Recently Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, took to CNN to declare that he believed it was time to break up the social media behemoth. He described an epiphany he underwent in which he came to realise that platforms such as social media are not simply bringing to the surface human tendencies to argue ferociously with one another about various issues, political or otherwise, but that social media itself is designed to create that conflict. This is the nature of the news feed algorithm, he said.
He likewise touched on the extremely controversial Cambridge Analytica scandal in which Facebook was found to have had the personal data of hundreds of thousands, potentially millions, of users “stolen” in order to influence elections.
He stated that for these reasons, and others, that he felt it was time for government to step in, take control, and dismantle Facebook. That Mark Zuckerberg simply had too much power was his overarching sentiment. Or to put it another way; Facebook has influence to an outrageous degree, more so than any other government or commercial organisation.
The Struggle Is Real
There is simply no denying that the issues with Facebook are very real. The truth is that the public are not nearly as outraged as they should be, given that the scandals are almost on a daily basis at this point. Just in recent months, the numbers of user privacy abusing blunders are countless, with many reeking of simple, absent-minded incompetence. On March 21st, 2018, for example, it was revealed that passwords of hundreds of millions of users were stored in plain text on an internal database that was freely accessible by employees.
This is just one scandal, with the Cambridge Analytica outrage, perhaps one of the most horrifying incidents of a corporation meddling in global affairs, the only one that got any real attention. By the way, the penalty for this scandal was a fine of half a million pounds. This is the biggest fine the United Kingdom was legally allowed to impose. Oh dear, poor Facebook. However will they cope?
In a nutshell; to say that Facebook has an alarming amount of influence is an understatement, and to say that they are guilty of breaking laws, intentionally or via blunder, likewise an understatement.
The Tides Are Turning
The trouble with the law is that it is slow to respond, and even slower to take big steps that meet evolving situations. Facebook grew to be a behemoth corporation in something like the blink of an eye. The breaches of privacy, as severe as they are, cannot be met by the full force of the law simply because the current laws in most parts of the world not designed, nor capable, of handling the situation effectively.
Of course, this is all changing, as slow as the changes may be. On May 8th in the United States, renewed calls could be heard from the Federal Trade Commission to update digital privacy laws; a step which they hope will hold corporations more accountable for how they handled private user information. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, was called in to meet with government officials. That the ball is only really rolling now, after the veritable ocean of scandals surrounding Facebook, is indicative of how slow the law can operate.
On the other hand, laws created flippantly are also not the smart way to go about things. Let us never forget that it is illegal to serve beer and pretzels at the same time in any bar in North Dakota. Why? Yes, exactly.
Not So Cut And Dry
On the other hand, some of the issues surrounding Facebook are not so cut and dry. The spread of misinformation, or so-called “fake news,” has long ago hit epidemic proportions. The general public has never been so utterly submerged in a never-ending stream of nonsense, often predatory in nature. That a flat earth conspiracy has not only resurfaced, but also flourished, is proof of just how bad the situation has got.
In this regard the true double-edged nature of free speech is revealed. If Facebook were to dare censor any but the worst offenders, outrage would be heard. Though, that they allow misinformation to spread at all outrages another group. Unlike when you play online pokies, this is a situation in which no winning is possible.
Should Facebook Be Shut Down?
That Chris Hughes, co-founder of the corporation, called for it to be broken up more or less sums up the situation entirely. It cannot continue as it is, some would insist, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal IS more than enough justification to close down the social media site for good.
But then why hasn’t it already been shut down? Should government be allowed to step in and shut a corporation over issues that the law is not even designed to deal with? Does the law simply need to catch up to what is the product of a tech boom well beyond realistic predictions?