Monopolies have been broken up before. Is it time to do the same with Facebook?

Should WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger become separate companies?
As Mark Zuckerberg makes his "apology tour," others argue Facebook should be broken up as a company. (Pixabay)

Breaking up may be hard to do, but recent concerns over the misuse of personal data have lead some social media users to consider "breaking up" with Facebook.

But there is also a movement to break up Facebook itself. A coalition of advocacy groups just launched a campaign calling on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to force the social media platform into smaller separate units.

They want Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger to be separated into four companies that operate independently, saying "it's time to break up Facebook's monopoly."

It's a question that was also raised again this week in person with Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He appeared before members of the European Parliament in what some have dubbed the "European leg of his apology tour."    

German Member of European Parliament Manfred Weber posed the question to Zuckerberg directly, "I think it is time to discuss breaking Facebook's monopoly," he said, "because it's already too much power in only one hand, so I ask you simply and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?"

Of course, the idea of breaking up the monopolies and oligopolies of the tech giants has come up before.

Steven Strauss is a Lecturer and John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.
Steven Strauss, John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor at Princeton University (Woodrow Wilson School - Princeton University)

In a 2016 OpEd for the Los Angeles Times he called for the breakup of the tech giants — and not just Facebook.  

"There's a lot of nuance around that —broken up, regulated, etc. but in some way controlled or constrained." Strauss said.

Strauss believes that breaking up the tech giants into smaller companies could help promote innovation because, "arguably you'd have more companies competing with one another."  

However he does not think that sort of restructuring could happen very fast. "Antitrust was designed for an industrial age. It does not move quickly, and one of the issues that you do run into is that by the time the legal solution pops out, the issues that were driving it may have moved on. "

Arguably you'd have more companies competing with one another- Steven Strauss

Meanwhile, the Facebooks of the world still have to worry that the very thing the usurps them could be the next social media platform that catches on, he said.

"In a sense I would say the greatest threat to Facebook at the moment is not the U.S. government but some morphing or change in technology."


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