With Facebook announcing it would be shutting down Moves, tbh, and Hello this week and Instagram TV being announce two weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about Facebook, it’s power, and potential government regulation. I do not like government regulation at all because I feel it stifles innovation. GDPR I believe is one of the worst things to happen to the internet in a long time (I believe it has the potential to be equally bad if not worse than Net Neutrality). However, Facebook is such a large force in social media with really no competitors. Facebook argues taht any app on your phone or any website is a competitor of theirs but that is clearly untrue, no one is going to Wikipedia to see their friends status updates. Facebooks biggest competitors are Twitter, Snapchat, and WeChat but Twitter and Snapchat are much smaller and WeChat is really not “WeChat” unless you are in China and using Mandarine as your language and Facebook isn't available in China.
Many people use only a few apps. Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are some of the most popular apps and are all owned by Facebook. A few months ago, tbh was a very popular app and although it was clear it was probably a passing fad, Facebook still purchase it. If Facebook had not, maybe the developers would have been able to prevent it from being a fad and continued to develop it into a competitor for Facebook. Because Facebook is able to continually purchase apps like tbh, and Hello, they are able to keep people in their ecosystem or, if they shut them down and role similar features into one of their more popular apps if they prove not to be a fad. This then leads to Facebook having more people on their platform and more power.
Governments permitting Facebook to continually make purchases of would-be competitors is hurting customers and Facebook. The only popular social media apps other than Facebook or apps in facebooks ora are Twitter and Snap (both of which Facebook attempted to purchase. However, these two companies don't make very good competitors to Facebook because they are very different and smaller. Even after the “Delete Facebook” movement, Facebook remains the most popular social network. Facebook can do unpopular things (intentionally or not) and still keep peopel on its platform.
Even before the election Facebook was abusing its power (unintentionally) with the “Trending News” sidebar. The human curators Facebook employed, were sharing bias information and some fake news stories. These fake stories were becoming popular, because they were interesting to people. The human curators were willing to write them because they were easy to write but these pop culture stories were pushing real news about important issues like politics lower in the queue causing political issues to get less attention. It was also encouraging the human curators to write more stories like that and less about politics because people were reading the pop culture stories more.
Washington did the correct thing when on May 18th 2017, government officials met with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and determined there was no need for government oversight (probably at the urgenting of Zuckerberg). A few weeks later, Facebook fired the employees who were behind the Trending Topics section of the site. The section analysis are now managed by computers which are more efficient and have no political biases. Facebook has since moved the Trending News Sidebar but because it is an algorithm Facebook is probably tailoring to show things that interest that user.
Because of the Facebook’s power, starting a new social network is almost impossible. Facebook locks up its users social graph (who the users friends with) so using that information to base your social network is impossible. Twitter has in the past shut companies like Instagram’s API access off. Because of this, Houseparty used people’s contacts as a way to access a social graph but almost no one has more contacts than Facebook Friends. Using contacts is probably the only way to go for new social networks and even Snapchat uses this. However, Snapchat has a preexisting chain of users and has reached a critical enough mass that people have other ways of finding friends on Snapchat. People putting Ask.fm in their Instagram bios is becoming less and less popular (I don’t remember the last time I saw one of those). App.net was forced to shut down and while things like Path remain, I don't know many people who use Path daily.
Even many of the success stories for many small social networks end in misery. Meerkat once look like it could become a player in social networking but was forced to shut down after Facebook and Twitter both launched similar products. Facebook is the closest thing to a monopoly that the internet has seen, their ability to maintain users even when revolts happen shows that they have a lot of power. They are many people’s main source of news, own many of the top social networks and can easily Sherlock any product they want to with limited effort. Some limited regulation on acquisitions by a government (probably the EU governing body) is I believe the best way to begin regulating Facebook.