Meta embraced the death of globalization, and it’s paying off
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Meta embraced the death of globalization, and it’s paying off

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Good morning! Meta getting banned in Russia might turn out to be a win for the company. I’m Hirsh Chitkara, and I've recently been listening to a series of lectures on France since 1871. I've been particularly intrigued by the French resistance to the domestic introduction of Coca-Cola after World War II.

Meta bet on the end of globalization and won

How long would TikTok remain in U.S. app stores if it allowed users to post death threats against Joe Biden but not other public figures? The answer, of course, is not very long at all.

Yesterday, Russian courts decided to label Meta an “extremist” organization and formally ban Facebook and Instagram. Earlier this month, Meta temporarily amended its policy on hate speech, allowing users in some countries to call for the death of Vladimir Putin and for violence against Russian soldiers, some of whom are still teenagers.

It was clear from the beginning: Meta had to take sides. Given the tremendous pressure exerted on Meta by both Russia and the U.S. and EU, the company couldn’t stick to its usual narrative of “just following local law.”

  • With this writing on the wall, Meta sprang into action early, limiting Russian state-backed media within the first few days of the conflict.
  • Then in early March, Russia blocked domestic access to Facebook in response to the media restrictions. Each side continued to escalate the breakup, hastening the definitive split that occurred Wednesday (though WhatsApp and Messenger will continue to operate in Russia).

Meta’s break with Russia will help advance its policy agenda in the U.S. and EU. Meta clearly wasn’t trying very hard to maintain the good graces of Russian officials, and that could help the company in the long run.

  • When asked in a March 1 press call why Meta had difficulty condemning the Russian invasion, Nick Clegg responded: “It would be very difficult to condemn it, and I sort of feel we have done so, but we’re a company, we’re not a government.”
  • The statement shows that Meta diverted from its usual narrative, leading to a contradictory pair of assertions: Meta is a private company that doesn’t have a political agenda, and Meta also stands firmly behind the U.S. and EU.
  • Contradictory or not, Meta’s lobbyists have already attempted to parlay their hardline stance on Russia into an argument against antitrust. Big Tech-backed lobbying organizations such as the Chamber of Progress now argue that proposed antitrust bills would have undermined Big Tech's ability to swiftly remove RT and Sputnik.
  • EU digital chief Margrethe Vestager — a reliable thorn in the side of Big Tech — even seemed to soften her tone on this issue. “It’s so important that we have good cooperation with the platforms to make sure the propaganda is not allowed to remain on them,” Vestager said in a recent interview with The Verge.

Meta’s Russia playbook shows it has embraced the death of globalized tech aspirations. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg reportedly asked President Xi to name his child? The request came years after China booted Facebook from its borders, but it demonstrated the lingering global aspirations of Big Tech. Those dreams look increasingly naive in the modern political landscape. Meta’s handling of the Russia dispute shows that companies face mounting pressure to pick sides, and doing so early seems to pay off.

If Meta is reading the tea leaves correctly, then TikTok’s troubles aren’t over. Meta didn’t have all that much to lose by getting kicked out of Russia. Ads from Russian advertisers for Russian users accounted for around 1.5% of the company’s 2021 advertising revenue, Meta CFO David Wehner disclosed in a Morgan Stanley conference earlier this month. TikTok, meanwhile, is the most prominent social media company that generates substantial revenue in a country that is at odds with its parent entity’s home nation. If U.S.-China relations continue to deteriorate, that may mean more trouble for TikTok ahead.

— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)


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