To say the last two or three years haven’t been kind to Facebook in terms of news reporting would be stating the obvious. They’ve come under fire for their harvesting of data more times than we’re able to count, and that was before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The last thing a publicly-traded company needs is to be implicated in possible electoral fraud both in the United States and the United Kingdom, and yet that’s what happened. More recently, the opinion that Facebook should be broken up into smaller companies has been voiced more than once in political circles – most notably by prospective 2020 US Presidential Election candidate Elizabeth Warren.
It appears that Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s embattled founder, and CEO, has drawn a line in the stand at that suggestion.
Taking It To The Mat
In transcripts and recordings which leaked to the internet earlier this week, Zuckerberg told employees that he was ready to ‘go to the mat and fight’ with Warren if she were to become President, and will resist all attempts to have the company broken up into smaller pieces. Zuckerberg has since confirmed that the transcripts are an accurate representation of those meetings and that he stands by their content.
This marks a change of tone from the Facebook founder, who has spent much of the last twelve months attempting to strike a conciliatory tone with politicians in an effort to improve the perception of his company. Zuckerberg has been called before committees and investigation teams more than once to explain how, why, and when Facebook stores and uses data and has seemingly now tired of justifying his company’s business methods.
Warren’s concerns – which are shared among many politicians – relate to the idea that Facebook has now become too big for its boots. According to her, it’s guilty of anti-competition and anti-trust practices and is so large that it poses a legitimate threat to democracy if it can’t or won’t take tighter control of its own platform. The Democrats are still angry about the way Facebook advertising was used by pro-Trump promotional campaigns in 2016 and have concerns that the same will happen again in 2020 if no action is taken.
Battling On All Fronts
The fact that Zuckerberg has come out fighting against the idea is not a surprise. His plans for the company’s future are likely to fill Warren and those like her with dread. Despite owning Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, the company still intends to expand further, and gain a foothold in other industries.
One of Facebook’s current pet projects is crypto-currency. Encouraged by the success and sustainability of Bitcoin, Facebook has spent much of the past two years developing a currency which it calls Libra. Given the enormous number of people that use Facebook, a currency that allowed people to make purchases through the platform would likely gain traction more rapidly than any crypto-currency before. The coin is already being tested in India, and if successful, will likely become available across the whole world in 2020.
Even the enormously lucrative world of gambling isn’t off-limits to Facebook. Through a partnership with High 5 Gaming, Facebook has a stake in the High 5 Casino. Mobile slots generate millions of dollars in revenue around the world each year. Because Facebook can filter its users by age and region, its algorithms already know which users are and are not legally entitled to play casino slots. If Facebook gets its wish, specialist mobile slots websites and online casinos may soon find themselves under threat from the big blue social media brand.
Aside from all the innovations, Facebook is looking to bolster itself against its competition. Twitter is still a viable alternative for people who dislike Facebook, although Zuckerberg recently boasted that the amount Facebook currently spends on digital safety and security is more than Twitter takes in revenue for an entire year. Based on the comment, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that he feels that some of the criticism that has been directed at his company is unfair.
Twitter is an established threat, but they’re not the only threat. Video-sharing platform Lasso is gaining ground in the market – especially in places where Facebook is either less-popular or less-available. Frustratingly for Zuckerberg and his team, it appears to be more popular as an alternative to YouTube than Facebook Watch, which thus far hasn’t shown anything like the growth or popularity that was expected of it. There’s also the Chinese-owned company Tik-Tok, which is expanding across the world after having taken a dominant share of the market at home. Annoyingly for those at Facebook, the company cannot simply be bought, as other rivals have in the past.
The story adds an interesting wrinkle to the next US election. Zuckerberg has, by taking this stance, all-but-confirmed that he would be opposed to the idea of Elizabeth Warren becoming President of the United States of America. If Warren is nominated as the Democratic candidate – which is far from a certainty, but a definite possibility – that means Zuckerberg’s personal preference for the victor of the contest is likely to be Donald Trump, with whom he met in September.
Given Zuckerberg’s stated feelings and Facebook’s enormous platform, there would then inevitably be questions raised about the number and nature of pro-Trump adverts placed on Facebook during the election as opposed to the number and nature of pro-Warren equivalents. The Democrats will want to use Facebook to appeal to voters. Zuckerberg will then find himself in the position of having to decide whether to allow someone who wants to dismantle his company to advertise upon it. That’s an unenviable position to be in.
Since its launch in 2007, Facebook has become entrenched in almost every area of our lives. It’s where we store our photos. It’s how we stay in touch with our friends. It’s where we record every moment of our lives. From a business standpoint, it’s our first port of call when it comes to advertising. As we’ve already covered in this article, Zuckerberg would also like the company to become involved in finance and gambling. If a political contest arrives on Facebook’s doorstep, could we be about to see the firm become actively involved in politics, too?