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article imageOp-Ed: Is breaking up Facebook a good idea? Maybe not.

By Paul Wallis     Jan 24, 2019 in Internet
Menlo Park - Advocacy groups have been quick to launch a campaign to break up Facebook for various violations, and perceived violations, of law. The problem is that smaller versions of Facebook are no guarantee of any sort of improvement, or better enforcement.
The argument for breaking up Facebook goes as follows:
1. Failure to disclose how personal information was used by Facebook.
2. Consumer data breaches of various kinds.
3. The belated outrage over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the horror story of neuromarketing, which directly impacted the US 2016 election.
4. Antitrust (anti-monopoly) legal issues.
5. General abuse of Facebook’s market position.
Let’s take a slightly closer look at these issues:
1. Personal information usage disclosures are rarely much more than general in nature. More to the point - Disclosures never refer to the issue of actual data access, which is far more important than ad tracking. Who hacks in to Facebook, not just Facebook, is much more relevant.
2. Personal data usage anomalies are everywhere. Have you ever heard anyone NOT mention ads following them around? That’s the rough edge of what this is about. Tracking is done by everybody.
3. Now defunct Cambridge Analytica isn’t Facebook. Cambridge Analytica had never happened before, and nobody was ready for it. How Cambridge Analytica, a mere tool for political ends, used data, and how it acquired that data, are at the heart of these issues. Posting memes and political hysteria, etc., isn’t actually illegal, so how was Facebook expected to instantly understand and penetrate the operations of that sleazy little group of Alt Right lunatics?
4. Antitrust? How do you stop your company from being popular? This isn’t some utility company like AT&T. Nobody HAS to use Facebook. There’s no compulsion to be on the site, with plenty of alternatives available.
5. Facebook’s market position is a major issue, but not because it’s Facebook. Are they expected to not use this huge user base to generate revenue? How would that impact everyone else?
Nobody, including Facebook, is saying Facebook is perfect, or that it couldn’t do a lot of things better. Nor is anyone who’s ever followed Facebook’s various adventures and misadventures for any length of time.
The company has repeatedly been behind the eight ball in some far more critical areas, like:
• Online bullying.
• Harassment.
• Ongoing risks of data vulnerability.
• Phishing, scams, etc.
• Facebook’s ability to manage the above issues in real time.
Break up Facebook in to what?
The proposed breakup of Facebook has another weak point or several, and they’re pretty obvious.
• In to what, exactly, is the company to be broken up?
• This is a publicly listed company, traded on the market. What happens to equities?
• How does anyone know whatever new form the company takes won’t be equally, or perhaps more, vulnerable? At least Facebook is big enough to deliver security fixes for so many users.
• What safeguards for consumers are actually viable? Replacing one big problem with a few more slightly smaller problems isn’t an answer.
The other huge hole in this argument is even more glaring. Does anyone really believe social media culture will change, simply because someone reshuffles the platforms? That’s not just naïve, it’s suicidal, if you’re seriously trying to achieve real improvements. Better to have one big mess where you can see it and do something about it, than some smashed vase of a situation where you can only pick up the thousands of fragments one at a time.
I just don’t buy the argument that Facebook itself is the root cause of the issues, or that breaking up the company answers any of them:
• In terms of wilful breaches - How much expensive crap would Facebook be deliberately trying to inflict on itself? Doesn’t make much sense.
• Why does anyone assume the big dollar potential legal liabilities in some of these user issues like potential class actions can be managed by smaller entities?
• How simple minded would you have to be to believe that breaking up Facebook somehow cures all the problems of social media?
I think this is both an overreaction, and the wrong reaction. Facebook is the public face of all the issues with social media, not the cause. Think hard before you create a train wreck and simply open up more venues for the online parasites.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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