The monopolisation of the world wide web: Can big tech be


Platforms like META and Google use mergers and acquisitions to gain market power, limiting a growing entrepreneurial market economy

Social networks are becoming increasingly complicated, particularly on platforms like Alphabet, META and Twitter, now rebranded as X, which serve as gatekeepers to many forms of knowledge. 

Prominent tech companies have extended their reach outside of their usual spheres, using mergers and acquisitions to gain market power and, more importantly, eliminate any would-be competitors.

Despite ongoing concerns about the global economy, the tech industry has not witnessed the pandemic-driven disruptions of the past few years as other industries have and has in fact – blossomed. 

Facing a projection to total $4.5 trillion this year, the tech enterprise has witnessed an increase of 2.4% from 2022.

Monopolies or oligopolies? 

According to data from 2022, Amazon, Alphabet, and META have a combined value of $2.306 trillion, with Apple holding a market value of $2.307 trillion on its own, leading many to wonder how this extremely high value come about? 

The answer is, through the acquisition of hundreds of companies over decades to propel them to become some of the most influential tech behemoths in the world.

Commenting on the common practice, Marc Owen Jones, an associate professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, said the approach to monopolising the tech scene is “unhealthy.” 

“META are acting like other big corporations, acquiring smaller rivals in a bid to [hinder] competition and dominate innovation. I don’t think it’s healthy to have such large monopolies, especially when they claim to be part of the free speech apparatus,” Jones told Doha News

“Here they position themselves as indispensable, yet they dominate the market,” he added. 

The associate professor is nott alone in his thoughts about META’s conduct as a monopolistic power. The US government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also claimed the tech company has “systematically bought up rivals to eliminate competition.” 

In 2022, the US competition and consumer regulator attempted to make META sell off Instagram and WhatsApp in conjunction with 46 states, alleging that the Facebook company has accumulated monopoly power through anti-competitive mergers.

The FTC expressed that META’s efforts prevented consumers from enjoying the benefits of competition and thus sought to have a forced sale of Instagram and WhatsApp to eliminate the alleged monopoly.

Despite the strong declaration from the US government, the case was thrown out by judges claiming that the FTC “had provided no proof for its assertion that Facebook held a monopoly position in social networking, but, instead, seemed to assume that everyone simply saw it that way.” 

Media technology executive and startup investor Greg Bergida noted that ownership of media and technology platforms “is getting greater scrutiny as they have global reach and hundreds of millions of users.” 

When speaking to Doha News, Bergida questioned the concept of of accountability in relation to tech giants, saying, “To what extent are the personal views of the owner being represented in algorithms and community standards? And then there is the question of accountability. If the ownership stake is large enough that they cannot be voted out of their position, other than the value of the company itself (which they may or may not care about), what can shift the strategy from personal objectives to what is best for the company and users?” 

Bergida believes that upcoming innovative entrepreneurs can break the monopoly cycle by penetrating the tech market with companies of their own. 

Naming a few social networking platforms, he said,” If we see success from Bluesky, Mastodon, and others, will it also fracture the longstanding assumption that Facebook is so large, and you can’t leave because all your friends and customers are there, that there is no point in creating a competitor? I’m confident there are innovative entrepreneurs out there who will watch for these cracks, apply pressure, and break into these markets with new platforms.” 

To regulate or not to regulate

Given the overwhelming presence of social networks in everday life, various critics have argued that the accelerating pace of technological innovation calls on governments to monitor and ensure policies are employed within the industry. 

There is no united front as of yet however, on tech policies, as the debate centres on whether governments can or should actively regulate technological innovation.

According to Jones, world governments have different approaches to tackling tech policy and thus the disparaity in regulations and policies that would occur, leaving the users of those networks are an unequal footing. 

“The EU and the US diverge on tech policy in many ways. The US is and has been averse to regulating the industry, while the EU has been more proactive in trying to regulate tech through initiatives such as the GDPR and now AI regulation,” the associate professor told Doha News

“But many countries are still dependent on large powers like the US and China when it comes to tech infrastructure, making self-determination in terms of tech policy unfeasible,” he added.

In giving the US as an example, Jones further explains that passing policies require resources and an extended period of time, rendering it difficult to pass policies within but a 4-year adminstration. 

“With regards to mergers, Biden has created a road map to try and strengthen antitrust guidelines to ensure the likes of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, etc don’t limit competition and innovation in the industry,” Jones noted. 

“As these are guidelines as opposed to hard laws, their implementation will require the political will and resources to succeed – which will depend on the administration and their priorities. We are unlikely to see an end to big tech dominance soon,” the associate professor added.

Whilst Jones voices his reservations on the ever-changing nature of governments in the West and the obstacles that may cause to properly regulating big tech, other concerns have also been raised by activists in regions suffering from authoritatian regimes and the existing monopoly of power and control that already exists in such contexts. 

Replication, not innovation

Mark Zuckerberg’s launching of Threads in July has been branded as a ‘copy and paste’ of Twitter, by a plethora of analysts and social media commentators, despite the platform anointing itself as an expansion of Instagram. 

“Threads is a copy and paste of Twitter, only with fewer features. Its potential lies in its ability to enable people to have conversations in a civil manner. If threads can succeed in doing this, positioning themself apart from Musk’s attempt to turn Twitter into a toxic, right-wing environment, then it will be meaningful,” Jones told Doha News.

“But right now, the likes of Threads, Bluskey, and Mastodon all do similar things and fragment the public discussion. It is not innovation but replication. There is value there; it all depends on the ethos and corporate social responsibility,” the associate professor added. 

Upon the announcement of Threads, Musk threatened to sue META, accusing the company of hiring former Twitter employees. 

With billions of users on Instagram, Threads received up to 30 million sign-ups on its launch and has recently accumulated more than 100 million users, according to 

Since, META has responded to Musk’s claims of cloning platforms through their spokesperson Andy Stone who wrote in a Threads post: “No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that’s just not a thing.”

To which Musk quipped, “Competition is fine, cheating is not.”

Bergida believes innovation can be subjective, expressing that it’s about the target audience. 

“For example, dating apps are nothing new; now it is just about carving out your niche user base. Functionally, Facebook and LinkedIn provide the same general experience, but their content and critical paths differ. Twitter, Threads, Mastodon, Bluesky, Truth Social, etc… all have a similar user interface but with the goal of meeting different user needs,” the expert told Doha News.

“Much like a car where the innovation is often on the inside, with social media you likely won’t see innovation in the wireframes. The growth of the Fediverse (federated social networking services) is an innovative approach to social media, even if the front end is familiar,” he added.

‘Rich kid not invited to the game’

Musk, who bought Twitter in October of 2022 for $44 billion, has gone a long way from becoming a famed billionaire tycoon liked by many to being anointed as the “world’s worst businessman.” 

The tech billionaire replaced Twitter’s iconic blue bird with “X” to reflect his ambitions to transform the social media platform to an “everything app.”

The latest change in the infamous social network has shocked most users, with some anticipating more changes in the near future.  

Musk’s version of Twitter is recasting itself from the uncomplicated platform that captured the attention of billions to a converged social media medium that supplies instant messaging and payment services, akin to the famed Chinese app WeChat.

“If you’re in China, you kind of live on WeChat; it does everything. It’s sort of like Twitter, plus PayPal, plus a whole bunch of other things. And all rolled into one […] great interface. It’s really an excellent app,” Musk has been reported saying.

Despite the heavy criticism from social media followers, Musk has laughed it off without taking the feedback on.  

Marc Owen Jones described the capitalist billionaire as a “rich kid destroying a game he wasn’t invited to play.” 

 “I think Musk listens to money and his own ego. If he believes decisions will benefit X financially, I am sure he will consider adopting them, but at the same time, his worldview and desire to destroy old Twitter – which he saw as a place for liberals and the ‘woke’ – will also inform his decisions. He’s like a rich kid destroying a game he wasn’t invited to play,” the associate professor told Doha News

After a year of ethical blunders, Musk has violated the rights of press freedom through the reckless suspension of journalists, prioritising his tweets above other users, and reinstating countless accounts belonging to neo-Nazis. 

The damaging content moderation has led X to losing tens of billions of dollars. 

With the fate of Musk’s X and platforms like Google and META hinging on uncertain, the question continues to loom over government officials and individuals on social media networks, can big tech be disrupted?

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