Um, how do you actually break up Facebook?

Breaking off Instagram and WhatsApp present different challenges (and would have unintended consequences).


December 15, 2020

Image Source: Giphy

Breaking up Facebook is like playing laser tag drunk.

It’s a great idea at first blush… but if you think through the actual logistics, it gets complicated.

In the wake of the US government’s antitrust suit against the giant social network, experts are chiming in on what a FB split might actually look like.

One problem: Facebook has deeply integrated its products

WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and old-school FB all have different front ends — but they now share back-end connections and the same master messaging platform.

Facebook CEO Zucky McBuckFace said that this move was intended to provide more security; others believe the main motivation was to stave off a potential breakup.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the apps present different challenges:

  • Instagram is very plugged into Facebook’s advertising infrastructure, and employees are split across teams.
  • WhatsApp has little advertising integration and its messaging encryption is largely independent of the mother ship — though at least one former FB engineer says its back end could be harder to break off.

There are other remedies than a break

Facebook’s former security chief (Alex Stamos) says you could keep the integrations but force Instagram to operate “separate advertising, policy, and product teams.”

There’s also no guarantee that the new companies would compete.

Further, tech analyst Benedict Evans says a breakup could:

  • Reduce privacy, as advertisers have more leverage and options.
  • Slow content moderation, by fragmenting the moderation and abuse teams that FB spends billions of dollars a year on.

As with drunk laser tag, there will always be unintended consequences.

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