When a Harvard sophomore started “The Facebook” in his dorm room in 2003, no one could have predicted that in less than a decade his site would displace MySpace as the world’s leading social media platform. Facebook accomplished this impossible feat by offering a more appealing product. Now, Facebook’s parent company is under threat from competitors offering more appealing products, giving it a choice of adopt or die.
Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and other subsidiaries recently suffered a 26% decline in its’ stock price. Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg blamed the decline on the rising popularity of Chinese-based social media platform Tik Tok, particularly amongst young people. Zuckerberg reportedly told Meta employees that in order to counter the “unprecedented level of competition” from Tik Tok, Meta would need to start focusing on Instagram’s reel video feature.
However, Zuckerberg might be a bit optimistic of his chances of competing with Tik Tok, and perhaps the rise of Tik Tok is not the only reason Facebook has lost an estimated 1 million users in the last two quarters of 2021. Facebook’s heavy-handed treatment of those whose political worldview doesn’t conform to the company's “community guidelines” is causing many users to either reduce their time on the site or leave Facebook for other platforms. In fact, while these alternatives are still in development, some of them were started specifically to appeal to those removed from Facebook for their opinions.
It’s a sign of how comfortable Zuckerberg's been with his company, that rather than trying to appeal to customers, he has rejected them.
Many of those de-platformed by Facebook appear to be conservatives This issue has led some conservatives in Congress to partner with progressives to use antitrust and other measures to reduce Facebook’s market power. Much of Big Tech’s apparent silencing of conservatives appears to be done to please left-wing politicians, like President Biden, whom you’ll notice isn’t calling for antitrust measures against Facebook. Indeed, it seems likely that Big Tech has bought themselves political cover and conservative concerns will continue to fall on deaf ears.
However, given that the primary bill being considered, S.2992, to regulate these companies doesn’t even address de-platforming, conservatives might just be complaining about the apparent bias – and really taking on a new big government policy angle.
S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which is sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar and supported by Republicans such as Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, and Ted Cruz would force large Internet competitors to make their platforms available to small business without requiring the business to use other services offered by the company. One example of a victim of this bill would be Amazon Prime, making it impossible for Amazon to provide this popular service.
Interestingly, since Facebook was one of the targets, the bill might not even affect Facebook, at least in the short-term as the company’s current market capitalization is very close to the size required before a company becomes subject to bill’s requirement of $550 billion.
Furthermore, while Congress seeks ways to hamstring tech companies, the Chinese government (which again owns part of Tik Tok’s parent company) seeks to facilitate the growth of Chinese business. Since the cultural revolution in China, their government still places severe limitations on free speech and other civil liberties, but it is also now easier in some ways to be an entrepreneur in communist China than in the capitalist West.
Bills such as S.2992 are unnecessary to challenge Big Tech. Bills addressing de-platforming would be just as useless. Unquestionably, these attempts would harm consumers and small businesses all whilst making it more likely that the next Facebook (or Twitter or Amazon or Google) will be stamped “Made in China.”