The longtime goal of Facebook, and of founder Mark Zuckerberg—who was memorably profiled here by Jose Antonio Vargas as “an over-sharer in the age of over-sharing”—has been to build a separate Internet. (Also see Ken Auletta’s Profile of Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s C.O.O.) In the minds of people who work at Facebook, there’s the cold, confusing, open Internet that is managed by Google and its algorithms. You go there and you never quite know what you’re going to get. And then there’s the Facebook sub-Internet, where everything is kinder and organized by your friends.
Initially, Facebook was just a place to post photographs and see which of your high-school classmates had gone to pot. Then it became a place for organizing political protests, and wasting time playing games. It’s grown and grown in all these ways. It gets credit from many for helping facilitate the Arab Spring, and it now hosts four per cent of all the photographs ever taken. Now, if Facebook gets its way, it’ll be where you read your news, find new songs, and watch video. It will have eaten a big chunk of the rest of the Internet.
There are great consequences to this. The more our online lives take place on Facebook, the more we depend on the choices of the people who run the company—what they think about privacy, how they think we should be able to organize our friends, what they tell advertisers (and governments) about what we do and what we buy. We’ll rely on whom they choose as partners to give us news and music. Real issues are at stake, in other words—not just the size of photos and whether you can poke.