Should Social Media Conglomerates Be Broken Up For Public Good?

The CEO of Facebook is far from being the most-liked person in the tech world. He is, however, very much a household name in 2021. Unlike the beloved yet mysterious Tom from Myspace, whose goofy grin graced the friends’ list of every user in the mid-’00s, Mark Zuckerburg has repeatedly broken his userbase’s trust since the launch of what was initially dubbed “TheFacebook” in 2004. Through questionable tactics, Zuckerbug grew the company quickly and bought up any potential competition along the way. 

Today, Facebook is an $800 billion company, boasting more than a third of the world’s population as monthly users of its many apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram. But regardless of how much the company has grown since its inception, Zuckerburg never quite seems satisfied. 

It has been nearly a year since the U.S. government and 48 attorneys general filed landmark antitrust lawsuits against Facebook. The lawsuits aim to break up the social networking giant, citing that it engaged in illegal, anti-competitive tactics to buy, bully, and kill any current or potential rivals. But, breaking up the beast this company has grown into is no easy feat— neither legally nor logistically. 

It took years for Facebook to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram, which the company purchased in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Although they may appear to function as separate products, all three apps are very much blended on the back end. Ad systems, user profiles, databases, and other technologies are now almost fully integrated, making any possibility of breaking up Facebook’s conglomerate of apps an extremely complicated and time-consuming demand. 

The technical blending of these apps was part of Zuckerburg’s dream for seamless communication across platforms. Sounds harmless enough, sure, but what went on behind the scenes to make Zuckerburg’s dream a reality sounds far more like a living nightmare than anything else. According to several anonymous sources who have spoken up, integrating WhatsApp and Instagram was the source of constant internal drama, and Zuckerburg’s tactics to acquire companies were as controversial as they can get. 

Officials accuse Facebook of being an illegal monopoly, claiming the company obstructed innovation while engaging in anti-competitive behavior. In their 123-page complaint, state officials included an anecdote involving Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom. Systrom had sought advice from a company investor after Facebook offered the co-founder $1 billion to sell his company in 2012. Whether or not Systrom even wanted to sell to Zuckerburg seemed almost irrelevant, as he believed Zuckerburg would “go into destroy mode if I said no.” Unfortunately, it appears hundreds of start up founders have similar stories to share: sell or be destroyed.  

Being a bully, per se, is not exactly a crime. Plenty of tech bros have earned their surly reputations over the last few decades, and Zuckerburg is no exception. But the tactics through which he has acquired or destroyed his competition are the issue. How Facebook has limited innovation and the growth of small businesses sparked the debate of whether or not this social media giant has monopolized the industry. 

But the facts are clear: in buying their rivals, Facebook engaged in monopolistic behavior. There should be no argument there. The lawsuit Facebook faces is similar to the one currently against Google, and a recent, rather aggressive congressional report recommends Apple and Amazon be broken apart as well. But is this actually the beginning of the downfall for these tech goliaths? It’s pretty tough to say at the moment. 

While mounting evidence against Facebook reveals Zuckerburg’s intentions to monopolize the social media space by buying rivals and damaging competitors, many believe this is an uphill battle for prosecutors. Yes, it’s encouraging to see the government is seeking to break up Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. But their efforts will be met with an immense amount of resistance, both from the companies and from the public, and a seemingly unlimited amount of funds and resources to drag this out in court for as long as possible. And during the years it could take for any government goals to come to fruition, the titans of the tech world will continue with their plans. 

Should prosecutors get their way and a dismantling of these conglomerates is officially on the table, the actual process of doing so could take years. While that could certainly be considered a deterrent, the length of time and complexity is irrelevant. At the end of the day, policymakers and judges have to do what’s best for supporting fair markets and preserving democracy, regardless of whether or not it’ll cause headaches for those involved.