Facebook has amassed an astonishing amount of power. What if it was used for politics ends? – Laura Waddell

There was such panic at the start of the week when the Facebook network of apps went down – Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram all out cold – impacting an estimated 3.5 billion users worldwide.

There has been speculation that Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg could run for US president (Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
There has been speculation that Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg could run for US president (Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

That’s a huge number. It’s difficult to grasp almost half of the world’s citizens experiencing something – anything – simultaneously. But is it not concerning that so very many of us habitually funnel a good deal of our private, personal and sometimes even professional communications through one private company?

They might apologise when things go south, but ultimately, they owe us nothing.

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Frequent readers of my column will know that I have grumbled and grizzled about what the various Silicone Valley behemoths are doing with our data and to our democracy.

Most recently in the news, Instagram internal reports revealed that the company is aware “we make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” and “among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 per cent of British users and six per cent of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram”. And it is already used by billions.

We are only just starting to understand the scale of problems linked to social media, and its negative impacts on culture and society. But Monday evening’s outage shines a light on just how astonishingly heavy the world’s reliance is on this one tech giant.

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In this instance, channels of communication simply disappeared, which cut billions of people off for a few hours – frustrating but not a disaster. But what if the outage had not been so benign, with all those users sitting ducks for malicious surveillance, cybercrime or cyberwarfare?

I am reminded, also, of the period in which it was speculated Mark Zuckerberg was gearing up for a US presidential run and images of him touring American cities – as candidates do – appeared on his Facebook newsfeed.

There was no indication of wrongdoing around that episode, but it was creepy to think of the power amassed by the company, and what would happen if it was ever to be used for political ends.

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