Breaking up Facebook is up to us

Two related articles about Facebook this week. First, from a huge report in The New York Times:

But as Facebook grew, so did the hate speech, bullying and other toxic content on the platform. When researchers and activists in Myanmar, India, Germany and elsewhere warned that Facebook had become an instrument of government propaganda and ethnic cleansing, the company largely ignored them. Facebook had positioned itself as a platform, not a publisher. Taking responsibility for what users posted, or acting to censor it, was expensive and complicated.

The New York Times interviewed over 50 people for the story, and it shows. There are a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stories, especially Facebook’s relationship with Washington, and more than I can quote here.

Second, an article from The Washington Post about early Instagram employees becoming disillusioned with the platform:

Three of the early Instagram employees, including Richardson, have deleted it — permanently or periodically, comparing it to a drug that produces a diminishing high. One of the people said he felt a little embarrassed to tell people that he worked there. Two of the other early employees said they used it far less than before.

This is why I don’t ever want to sell I can’t imagine having to sit on the sidelines and watch with disappointment what it might become if it drifted away from its mission.

I think pushback against Instagram is coming, as more people who have already left Facebook also remember that Instagram has the same leadership, and the platform is far enough off track that even the founders have left. It’s a good time to be posting photos to your own blog instead of Instagram.

In a post earlier this year, Ben Thompson recognized that the threat to Facebook is when it becomes accepted fact that using the app isn’t good for you:

It follows that Facebook’s ultimate threat can never come from publishers or advertisers, but rather demand — that is, users. The real danger, though, is not from users also using competing social networks (although Facebook has always been paranoid about exactly that); that is not enough to break the virtuous cycle. Rather, the only thing that could undo Facebook’s power is users actively rejecting the app.

Having your own domain name for blog posts and photos isn’t just about personal independence from the control of massive social networks. Owning our content is key to the way out of the current social network mess.

Some may call for Facebook to be broken up because it has too much power. But we can’t count on antitrust law to do it. Users must do it. We must do it by moving our attention away from companies we don’t believe in.

Manton Reece @manton