Facebookland
The Atlantic|November 2021
The social giant isn’t just acting like an authoritarian power. It is one.
By Adrienne LaFrance

In 1947, Albert Einstein, writing in this magazine, proposed the creation of a single world government to protect humanity from the threat of the atomic bomb. His utopian idea did not take hold, quite obviously, but today, another visionary is building the simulacrum of a cosmocracy.

Mark Zuckerberg, unlike Einstein, did not dream up Facebook out of a sense of moral duty, or a zeal for world peace. This summer, the population of Zuckerberg’s supranational regime reached 2.9 billion monthly active users, more humans than live in the world’s two most populous nations—China and India—combined.

To Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, they are citizens of Facebookland. Long ago he conspicuously started calling them “people” instead of “users,” but they are still cogs in an immense social matrix, fleshy morsels of data to satisfy the advertisers that poured $54 billion into Facebook in the first half of 2021 alone—a sum that surpasses the gross domestic products of most nations on Earth.

GDP makes for a telling comparison, not just because it gestures at Facebook’s extraordinary power, but because it helps us see Facebook for what it really is. Facebook is not merely a website, or a platform, or a publisher, or a social network, or an online directory, or a corporation, or a utility. It is all of these things. But Facebook is also, effectively, a hostile foreign power.

This is plain to see in its single- minded focus on its own expansion; its immunity to any sense of civic obligation; its record of facilitating the undermining of elections; its antipathy toward the free press; its rulers’ callousness and hubris; and its indifference to the endurance of American democracy.

Some of Facebook’s most vocal critics push for antitrust regulation, the unwinding of its acquisitions, anything that might slow its snowballing power. But if you think about Facebook as a nation-state— an entity engaged in a cold war with the United States and other democracies—you’ll see that it requires a civil-defense strategy as much as regulation from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Hillary Clinton told me last year that she’d always caught a whiff of authoritarianism from Zuckerberg. “I feel like you’re negotiating with a foreign power sometimes,” she said. “He’s immensely powerful.” One of his early mantras at Facebook, according to Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang in their book, An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination, was “company over country.” When that company has all the power of a country itself, the line takes on a darker meaning.

THE BASIC COMPONENTS of nationhood go something like this: You need land, currency, a philosophy of governance, and people.

When you’re an imperialist in the metaverse, you need not worry so much about physical acreage— though Zuckerberg does own 1,300 acres of Kauai, one of the less populated Hawaiian islands. As for the rest of the items on the list, Facebook has them all.

Facebook is developing its own money, a blockchain-based payment system known as Diem (formerly Libra) that financial regulators and banks have feared could throw off the global economy and decimate the dollar.

And for years Zuckerberg has talked about his principles of governance for the empire he built: “Connectivity is a human right”; “Voting is voice”; “Political ads are an important part of voice”; “The great arc of human history bends towards people coming together in ever greater numbers.” He’s extended those ideas outward in a new kind of colonialism—with Facebook effectively annexing territories where large numbers of people weren’t yet online. Its controversial program Free Basics, which offered people free internet access as long as Facebook was their portal to the web, was hawked as a way to help connect people. But its true purpose was to make Facebook the de facto internet experience in countries all over the world.

FACEBOOK REQUIRES A CIVIL-DEFENSE STRATEGY AS MUCH AS REGULATION FROM THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION.

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