While the internet has spent the day gleefully lambasting the fact that Facebook and its other properties are currently down, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has highlighted a darker side to the blackout: It’s a reminder of the tech giant’s stranglehold over the internet landscape — and the damage that does to U.S. democracy and to countries around the world.
It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy 🧐
Remember: WhatsApp wasn’t created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it 💬 https://t.co/dGVwza9leR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 4, 2021
AOC added to the sentiment, writing: “It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy. Remember: WhatsApp wasn’t created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it. … 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.”
Ocasio-Cortez was retweeting Forbes editor José Caparroso, who on Monday wrote: “Latin America lives on WhatsApp. I am surprised by so many people underestimating how catastrophic this downfall has been.”
It should be noted that there are other messaging apps, like Viber, that are still functional, but it’s a noteworthy sentiment as the tech giant faces an antitrust lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission. On Monday, the tech conglomerate filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying that there is no evidence that the company has violated any antitrust laws. The judge overseeing the case has until mid-November to respond.
Facebook has continually used its vast cash reserves to absorb potential competitors, giving Mark Zuckerberg’s company tendrils across the internet. The company’s dominance also means that its content moderation policies — set by a company with its eye seemingly on its bottom line, rather than public benefit — can have major consequences for the national discourse. Those rules, and Facebook’s role in setting them, have become increasingly important as foreign and domestic groups exploit them to spread misinformation and propaganda.
Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp have been down since noon Monday, likely due to an issue with Facebook’s Domain Name System, which is basically the phonebook of the internet. Bloomberg reports that founder Mark Zuckerberg has lost $6 billion in personal wealth since then; the stock has plummeted as well. Per Bloomberg, Zuck’s fortune has shriveled to $121.6 billion, or about the GDP of Angola.