Tech

Some say the latest Facebook scandal seems like a “big tobacco” moment. This is also a big oil moment.

Senator Richard Blumenthal referred to a familiar metaphor at a Facebook whistleblower hearing on Tuesday. “Facebook and Big Tech are experiencing a ‘big tobacco’ moment,” he said, arguing that social networking products “can be addictive and toxic to children.” Frances Haugen, the aforementioned informant, similarly named Facebook’s decisions are “disastrous,” and the company said it “prefers profit over safety.”

Do these phrases remind you of Big Tobacco? Of course. They also make me think about Big Oil.

At its best, Facebook products are a resource that has produced good results. (Connecting people to the network can be powerful thing!) The company also produces a huge amount of by-products that lead to many undesirable effects. (Helping destroy democracy was not really a part of Mark Zuckerberg’s plan for world domination.) Facebook, with nearly 3 billion users worldwide, isn’t going away anytime soon.

The Big Tobacco metaphor describes Facebook’s products well as unhealthy. The only problem with comparing them is that you can give up cigarettes quite easily these days. But in reality, spending a day on the Internet is quite difficult. without interaction with Facebook

Enter the oil metaphor. Like Facebook, fossil fuels have their advantages. Oil and gas have historically provided us with a relatively cheap energy supply that seemed to be abundant. This led to cool inventions like the internal combustion engine and the cars it drives. But like Facebook, fossil fuels have many disadvantages – for example, our dependence on them. destroys the planet – but it is also almost impossible to imagine a world without them.

Most of us can’t just log out of Facebook. The whole world cannot easily transition to a new platform. At this point, we are so dependent on Facebook products that we suddenly turned them off. can stop an entire economy… We saw this on Monday when Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline for several hours due to a server configuration error. This might seem like a simple inconvenience to many people in the United States, where there are many other ways of communicating and doing business online. But in the global South, some Facebook products, notably WhatsApp, have become essential services.

“Developing countries such as India, Mexico and Brazil have come to rely on these free messaging services,” says Callum Sillars, a social media expert at Ampere Analysis. said the Guardian This week. “They are often the backbone of communication in these countries. Small businesses and the informal economy in particular rely on Facebook services. “

This is a bit like our dependence on oil, right? For example, if we woke up the next Monday and all the oil and gas on the planet disappeared, it would be chaos. But things would not be so bad in the US, where the use of renewable energy sources growing rapidlyhow would it be in parts of Africa and the Middle East… Developing countries in these areas depend heavily fossil fuels to meet their daily energy needs, and they no viable alternative Now.

You can also continue the analogy. Facebook is like the oil industry because both play a huge role in geopolitics. Facebook is like oil makes a huge profit causing immeasurable harm to society. Facebook, like the oil companies of yesteryear, has a habit of engulfing smaller competitors in order to gain more control over the market. Comparing Facebook and Standard Oil is actually quite a fun thought experiment, especially when you look at the feedback loop between public opinion and government intervention in Standard Oil. Simply put, this only happened after people’s opinion of the Standard Oil monopoly plummeted in the early 1900s. Thanks in part to revealing journalist Ida Tarbell – that antitrust regulators rushed in to destroy John D. Rockefeller’s empire.

What will happen to Mark Zuckerberg’s empire as it faces the latest crisis over the harm it causes to society remains unclear, but this time seems more serious than its past scandals. In her speech to the Senate Trade Committee on Tuesday, Haugen gave lawmakers a blueprint for how to fix Facebook, and Senator Blumenthal called on Zuckerberg appear before the committee and answer several questions – in particular, about recent revelations, such as how Facebook learned that Instagram was harming teenage girls, but did nothing about it. If he appears this month, Zuckerberg may even bump into some oil executives testify before the House of Representatives oversight committee on climate disinformation.

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