Facebook was one of the first giants that benefitted from the social media revolution. Once, it was simply a way to be updated about each other's lives. Today, it has become a behemoth in the e-commerce and communication industries. When Facebook ceases to function, it does not just lead to a billion-dollar loss for the multinational corporation; it impacts almost three billion users globally.
The dependency on Facebook —giving the medium equal importance as the oxygen we inhale— to function is amplified in the third world. According to Global Web Index 2020 Social Media User Trends Report, 93 per cent and 92 per cent belonging to the 16-64 age category use WhatsApp in Argentina and Colombia respectively. In Brazil, 91 per cent of people use the Facebook-acquired messaging platform. In Latin American countries and India, it costs too much to simply text. Texting over Wi-Fi through Whatsapp made it simpler to communicate with people and relatives all over the world. A six-hour outage impacts three million small businesses, who consider Facebook and its acquired platforms, the natural habitat for their business to flourish.
This over-reliance on Facebook platforms proves dangerous for people and society alike.
As the Facebook title latches onto every prominent social media platform (first, Instagram in 2009 and then, Whatsapp in 2014), the idea of Facebook as a relentless autocracy and the subsequent dissipation of stable democracies, continues to crystallize. No longer is it a social media platform aimed to connect people but the first (perhaps) virtual country. It is a country that mirrors real autocracies: they pose as democracies and highlight the provision of ‘users' choice’ but in reality, make all the rules and moves of the game.
Facebook’s communication channels are a rat’s trap for the severe politicisation of the users. Groups (private or public) enable users across one country (and sometimes, transcend the geographical boundaries) to be politicised and mobilized to generate action. The politicisation could often be derived from electronic propaganda: memes, videos that follow the standard template of “what-is-the-xyz-issue?” and observing interactions of peers on the platform. Of course, politicisation and propaganda are not Facebook’s by-products. The ease of access in mobilizing not just a locality or city, but a whole country is something that is of interest to this article. 'Taking collective action’ could spread nationwide in hours is what Facebook has made possible. Exhibit A: The Capitol Hill Attack was orchestrated by users in right-wing Facebook groups.
Social media has this unexplainable ability to isolate users from the real world. Unless it is proximally relevant to the family or friend group, what happens in the virtual country is hardly mentioned in the real world. ISIS was able to recruit members as young as 16 and as religiously distant from the jihadist cause as possible all through the help of a dangerously unregulated platform: Facebook. Using emotional appeal and promising rewards, ISIS accounts continue to escape scrutiny.
Facebook’s potential end goal is to diminish geographical territories and create citizenship beyond shapes on maps. Citizenship on Facebook is presented as a voluntary subscription with a simple method to unsubscribe. However, exiting the platform does not entail the end of Facebook’s influence on an individual. It offers users to download their data before they exit the platform, making a permanent imprint on their life. It also is a cheap tactic to ensure nostalgia overpowers the reason for their exit and influences them to rejoin the platform.
The social media giant rarely is at the beck and call of the governments in the markets it enters. Some countries have waged a cold war on Facebook and the diverse communications that take place on the platform. The rampant spread of right-wing politics, propaganda and the threat to democracy using its platform has rendered Facebook equivalent to an albatross around the government’s neck.
The only ingredient missing in this autocratic-virtual-country-disguised-as-democratic-space was: elections. Facebook has never been unassociated with elections; it has often been under fire for doing a poor job at regulating fake news during elections season. In response to these accusations, Facebook has decided to introduce its own election commission, a legislative body that will make decisions on election-related matters.
Facebook has billions of people, a law (terms and conditions, guidelines, etc.), politicises and enables masses to mobilize to take action, guides users’ choices instead of letting them choose, introduces the concept of voluntary citizenship and now intends to have a direct role in influencing the future of democracies and with it, in the proliferation of inequality.
Strangely, Facebook is beginning to mirror Marie Antoinette. She famously quipped: "let them eat cake" when it was reported that the poor did not have money to afford bread. In the 18th century France, that comment fueled the French Revolution against the monarchy.
In the 21st century world, a revolution against Facebook is hardly in the books.