The 3,300 word note Mark Zuckerberg published Thursday about Facebook’s approach to election interference contained some surprisingly frank insight into why Facebook has made some of the business decisions that it has. For example, Zuckerberg shared that he considered banning political ads all together (but decided against it). And that he was only opening up the platform to certain researchers because Facebook is now wary of misuse; thanks, Aleksandr Kogan!
But one subtler piece of information appeared in Zuckerberg’s section about fake accounts. The billionaire founder stated that owning multiple social media businesses — including Instagram and WhatsApp — made it easier to shut down fake accounts on all platforms. In other words, he said that we’d better not break up Facebook, or it could harm the integrity of our democracy.
One advantage Facebook has is that we have a principle that you must use your real identity. This means we have a clear notion of what’s an authentic account. This is harder with services like Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, iMessage, or any other service where you don’t need to provide your real identity. So if the content shared doesn’t violate any policy, which is often the case, and you have no clear notion of what constitutes a fake account, that makes enforcement significantly harder. Fortunately, our systems are shared, so when we find bad actors on Facebook, we can also remove accounts linked to them on Instagram and WhatsApp as well. And where we can share information with other companies, we can also help them remove fake accounts too.
Facebook owns WhatsApp and Instagram, yes, but also companies like Oculus and CrowdTangle, and it has absorbed many more. In recent months, grumblings have grown louder about the might that Facebook has amassed through mergers and acquisitions. And there is momentum behind the idea that the government should break up Facebook as a monopoly.
In April, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that Facebook had better make changes, or risk getting broken up. In May, a coalition of labor unions and progressive organizations came together to form the Freedom from Facebook Coalition, whose primary demand is to check Facebook’s power by separating its various social networks from the mothership. A host of editorials have made the case for (and against) breaking up Facebook. A New York Attorney General candidate has promised to look into whether Facebook is violating anti-trust laws. And Zuckerberg even faced questions about whether Facebook was a monopoly in his appearance before Congress and the European Parliament.
To be clear, breaking up Facebook would be very, very bad for Facebook. Instagram was recently valued at $100 million. And while Facebook’s growth, especially among youth, is in decline, Instagram is still one of the favored platforms of The Youth. And Facebook is beginning to seriously monetize WhatsApp as it grows in popularity, and has started taking the place of Facebook as the primary way people get their news.
So, sure. Zuckerberg is talking about national and democratic security, here. But with ill will and questions still abounding about how powerful Facebook should be, really, any pros Zuckerberg can throw into the ring for keeping Facebook a unified platform are definitely conspicuous.