The Public Reckoning with Facebook

Facebook, along with the rest of the tech industry, is facing renewed scrutiny for governments and political watchdogs. Recently, Germany’s top court ruled that the company had abused its social media dominance to illegally collect data about its users. This comes after the already present antitrust concerns that resulted in Mark Zuckerberg agreeing to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and pausing the acquisition of Giphy. Along with this, a plethora of companies are pulling their advertisements from Facebook in response to hate speech and concerning political posts prevalent on the platform. With the importance of social media in today’s society, the recent challenges to Facebook’s business model highlight how the idea of social media as a marketplace of pure free expression can be challenged. 

Facebook’s refusal to fact check President Trump’s problematic posts is dangerous to democracy: it amplifies misinformation and provides a platform for hate groups to join together and become potentially dangerous. As Twitter recently started putting labels on President Trump’s troublesome tweets, Facebook seems to be realizing the effects of not taking down such posts. President Trump announced his order to curb government advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and Google as part of his executive order that went after internet companies in various forms. Originally, Facebook refused to take action against the President’s post that stirred dissent even amongst company employees, leading to campaigns such as Stop Hate for Profit to call them out on it. However, Zuckerberg recently wrote how the company wants, “to do more to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord.” Under these new policies, Facebook will ban ads that claim various groups are a threat to others. The company demonstrated this, as it took down a recent Trump campaign ad that displayed Nazi imagery

Facebook will begin flagging more posts that break its rules.

On the other hand, conservatives have also been critical of the seemingly liberal leaning social platforms such as Facebook that tend to direct censorship towards conservative writers and groups. Some moderators even say they delete everything conservative and in support of President Trump. With that in mind, Republican lawmakers’ new legislation fights the anti-conservative bias they see on Google and other social media sites. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced the legislation, and Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Marco Rubio of Florida are co-sponsors of it. 

Facebook’s dominance is great, and other countries are starting to fight it. The company lost the antitrust decision in Germany over data collection, which is a victory for those in favor of tougher technology regulations. In Germany, Facebook must now alter how it processes users’ data and must allow people to block the company from combining their Facebook information with their other activities or websites. Similarly, in UK, regulators launched an antitrust investigation. This occurred due to Facebook’s planned integration with Giphy, the animated search engine, and its acquisition has raised antitrust concerns in USA as well. 

However, all these squabbles will not lead to appreciable differences in Facebook’s business model. In fact, the last time there was a mass boycott of Facebook ads, it lasted for a year and did not significantly change the way Facebook runs its platform. While Facebook is losing ad revenue, their stock price has held. Consumer habits are also at a low point right now due to the pandemic, so companies across the board have been pulling back spending on advertising. Antitrust litigation tends to rely on the experience of the consumer, who at this time has free services. With big businesses boycotting Facebook Ads, Zuckerberg lost $7 billion, but this likely won’t last forever. Ben & Jerry’s has joined this boycott for the month of July, however in the long run, Facebook might try to make more amends and such companies will need to return to the platform as its catered audience is needed for their revenue. What those amends will consist of, however, is still up in the air.

As perhaps the dominant form of social media communication and exchange of information worldwide, any story pertaining to Facebook’s questionable actions can have drastic effects on businesses, politics, and people everywhere. Recognizing this, as part of the antitrust probe into big tech, the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Amazon have stated that they are willing to testify before Congress. Until then, Facebook is facing a snowball effect of advertisers joining this boycott, and with the upcoming election nearing closer by the day, it remains to be seen how they will adapt – or not – to these renewed criticisms

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