To many, the social network is irreplaceable because there's nothing to replace it with.
There has never been a better time to #DeleteFacebook. So says the movement to ditch the social platform, in light of revelations about its complicitness in Cambridge Analytica harvesting 50 million people’s data in 2014.
But Facebook’s nearly 2 billion users have nowhere else to go. That’s because, with a few exceptions, Facebook has managed to squash its competitors, either by cloning or acquiring them—a tactic it’s used to remain relevant and irreplaceable. For the past 14 years, since its inception, Facebook has been preparing for this very moment. And now that it’s here, the company continues to monopolize the way humans interact online.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a meaningful number of people act on that, but, you know, it’s not good,” Zuckerberg told the New York Times of users deleting their accounts. A Reuters survey of 2,237 Americans this month showed that 41 percent of them trust Facebook to lawfully protect their data. According to a recent poll on Blind, an anonymous chat app for technology employees, 31 percent said they planned to delete Facebook.
It’s not uncommon for technology products to copy each other. Silicon Valley is bursting with startups that are virtually indistinguishable, but Facebook’s own brand of mimicry is viewed by some as incompatible with progress—a natural monopoly—leaving too little room for similar ideas to compete. Today, Facebook is a technology behemoth; the Frankenstein’s monster of social media platforms. Not only has the company consumed its competitors, it’s consumed our habits, making it too hard and too inconvenient for the average person to #DeleteFacebook.
I’m not an active Facebook user, but haven’t left for fear of being disconnected—from family, friends, and even people I’ve never met. To older generations, like my mom, who said she’s concerned by Facebook’s actions, but can’t imagine deleting her account, cutting the cord means severing rekindled relationships and familial ties. People who are 55 years and older are the social network’s fastest growing demographic. There are countless ways that Facebook has exploited the psychological effects of Being Online, but that’s not what truly handcuffs us to the site.
In 2009, Facebook purchased the now-defunct FriendFeed, a social media aggregator, for $15 million, plus $32.5 million in stock. Around that time, Facebook was already replicating FriendFeed’s original features, such as the “Like” button, and real-time updates.
“There are still numerous ways FriendFeed beats out Facebook’s News Feed setup,” Techcrunch reported. “One of these is the way stories are ‘floated’ to the top as new users comment on them. And FriendFeed’s system is truly real-time, unlike Facebook’s feed which users have to manually refresh.”
One year later, Facebook paid $40 million for all the social networking patents owned by Friendster, another long-gone, but once beloved, social platform. “It was important that Facebook remove any shadow of a doubt that someone else had the rights to the intellectual property behind its core technology,” wrote Gigaom.
In 2012, it famously paid $1 billion for Instagram after killing what appeared to be its own photo sharing app. Two years later, for $19 billion, it purchased WhatsApp, the wildly popular messaging app and Facebook Messenger competitor.
Then, Facebook spent $150 million in 2013 on a VPN (virtual private network) technology called Onavo. It allows the company to spy on user behavior under the guise of protecting their data, according to the Washington Post. With our browsing habits and app usage, Facebook can ascertain our desires, and fulfil them—whether it’s Snapchat-like filters, or WeChat-like games.
Facebook has acquired a host of diverse companies. Either absorbing them, borrowing from them, or simply keeping them under its umbrella. A location-based check-in startup, mobile advertising talent, group messaging technology, a Q&A service, and a social gifting platform, among others—core features of the Facebook we know and use today.
“Our full mission statement is: give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” Zuckerberg said at last year’s Facebook Community Summit. “That reflects that we can't do this ourselves, but only by empowering people to build communities and bring people together.”
But is Facebook bringing communities together, or is it making it impossible to build them elsewhere?