I am the founder of MeWe, the ad-free social network with data privacy and without content amplification or newsfeed manipulation. MeWe competes directly with Facebook.
On June 27, 2019, I wrote an op-ed in this newspaper titled “I am in competition with Facebook and it is not a monopoly”.
On August 6, 2021, I was contacted by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which, along with the Federal Trade Commission, is conducting an antitrust investigation on Facebook in 46 states. On June 28, a previous case was dismissed by a federal judge, who said states had failed to prove Facebook to be a monopoly. The FTC filed an amended complaint on August 19, which listed MeWe as one of the few Facebook competitors to stand. At the same time, the attorneys general are asking for an appeal and my point of view. Facebook has responded by denying that it is a monopoly and by calling the FTC lawsuit “without merit”.
I changed my mind. MeWe continues to be successful, albeit on a modest scale. Two years ago, the platform had five million users and no income. Today, it has nearly 20 million users and is breaking even with millions of dollars in revenue. Yet despite MeWe’s growth, Facebook’s troubling actions over the past two years have caused me to change my stance, for six reasons.
First, on July 28, 2021, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook will transform over the next five years from a social media company to a “Metaverse company”. Facebook plans to spend billions of dollars and use virtual reality technology from Oculus and other companies it has acquired to create a three-dimensional digital universe. Facebook expects everyone to be fully immersed in the Facebook ecosystem at all times. No upstart has the advanced technologies, infrastructure, resources, and massive user base to build a competing “Metaverse”. It will be the crowning glory of Facebook’s dominance.
Second, on July 14, Facebook announced plans to pay content creators more than $ 1 billion by the end of next year to post original content on Facebook and Instagram owned by Facebook. By comparison, TikTok, the world’s most downloaded non-Facebook social app, gives creators up to $ 200 million for original content, or just 20% of Facebook’s content budget.
Content is the backbone of a social network; modestly funded social media companies cannot compete for creators and their content at this price range. These creators have every reason to avoid small platforms, because an offended Facebook can reduce their reach and their payments.
Third, on October 25, 2019, Facebook introduced Facebook News, a new section of its platform for news. Facebook has worked with hundreds of major news organizations around the world and pays many of them for their content. This presents the possibility of a really problematic quid pro quo. Facebook could refuse to renew its payment agreements or remove the reach and distribution of such media if their content includes articles that are unfavorable to it. Alternatively, Facebook could reward and boost news companies and articles endorsed by Facebook. In February, Facebook banned all media in Australia after Canberra threatened to charge Facebook a news fee. According to Pew Research, about a third of Americans get their news from Facebook.
Fourth, when Facebook is unable to buy an emerging competitor, it sets out on the warpath to destroy the threat. Break Inc.
created a dossier titled “Project Voldemort” documenting Facebook’s anti-competitive behavior. According to the report, Facebook not only cloned the functionality of Snapchat, but discouraged content creators from mentioning Snapchat and blocked its content trending on Facebook. MeWe has also documented reports of people whose Facebook posts mentioning MeWe have been deleted or flagged as spam.
Fifth, the glue that holds it all together is Facebook’s monopoly on data. Its ownership and control of the personal information of Facebook users and non-users is unmatched. With this control, the social media giant can manipulate our thoughts, votes, and purchasing decisions. Yael Eisenstat, a former CIA officer turned Facebook consultant, said, “Facebook knows you better than the CIA ever will. . . . Facebook knows more about you than you know about yourself.
The CEO of Cambridge Analytica even bragged about having data points and psychological profiles, courtesy of Facebook, on the 220 million American adults. Facebook’s data treasures give it unparalleled knowledge about people, governments and its competitors. Facebook even acquired a VPN app called Onavo to monitor iPhone users and track competing apps. Onavo was finally kicked from the App Store for violating Apple‘s
Sixth, 3.14 billion people use products owned by Facebook, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. It is almost half of the human population. Despite the recent fury over Instagram children, now temporarily “suspended”, Facebook is already targeting children aged 6 to 12 with its Messenger Kids application. That’s Facebook’s plan: to keep everyone, regardless of age, immersed in Facebook products throughout their lives.
While social media companies like MeWe, Snapchat, and Twitter can reach hundreds of millions of users, Facebook’s market power and monopoly behavior prevent any social network from challenging its leadership position. Facebook’s giant footprint and its anti-competitive actions (buying newcomers or cloning their features) are preventing countless startups and potential competitors from having a chance at success.
So I changed my mind. Facebook is a monopoly unlike the world has ever seen. It has more power to influence, manipulate, and change thoughts, opinions, votes, and purchasing decisions on a global scale than any nation or government. It has an army of lobbyists who hinder effective regulation or oversight.
What to do? Decoupling Facebook from Instagram, WhatsApp, and other apps it owns probably won’t be enough. They would all work in tandem with the same underlying modus operandi. They would operate in the same data ecosystem, in which data from social media users is shared with advertisers and marketers across all platforms. Facebook breakup could even follow the same fate as AT&T Corp.
, which was divided by federal regulators into “bells” in 1984, only to have merged many of its parts over the years.
More privacy laws and regulations are unlikely to solve the problems either. Facebook repeatedly claims to support and defend privacy rules, which it ignores and then violates. The company then pays the fines it incurs as a “cost of doing business”. One example: In 2019, the company announced that it would pay a $ 5 billion settlement for violating a consent decree with the FTC that required the company to better protect the personal data of its users.
A new approach to antitrust regulation is needed to meet this challenge. The independence of content creators and news producers must be protected from Facebook’s wrath and retaliation, perhaps with regulations that protect media and creators from harmful retaliation actions. Facebook’s stranglehold on data cannot simply be regulated. It must be overthrown. There needs to be new support for startups and the free market, such as content portability, new grants, tax breaks and other incentives, as well as unhindered protection and extended protection of the responsibility of article 230. Competition is more than ever necessary to slow down the domination of Facebook on social networks, news, personal data and democracy.
In a recently leaked recording, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer described a new device the company is building that will allow it to scan our brains and read our minds without us having to speak. or to type a word. What could possibly go wrong?
Mr. Weinstein is founder and president of MeWe.
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