Op-Ed: When Facebook is Down … by Rashad Robinson

(NEW YORK) – Last week started with Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugens, confirming what we’ve been saying for years during her interview on 60 MinutesFacebook’s priorities lie with maintaining profits over public safety.1 Shortly after, Facebook’s monopoly, which includes Instagram and WhatsApp, went down across the globe.2 Facebook acts as a critical utility, one that is necessary for massive numbers of people to work and communicate, and Congress needs to pass antitrust reform to limit its monopoly power.

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TELL CONGRESS WE NEED ANTITRUST When Facebook goes down, it takes small businesses with it. Facebook, through predatory monopolistic practices, has made it all but impossible for small businesses to advertise anywhere else.3 And in many cases, small businesses are only able to sell to consumers through Facebook’s Marketplace. This power leaves small businesses with no choice but to operate on its platforms. The impact of the Facebook outage meant small businesses lost out on potential sales. After forcing small businesses to use its platforms, Facebook also charges small business owners, many of whom are Black, high fees to reach their customers.4 At the same time, Facebook denies these businesses data on the users that frequent their content.Monopolies, like Facebook, limit the economic advancement of Black workers and small business owners.

When Facebook goes down, it takes Instagram and WhatsApp with it. Prior to Facebook’s multi-billion-dollar acquisitions in 2012 and 2014, Instagram and WhatsApp were their own independent apps, operating on their own separate systems.6,7 They provided additional platforms for families, friends, and colleagues to stay connected and keep in touch. WhatsApp happens to be one of the primary forms of text communication in many countries.8 During the Facebook outage, the 3.5 billion people who use Facebook’s monopoly of social networks and apps could not access these communication utilities globally.9 If Facebook was not a monopoly, people would have still been able to access Instagram and WhatsApp.

When Facebook goes down, our data is more at risk for data breaches. Facebook has access to an immense amount of data through its monopoly. This data includes profile names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Data breaches, like the one Facebook experienced in 2019, could result in money being stolen from checking and savings accounts.10,11 Such incidents are particularly harmful to Black people when systemic barriers, including erratic work schedules and lack of internet access, make repairing these damages difficult—even more so when Facebook decides not to notify users of data breaches.12,13 Facebook is failing to keep our data protected, and we deserve to have options that will prioritize our data privacy.

SEE WHY WE NEED TO BREAK UP BIG TECH

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Bad policies have led to Facebook’s unwieldy monopoly, but we have the power to dismantle it, along with other monopolies. Our communities have long dealt with the realities of monopolies. We can push for reform and demand antitrust policies that break up these monopolies, limit their power, and ensure that companies’ policies prioritize racial justice. That’s why we’re asking for your support in demanding that Congress pass antitrust bills with stronger racial justice language, such as the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, and allocate $1 billion in funding to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) privacy bureau. Add your name to the petition with these demands and for President Joe Biden to sign these antitrust bills into law. 

A better future is on the horizon. Color Of Change has been fighting against the harm caused by monopolies for years. The more support we have from our members, the more collective power we have, and the likelier it will be that we can rein in monopoly power for good.

WATCH OUR ANTITRUST EXPLAINER

DEMAND CONGRESS ACT

Until justice is real,
Rashad Robinson
President
Color Of Change


References:

  1. David Bauder and Michael Liedtke, “Whistleblower: Facebook chose profit over public safety,” AP, October 4, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326370?t=11&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  2. Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel, “Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook,” The New York Times, October 5, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326371?t=13&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  3. Matt Stoller, Sarah Miller, and Zephyr Teachout, “Addressing Facebook and Google’s Harms Through a Regulated Competition Approach,” American Economic Liberties Project, April 10, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326372?t=15&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  4. “2016 Small Business Credit Survey: Report on Minority-Owned Firms,” Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland and Atlanta, November 29, 2017, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326373?t=17&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kurt Wagner, “Here’s why Facebook’s $1 billion Instagram acquisition was such a big deal,” Vox, April 9, 2017, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326374?t=19&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  7. Adrian Covert, “Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion,” CNN, February 19, 2014, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326375?t=21&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  8. Grace Eliza Goodwin “What is WhatsApp? A guide to navigating the free internet-based communication platform,” Business Insider, November 3, 2020, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/327209?t=23&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  9. Eileen Guo and Patrick Howell O’Neill, “Millions of people rely on Facebook to get online. The outage left them stranded,” MIT Technology Review, October 5, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326376?t=25&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  10. Lily Hay Newman, “What really caused Facebook’s 500m-user data leak,” Wired, April 6, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326377?t=27&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  11. Lillian Ablon, Paul Heaton, Diana Catherine Lavery, and Sasha Romanosky, “Consumer Attitudes Toward Data Breach Notifications and Loss of Personal Information,” Rand Corporation, 2016, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326378?t=29&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  12. Kori Hale, “T-Mobile’s Hack of 50 Million Users Leaves Black Community At Risk,” Forbes, September 10, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326379?t=31&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.
  13. Emma Bowman, “After data breach exposes 530 million, Facebook says it will not notify users,” NPR, April 9, 2021, https://act.colorofchange.org/go/326380?t=33&akid=52236%2E3506444%2EOptLsK.


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