Facebook recently bought Instagram, a tiny mobile photo-sharing company that employed 13 workers, in what appears to be a continuous effort by Facebook to maximize its grip on the Internet, as well as its public influence.
The Instagram smartphone app had been rapidly gaining popularity, but was hardly viewed as a Facebook rival. Nevertheless, the social network goliath bought Instagram for $1 billion, and not without making its 13 employees very wealthy. In addition to keeping those workers, Mark Zuckerberg has also stated he wants to keep Instagram as an independent (for now) unit maintained by the same people responsible for its success in the first place.
Many Instagram fans and critics of this move are unhappy, however, perhaps for a deeper reason.
What once began as a small dorm room-operated social experiment for students of Harvard has today become one of the ‘Big Five’ companies currently monopolizing the Internet (its four peers cited as being Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon).
Having carved out its own slice of the web, Facebook expands its outreach more and more as the years tick by, and is now viewed as being so large that it can kill or buy most competitors. As it stands now, Zuckerberg’s juggernaut pretty much writes the proverbial rules of engagement for social media, hardware/software design, and e-commerce.
If, in the years ahead, the expansion of the Facebook machine continues, it raises important questions regarding online freedom and corporate ownership vs. democratization of the Internet.
The critics of Facebook’s gobbling up of Instagram are agitated because they feel that they are having less and less areas of the web free of Facebook’s stronghold. This is partially true; for those areas that are removed from it, one or more of the other ‘Big Five’ names are most likely involved.
And any of these big names have also seen increased usage by government agencies – some say, in potential violation of civil liberties.
Facebook has also been increasingly asking for more and more information from people, under the guise of ‘new improvements;’ its new Timeline feature stretches back all the way to your birthdate, tempting users to add baby photos and fill in the blanks for their entire life, year by year, for the world to see.
As these big companies take measures like this more and more often, those who wish for the Internet to have a more democratic approach grow more concerned.
The remedy, it would seem, is to stop the acquisition of the Internet by private firms, and, in the interest of average working class users, return it to a form in which it may become a democratically controlled public forum for society. In the hands of corporations, there is the ever-growing feeling that social media may become Big Brother.
Photo: Facebook is rapidly growing and acquiring smaller companies. Jeff Chiu/AP