“The only way to predict the future is to have power to shape the future.” – Eric Hoffer
There was an announcement that seemed to have gone largely unnoticed in the financial and technology world today. Mainly because today Mubarak was reportedly stepping down as Egypt’s president – he did not. It went across the screen like any other typical headline reported on Bloomberg. Google and Facebook looking to acquire Twitter for a valued $8-10 billion. I recently closed my own Facebook over continued privacy concerns. Let’s see how long I can stay away given Facebook has become almost as necessary today as a cell phone it seems. That being said I took to my real addiction Twitter and said, Facebook posts today are going to be for this generation the tramp stamp and tribal tattoo of my generation. There will be things a lot of us did, thinking they were cool at the time, but will ultimately regret later in life. Ironically comments made on the internet are becoming as permanent as tattoos. Everything we say becoming a fixture that can be recalled later to our dismay and held against us.
Twitter and Facebook are places where people have become accustomed to expressing themselves to no end. Every random thought and feeling finds its way to Twitter or Facebook statuses. The problem is we’ve forgot that essential tool that we were raised with: the ability to filter. In the age of reality television it certainly could be argued that Facebook has become that for the everyday person. We see meltdowns, breakups, bullying, and every other imaginable thing happen via Facebook. Life imitating the art. So then why should the purchase of this pesky little Twitter company bother me? One word: POWER.
Over the past year we’ve seen Facebook, Inc. become a company valued (at press time) at $60 billion in its most recent valuation. This places the company’s value roughly equal to Ford Motor Company, U.S. Steel, and Monsanto (world’s largest agriculture seed company) – COMBINED. Three companies, who transport us, help us build, and feed us. A social media company is worth the equivalent. Wrap your mind around that for a moment and ask yourself why? And the answer is in one word: INFORMATION. Facebook and all social media are and will be the most valued companies for years to come because they do one thing better than any company previously who were paid to do it, and that’s get our personal information, thoughts, desires, hopes, fears, dreams and we give it willingly for FREE. As deputy editor at Forbes Nicole Perloth stated today in her article as it related to the almost 3 to 1 bid to value Facebook and Google offered to Twitter “The real value is going to be in the data Twitter already has and continues to amass about topics, people and their connections.” And information is power. The ultimate power for companies and organizations who want to control trends, purchasing, and attitudes of the consumer or voter.
So let’s get back to this alliance and why it alarms me. These companies are arguably the most powerful companies in their field. Let’s connect the dots and start at the beginning with America’s wealthiest and largest philanthropist – Bill Gates. The Microsoft corporation which at one point tried to buy Google but missed the window owns a small but influential portion of Facebook. Google now owns YouTube, the largest broadcaster of uploaded user videos and growing corporate and organizational videos. Al-Jazeera actually reported live from YouTube on Mubarak’s speech if you could not get to a television. Signaling computers and smartphones will be even more so the medium from which we get our news via the web. Google as well tried to purchase Facebook. Now there is Facebook and its 500 million users (minus one); a founder who has consistently run into abuse of power issues since the company’s very founding; a company that continues to become wealthier by the day; and that has reached a value of $50 billion just weeks ago with the announcement of an investment by none other than Goldman Sachs. The Goldman Sachs whose reach into Washington politics is so deep that if it played with Washington’s proverbial ass it could make the mouth talk. It also manages close to $1 trillion in assets, an economic weapon not to be take lightly, and who many say was one of if not the most influential player in our subprime crisis. Now there is Twitter. The company who has 200 million users itself and by some estimates are a make-up of the who’s who and everyday man. Politicians like mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey who is so popular being a follower of his is almost cult-like. His public schools just also happen to receive $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Who else is on twitter? The better question is who is not? Every major company worth its salt is on twitter, non-profit organizations, politicians, celebrities, bloggers, and everyday joes and janes.
There is a massive amount of information being consolidated in the hands of a few and it is has the potential to be extremely dangerous. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter – all intertwined. Apple aside can you name companies more powerful roaming the internet and collecting your information? Now back to that conglomerate who has the financial and political backing of Goldman Sachs, who all but bullied the U.S. Government to use AIG as a backdoor bailout so it could avoid receiving pennies on the dollar for its bad debt and instead received dollar for dollar. Every search we search on Google, every video posted on YouTube, every bit of personal information from location to workplace to school we post on Facebook, and every thought we post to Twitter is all in the hands of a small group. Lest us not forget that Microsoft’s founder is head of the world’s largest non-profit organization. If you think non-profits can do no harm, ask Africa about the missionaries who came to “help”. Or ask New Orleans about about non-profits that came to “help”. The proverb by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” better known as – The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The very thing the internet was suppose to do is give everyone free uncensored access to information. The ultimate ability to level the playing field. That was because everyone was powerful on the internet. Nobody controlled the internet. Now we see that we might have hoped too soon for this to be true. The way we have the diamond and oil cartels there is clearly a forming internet cartel and its commodity is information. Maybe the most valuable commodity on this Earth. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz famously said “Power never takes a step back – only in the face of more power.” The U.S. can vie to this truth with the rise of China. A superpower needs another superpower to keep it in check. And we are witnessing the rise of a superpower in a place that knows no borders. After all it is the World Wide Web. Did I forget to mention that Google was collecting your health data? This information cartel very well could know you better than you know yourself.
It may be 2011 but its feeling more and more like 1984.
Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & CEO of Sechen Imara Solutions, LLC. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.