The 2010 Oscar-winning film The Social Network which followed the creation and popularization of Facebook, was once recognized as an important piece of history for its dramatized inside-look into one of the world’s largest networks. However, Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield would have likely never anticipated the events occurring today. User data privacy has proven itself to be a profound issue in the last ten years which is now at the forefront of today's politics.
One of the main events which prompted these concerns was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where thousands of Facebook users witnessed their personal information be placed in the hands of the political consulting firm without consent. Considering this event, it is clear that Facebook holds such immense amounts of user data and it is only growing with the help of Instagram and Whatsapp. Facebook bought these two major networks, meaning that they own all of its user information. This is a cause for concern because Facebook can decide what to do with this information as a single power, and larger amounts of sensitive data would be leaked in another potential security breach. There is no doubt that Facebook has monopolized the social media sector which has enabled them to have centralized power over our information and it is scary to consider what they may do with it in the future.
On December 9th 2020, the Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook for anti-competitive practises and favoured separating it from Instagram and Whatsapp to decentralize their dominance over user data. Forty-eight states followed suit and filed their own lawsuits against the company as well. They argue that Facebook’s power has stifled the growth of innovative tech start-ups which has limited the competition. This means that Facebook can carry on doing what they are doing without pushing themselves to be the best consumer choice. If Instagram was independent of Facebook and claimed to have the best privacy protection, Facebook would likely push itself to have even better privacy protection to attract consumers. However, this is not the case. If the judge rules in favour of the lawsuit then Facebook may face restrictions for how user data is managed and will have to divest and unwound itself from their acquisitions including Instagram and Whatsapp.
Now, why does this matter and what does this mean in the world of social media? The reality on the ground is that social media is much more than a means of digital communication with other users. It is a data haven that takes note of every individual action you take on each platform, to the point where social media analytics can predict your shopping and spending habits, your likes and dislikes, age, ethnicity, and more. If Facebook continues to expand without any sort of restrictions, its power will grow beyond measure. With that being said, let’s see how these trials unfold in the new year.