Who will fix Facebook first?

Facebook is simply ripe for some good old disruption, like MySpace was in the middle of the last decade.

In January, Mark Zuckerberg pledged he would fix Facebook’s biggest problems this year. Well, turned out that a year is not enough. As early as May, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he increased the amount of time he needs to three years.

The big question is now: Will he be given three years to fix the digital behemoth he has created? Personally, I don’t think so. But I may be wrong.

This week, news came out that more than a quarter of Americans say they’ve deleted the Facebook app, including almost half of 18- to 29-year-olds. Even if they didn’t really remove the app, at least it shows a growing negative sentiment towards Facebook.

People start to realise that Facebook is probably the worst example of a digital product that doesn’t really improve our lives, but instead isolates us in filter bubbles and divides society. And that’s not the only problem Facebook has created.

Is the Facebook death spiral Nick Bilton saw in January now taking shape? The stock market seems to be sceptical: Compared to early January, the stock price is down and moving further downwards. This is a sharp contrast to Apple and Amazon, the two most valuable public companies of the world. Apple is now worth more than a trillion dollar, and Amazon also touched the trillion dollar mark this week. Facebook? Less than 500 billion.

While that’s still a lot, to be sure, at the same time the case to split up Facebook is fleshing out. Tim Wu, who coined the term net neutrality, pleaded for this break-up in a recent podcast. He doesn’t limit the scope to Facebook – Google and Amazon are also on his list. For Facebook, breaking off WhatsApp and Instagram could be a start.

Long-term, this could also be in the best interest of the shareholders. Even Rockefeller, the owner of Standard Oil, became the richest man in the world only after Standard Oil was split into 34 companies in 1911. It turned out these individual companies would generate more income than a single one.

Meanwhile, Washington was busy discussing with Facebook and Twitter executives (and would have loved to hear Google testify as well). Prepare for some kind of regulation further down the road.

And Washington is not the only player. The biggest threat to Google and Facebook may well be regulation by the EU authorities. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is not shy when it comes to tackling the big guys from Silicon Valley (and Seattle).

So the race is on. If Mark Zuckerberg can’t fix Facebook, Washington and the EU surely will. And their respective agenda differs, obviously. While Zuckerberg still wants and needs growth, i.e. more power, the regulators aim to limit both.

The example of the Philippines clearly serves as a warning sign. This country has every element from a dystopic playbook: a Facebook penetration of 97% – and an autocratic president who uses Facebook as a weapon.

But besides regulation (that will very likely come, sooner or later), there is another trend working against Facebook: the shift away from a one-size-fits-all network to special interest. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin expects more niche networks in the near future. And he invests in them, putting his money where his mouth is.

It might make sense to undo the great unification of user profiles that occurred only a decade ago with the rise of the big platforms. Even an ancient platform like LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) with its clear focus on business feels increasingly better than Facebook or Twitter with their toxic mix of every aspect of our lives, be it private or professional.

Facebook is simply ripe for some good old disruption, like MySpace was in the middle of the last decade.

Photo by Marc Steenbeke on Unsplash