For many legal and economic analysts at the center of the industry, the virtual lack of meaningful regulations governing Big Tech has been a cause of concern for years. From Microsoft and Google to Facebook and its many assets, Silicon Valley has seemingly operated outside the bounds of federal anti-trust laws since the birth of social media platforms as we know them. Those charged with regulating mergers and acquisitions within the context of preserving a competitive economy have given a wide berth to Big Tech companies, imposing fines that amounted to a gentle wag of the finger against some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. It is unclear whether this hesitancy is spurred by willful negligence or an astonishing lack of appreciation on the Federal government’s part regarding the sheer strength of power and influence wielded by Big Tech companies across all sectors of society, and around the world.
The anti-trust lawsuits filed against Facebook this week are the first of its kind since 1998 when Microsoft found itself in the crosshairs of a similar case brought by the FTC. Yet, even as a singular economic power in technology, Microsoft’s influence was restricted to the economic sector. Facebook, on the other hand, has faced countless accusations over the years of unethical and dangerous practices that have resulted in real-time, quantifiable consequences impacting the course of politics, social justice, and the rise of extremist and nationalist agendas the world over.
Four years after the presidential U.S elections in 2016, there have been numerous investigations detailing Russian interference through misinformation campaigns run on Facebook. The tech firm has always insisted that they were not complicit yet reports compiled through data collected from internal reports and data analysis clearly shows that the Facebook’s top executives were fully aware that the platform’s algorithms were evolving divisive and polarizing engagement in an effort to attract user attention and increase time on the social media platform.
Also in 2016, Facebook’s dominance as a news source in Myanmar resulted in extremist violence targeting the Rohingya and triggering a humanitarian crisis in the region that left hundreds of thousands displaced. Faced with having to take account by US Senate Committees and foreign governments, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the platform had in essence been weaponized against the Rohingya. In a now familiar refrain, he blamed its algorithms and claimed ignorance, promising yet again to create more stringent checks and balances in an effort to provide a more informed user-experience, and filter out hate-based groups on the platform.
Only last week, Amnesty International brought our attention to a new iteration of the danger of Facebook. Perhaps in an effort to absolve itself of complicity in human rights abuses, early last year Facebook announced it would defer to local laws in countries around the world. In so doing the platform now aids government cyber-trolls and henchmen in identifying and tracking down political dissidents and activists, as was the case in Vietnam just last week where 70 online activists were arrested and imprisoned for varying acts of peaceful dissent.
While the anti-trust lawsuits are a step in the right direction in holding tech giants accountable, they don’t go nearly far enough. With the advent and accelerated development of psychographic technology, the problem with Facebook and tech companies that capitalize on influencing human behavior is only going to get worse. And governments around the world had better take note by crafting clear and decisive legislation and penalties that shackle the ambitions of any globally monopolized technological power.