Brussels (Brussels Morning) Does Monday’s tech giant outage show a need for competitiveness reform on social media monopolies?
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all shut down for several hours on Monday, causing global panic, billions of lost sales, huge cuts in share values, and concerns of monopolistic dependence.
The internet giants—all owned by Facebook—simultaneously failed to load for several hours. DNS problems are being blamed for the meltdown by Facebook officials.
The cost was vast. Facebook’s value dropped by 50 billion dollars, endless sales for small-to- medium businesses that would usually be made via social media platforms were not realised, and emergency contact details were rendered unavailable for many.
In countries where social media offer the only way to access news and communication with the outside world, Myanmar for example, citizens were left completely in the dark.
People in more fortunate, developed countries were forced to take a brief step back—to realize just how over-reliant they have become on social media for communication among friends or colleagues, and, unsurprisingly, as a source of cheap entertainment. The pause for reflection didn’t last long however, nor, apparently, did it have a significant effect either. Twitter, which remained up and running, reported record high numbers of users.
“Hello literally everyone”, tweeted the Twitter admin account.
But beyond the immediate inconveniences, the implicit effects of the outage have caused some to question whether society is over-reliant on Facebook’s monopolistic reign.
Calls for a break-up
On Monday, whistleblower extraordinaire Edward Snowden tweeted: “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,” he added.
And sure enough, Warren, a Democrat senator who focuses on consumer protection and economic opportunity issues, tweeted shortly after: “We should break up big tech.”
This is not the first time “big tech” has come under scrutiny. In 2021, the US Congress held a publicly broadcasted meeting with the heads of Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon. The purpose was to unveil monopolistic behaviour and to prevent unfair control over the market.
The result of the hours-long meeting, where the heads of the online powerhouses responded with drawn-out, ambiguous answers, did not change society’s entrenched dependence on the online platforms. There were some updated regulations for GDPR laws but other than that, their uncompetitive reign was not decentralised.
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for 1 billion dollars.
In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for 22 billion dollars, which equaled 55 dollars per user at the time.
In 2020, the Chinese-owned social media platform Tik Tok—which is a direct competitor to Instagram—was banned in the US for supposed political reasons. Directly after this, Instagram released “Reels”, which essentially serves the exact same function as Tik Tok.
Outrage online, and in some forced cases, in real life, reveal a bottom line in modern society—namely, the futility of regulating policy when it comes to tech monopolies. Breaking up is hard to do.