On Thursday, Facebook overlord Mark Zuckerberg published his annual New Year’s resolution list. Last year, he promised to hold a series of public talks on issues posed by the tech industry (and boy, did he ever).
But Zuckerberg’s list this year is different and more extensive, covering what he sees as the major tech developments of the next decade and hinting at Facebook’s sweeping plans to exploit them to its own benefit. One of them is “A New Private Social Platform,” possibly referring to Facebook’s plans to merge the technical backend of its Messenger platform with subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp and possibly attempt an end-run around antitrust law in the process. Others include “Generational Change,” “breakthrough augmented reality glasses that will redefine our relationship with technology,” and “New Forms of Governance,” maybe via government regulation but preferably through “establishing new ways for communities to govern themselves.” Then there’s one with the least hidden pretense of all: “Decentralizing Opportunity.”
You see, Zuckerberg imagines Facebook—already a global titan that for all intents and purposes is the gateway to the internet in some countries—its subsidiaries, and its ominous cryptocurrency becoming the primary vehicle for commerce worldwide. This might be good for Facebook, but to everyone else, Zuckerberg’s ambition to “decentralize opportunity” in developing markets should sound more like ambition to centralize “opportunity” under the Facebook umbrella:
The area we’re most focused on is helping small businesses. Across our services, more than 140 million small businesses already reach customers — mostly for free. Today this takes the form of an entrepreneur setting up an account on Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp, and then either communicating with people for free or buying ads to get their message out more broadly. Over the next decade, we hope to build the commerce and payments tools so that every small business has easy access to the same technology that previously only big companies have had.
If we can make it so anyone can sell products through a storefront on Instagram, message and support their customers through Messenger, or send money home to another country instantly and at low cost through WhatsApp — that will go a long way towards creating more opportunity around the world. At the end of the day, a strong and stable economy comes from people succeeding broadly, and the best way to do that is to make it so small businesses can effectively become technology companies.
We’ve already had a taste of how this might go down in reality town: Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp have been accused of enabling genocide in Myanmar (and then not doing anything about it) and stoking violence in India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Facebook didn’t do any of this deliberately, per se; it just barged in and made itself the internet’s absentee landlord, collecting ad revenue when it suited it but conveniently being nowhere to be found when it contributed to global instability.
Watch out, opportunity, because Facebook is going to decentralize the fuck out of you.