Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Facebook and rivals could be ‘too big to fail’

The Oxford Internet Institute has warned of catastrophic consequences if social media giants suddenly collapse

 In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 in this photo illustration a Facebook App logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Facebook; The Oxford Internet Institute has warned of catastrophic consequences if social media giants suddenly fail  AFP
 In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 in this photo illustration a Facebook App logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Facebook; The Oxford Internet Institute has warned of catastrophic consequences if social media giants suddenly fail  AFP

Facebook and similar social media behemoths could be too big to fail, a UK research institute has warned, saying the sudden demise of the platforms could have dire consequences.

Writing in the journal Internet Policy Review, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute argued current rules did not address the risks that would follow if networks such as those supported by Facebook or Google failed.

“Society is becoming increasingly dependent on data-rich ‘Big Tech’ platforms and social networks, such as Facebook and Google,” the article said.

“The demise of a global online communication platform such as Facebook could have catastrophic social and economic consequences for innumerable communities that rely on the platform on a daily basis,” it added.

Fears over the sudden collapse of a social media platform were not unfounded. Over the past two decades a number of social networks had seen radical decline. These included Friendster, Yik Yak and, more recently, Google+ and Yahoo Groups, Internet Policy Review explained.

Others such as MySpace had not shut but instead “continue to languish in a state of decline”, it added.

In large parts of the world Facebook had become the pre-eminent social media platform. It had been seen as more resilient to what the journal called “user flight”.

However, this did not mean Facebook could suddenly see itself decline in one geographic area or another.

For example, while Friendster started to lose users rapidly in North America, its user numbers were simultaneously growing exponentially in South-East Asia. It was eventually sold to a Filipino internet company before it closed in 2015.

Internet Policy Review identified a number of possible threats to Facebook, which included regulatory headwinds over privacy as well as competition from other platforms such as WeChat and Parler.

Ultimately, among other measures, the Oxford academics called for a regulatory framework to protect the institutions and legal mechanisms for users to control their own data, and urged incentives for Facebook to preserve historically significant data.

Updated: August 12, 2020 08:53 PM

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