Investor Chamath Palihapitiya made part of his fortune at Facebook, where he was a vice president for more than four years, leaving one year before its 2012 IPO.
Though he has voiced concerns numerous times since about his former employer, he also believes it has played an active role in enabling users to report and disseminate important information. For example, he suggests it was smart phones and social media that has made so many Americans aware of the George Floyd tragedy and enabled citizens in the U.S. and at least 12 other countries to organize protests against racism. Without these platforms, he suggests, we might even be engaged in a traditional civil war in this country.
That doesn’t mean Facebook or others of its gigantic peers are any more immune to be regulated, however — not in his view. As Palihapitiya said of the companies during an online tech event this morning: “Are they going to get broken up? Yes. Will every single government go after them? Absolutely.”
His more specific prediction is that Facebook, as well as Amazon, Google, and Apple, will continue to be investigated and fined by regulators around the world until they are no longer the leviathans they have become. “First, they’ll taxed to death, then they’ll get trust-busted,” said Palihapitiya.
He doesn’t think it will take all that much longer, either.
While investors are currently being rewarded for “going long” on the companies as they grow largely unabated, Palihapitiya said that, “on the margin, over the next 10 years . . . regulators will get their way” because “these internet companies undermine what regulators want, which is power. And the more you distribute power and information to the edges, the more in the crosshairs you will be.” (Palihapitiya noted that the only big tech company that hasn’t become a target of antitrust regulators is Microsoft, and he suggested it won’t be spared forever, either. He more or less thinks the company was given a break, following the consent decree approved in 2002 that curbed some of Microsoft’s practices and that only expired in 2011.)
Interestingly, no matter Facebook’s size going forward, Palihapitiya thinks the “pendulum will swing for it to be more sort of Middle America, the sort of ‘Fox News,’” of social media, as Twitter meanwhile swings to the “coastal cities in the United States.” It’s already easy to see these “demographic segmentations that are happening amongst these huge products,” he said.
The latter development may be much closer at hand. Kevin Roose, a New York Times columnist covering the intersection of technology, business and culture, occasionally tweets about the top-performing posts on Facebook. Yesterday, as is often the case, the searches skewed heavily toward conservative figures and themes.
Top-performing posts on Facebook today (link posts only, ranked by interactions, data from @crowdtangle) are from:
1. Donald J. Trump
2. Franklin Graham
3. Fox News
4. Fox News
5. Ben Shapiro
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Ben Shapiro
8. Blue Lives Matter
9. Occupy Democrats
10. Sean Hannity
— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) June 16, 2020
Teased by interviewer Robin Wigglesworth of the FT about how Facebook might react to the comparison, Palihapitiya said matter-of-factly of the different platforms, “The content reinforces the kind of person that wants to be using them. It’s no different today than when you choose to watch MSNBC versus CBS versus Fox News.”