Dear Mr Trump: It is well known that you’re a regular reader of felix, so I sincerely hope you get to read this.
We all know you don’t like Silicon Valley. You and Larry Page are not exactly BFFs. I get it. Google donated almost half a million dollars to the Clinton campaign. California is a sort of liberal Disneyland. Nobody likes you there.
You also know how powerful Silicon Valley has become. I’m proposing that you do something that will make both liberals and conservatives happy. Yes, both of them. Not only that, but by doing what I’m about to tell you, you’ll come out looking like a powerful bully not to be messed with. You’ll love it!
What I’m proposing, as you might imagine, is that you break up Facebook. Facebook is the world’s most powerful monopoly. There. I said it. It has a monopoly over a huge network. Two billion users. It is getting more and more difficult to compete with Facebook on the same grounds. People don’t use Facebook because it has a better user experience. No. They use it because their family and friends are on it. I couldn’t just decide to use a Facebook competitor, because I need their network. The 'network effect' is a 'winner-takes-it-all' game. If it wasn’t, Google+, with its better user experience, would have probably succeeded. But nobody used it, because nobody was actually on Google+ in the first place.
Okay, Mr Trump, you might now be a bit sceptical of what I’m saying, because deep down we all know you’re a reasonable person (all the flamboyance and pseudo-racist populism is just a big act). You might be thinking that people choose to be on Facebook. Nobody makes them. They could just leave Facebook now. But the problem is, they can’t. Imagine AT&T was the only mobile network provider in the US that managed to reach everyone, and there were other little ones used by hugely dispersed people around the country. Imagine AT&T’s policy was then to only allow communication with people also on AT&T. Sure, they had their merits – building a whole mobile network is not easy. But this situation would be a clear monopoly. It would be illegal.
So why should the average American (because you try to represent the average American, right?) care? Well, not only should the average American care, but so should you, as president. Especially you. You see, normally I wouldn’t be excessively concerned about a company amassing a great amount of power. Because companies respond to shareholders, and their ultimate goal is to make money. That keeps them in check. Large companies are less scary when you know what they ultimately want.
But something changed last month. Most people didn’t really notice, but Zuckerberg published a manifesto entitled “Building a Global Community”. Go have a look. It is extremely political, but in such a subtle way that Zuckerberg probably didn’t even notice himself. Quoting the piece: “Our greatest opportunities are now global – like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses – like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.” What’s unsettling about this piece, in a slight but very clear way, is the tone. The political tone it reeks of. And okay, I do have to admit that I agree with some of the stuff. Maybe I agree about this whole idea of going from nations into a global community. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that this is the most political statement a company could ever make. And Facebook being Facebook, with its monopoly of a network of two billion people, is arguably the most powerful company in the world. The power its newsfeed has had to slightly affect our emotions without us even noticing (we know this helped you in the election, Donald) is massive. And Zuckerberg is the youngest man in the top ten Forbes list of billionaires. There’s bound to be a point up there where money doesn’t matter to him anymore. And Zuckerberg’s got years of power ahead of him. Just add to the cocktail all the recent changes Zuckerberg’s made to the corporate structure to have even more control. There comes a point where too much power is concentrated.
So, Donald, now that I have convinced you, how do we pick a fight with Facebook? The first thing on the list would be to introduce a law that prohibit mergers and acquisitions of large social networks. No more Facebooks buying Instagrams. With this law you can also, retroactively, make Facebook spin off both Instagram and Whatsapp (yes, retroactively: you’re going to love being this big, powerful bully). And finally, you make it compulsory for all social networks to enable network portability, i.e. being able to move your list of friends from one social network to another (which is something Facebook took advantage of, as you could from the start import all your mail contacts, Yahoo contacts and Twitter contacts to Facebook, but never the other way around). This way, you prevent large monopolies forming, you enable smaller players to be able to compete and bring new ideas. The result? A much more innovative and decentralised Silicon Valley.
We all know how much you love to pick a fight. So here you go – this is a reasonable but epic battle to pick.