many.


With our reliance on Facebook brought into sharp relief, and our precarious position in an increasingly digital society violently exposed, how do we proceed? One thing is clear—we can confidently call Facebook a near-monopoly. The conglomerate has gobbled its competitors, holds billions of daily users in the palm of its hand and engages in anticompetitive behavior. If our social lives, finances and businesses are held by Facebook, our hands are quite literally tied.


A few years ago, a coalition of 48 states and districts led by New York’s Attorney General Laetitia James accused Facebook of quashing smaller competitors in a major antitrust lawsuit. If we are to take guidance from this motion that crosses state and party lines, the call for Facebook’s breakup will become even more sustained and coordinated over time. We are witnessing a turning of the tide wherein government and public opinion are souring against Facebook and Big Tech. Let us hope that we will one day live in a world that isn’t dominated by one, all-powerful media conglomerate.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s).


Sources


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Dean, Brian. “How Many People Use Instagram? 95+ User Statistics (2022).” Backlinko, 5 Jan. 2022, https://backlinko.com/instagram-users. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.


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Dixon, S. “Facebook MAU worldwide 2022.” Statista, 13 Apr. 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.


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Franklin, Jonathan, and Bill Chappell. “Why Facebook and Instagram went down for hours on Monday.” NPR, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/05/1043211171/facebook-instagram-whatsapp-outage-business-impact. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.



Ibrahim, Nur, and Nasreen Ibrahim. “What Caused the October 2021 Facebook Outage?” Snopes, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.snopes.com/news/2021/10/05/cause-facebook-outage-2021/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.


“List of mergers and acquisitions by Meta Platforms.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Facebook. Accessed 18 Apr. 2023.


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