But the past two weeks have made me look positively prescient.
First came Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen -- and she brought receipts.
The company knew Instagram damages teenagers’ mental health, including, in some instances, being driven to suicide. They knew vaccine misinformation and disinformation was running rampant. They lied about removing hate speech when they didn’t. They lied about their role in perpetuating misinformation and violent extremism relating to the 2020 election and January 6th insurrection. They lied about about their role in human trafficking and slavery. They let elites play by their own rules.
And then… The Great Outage. For six hours, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus went completely offline. The story became more and more schadenfreudian as it emerged that, because Facebook runs everything through Facebook, they had effectively locked the keys in the car and were unable even to enter their own building. When they finally did get in, they had to use an angle grinder to get into the server cage and fix the problem. (The big winner on the day, obviously, was Twitter, which took full advantage of the situation.)
After my last column came out, Gregory Lipper from People Data Company commented that it was clickbait, that I should have offered some evidence of the crumbling. I had mentioned a few in the article -- a major lawsuit that was filed last month against the company as well as its top executives and investors individually, the Federal Trade Commission building up the Facebook antitrust case -- and I was prepared to go deeper here.
But quite frankly, I’m not sure I need to. We can all see it now. The New York Times’ Kevin Roose put it most bleakly: “Facebook is in trouble. Not financial trouble, or legal trouble, or even senators-yelling-at-Mark-Zuckerberg trouble. What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day -- user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues… Godzilla eventually died, and as the Facebook Files make clear, so will Facebook.”
Even so, I’m still not making any specific predictions. Facebook has 2.74 billion users, and it took decades for the Roman Empire to fall. Even Frances Haugen herself isn’t advocating for Facebook to be broken up. (I remain utterly perplexed as to why not. Matt Stoller offers an excellent breakdown here on why the regulatory approach she proposes instead is a terrible idea.)
It may take a long while before even these big body blows start to have a material impact on the company. As I said two weeks ago, “It’s hard to imagine that anything could have a material impact on Facebook’s empire. But every empire looks that way -- until it falls.”