Big IS Bad!  

By Shlomo Maital   

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination.  By Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. 2012.

     One of the principles of anti-trust legislation (“trust” from Trustees, the original Standard Oil Trust monopoly set up by John D. Rockefeller) is that big is not necessarily bad.  Just because a business is really ‘big’,  it does not mean it is predatory, nefarious, and monopolistic.  You have to prove it does harm, not just that it is big. 

      I think this is proven wrong.  Big is bad.  Why?  Because there is something about big that drives businesses to become bigger, and to use its power to destroy competition.  It seems inevitable.  Even the ‘good guys’ fall prey. I have taught in a dozen business schools all over the world — my MBA students were bright young people, good people — and yet I know, when they are thrown in with sharks they become like them.

      Take Mark Zuckerberg.  Nice Jewish boy from a good home, Harvard grad….   And now, President Biden says Facebook is killing people (with false anti-vax propaganda).  And it is indeed.  Why?  Because to grow big, Facebook uses algorithms that drive ‘emotion’, to make its pages and groups ‘sticky’ and ‘attractive’ – and emotion drives this, not facts,  and emotion feeds on those, who often seek conspiratorial or nefarious posts by others. 

Read Sheera Frenkel’s and Cordelia Kang’s new investigative book, if you are still doubtful. “….sealed off in tight circles of advisers and hobbled by their own ambition and hubris, Zuckerberg has stood by as their technology is coopted by hate-mongers, criminals and corrupt political regimes across the globe, with devastating consequences. In An Ugly Truth, they are at last held accountable.]

     Google?  Now being sued by the US Justice Dept.  It started with “do no evil” on its masthead – and removed it in May 2018.  Why? Because it is doing a lot of evil, for sure – like Facebook, swallowing smaller competitors, and collecting vast amounts of our personal data, for use by advertisers. 

    Amazon?  Apple?   And so on….

    So yes, big is bad – because when you become big, you want to stay big – and to stay big, you have to do things that destroy your competition, because often your competition is faster, more agile, more creative, and has disruptive technology – so you buy it, and as Exxon often did,  put it unused on the shelf. 

     And Exxon, by the way —   stonewalling efforts to move it toward renewable energy, helping to ruin our planet by continuing to push fossil fuels…  and a few other Big Oil firms with it.

     Maybe we need to rethink anti-trust legislation. Maybe big is indeed bad.  Maybe there is a reason why ‘do no evil’ got scrubbed from Google’s website.   Zuckerberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos —  they are not evil.  But the context of capitalist business leads them to do actions that in the end are definitely evil.

      Let’s help them out by not letting businesses become killer whales.