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Commentary: Facebook buys WhatsApp for life support
Published on March 14, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Let’s face it, haven’t you had enough of the mundane and often-recycled crap your ‘friends’ share … every day, several times a day? Even worse are the hucksters who keep begging you to ‘Like’ them or their page so they can make money off your ‘friendship.’ Then of course there are the myriad ways those little zuckerheads get you to betray your own privacy.

These are just some of the reasons why Facebook will soon go the way of MySpace. Remember that bubble sensation…?

In the meantime, though, Zuckerberg and his circle of real friends will be laughing all the way to the bank.

(“Is Facebook the Next MySpace?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 17, 2013)

Well, it seems my commentary on Facebook’s demise was greatly exaggerated. In fact, given the hosanna-like media reports, you’d think Facebook purchasing WhatsApp a few weeks ago was tantamount to Ponce de León actually discovering the Fountain of Youth.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app for smartphones, according to OnDevice Research…

Facebook bought WhatsApp to add value to its existing messaging services, as well as for the long-term potential of the company.

(CNN, February 19, 2014)

I was too captivated by the Sochi Olympics back then to comment. So here’s my belated take:

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
I’m a frequent and happy WhatsApp user. Therefore, I can personally attest that this was a lifesaving purchase for Facebook; and that WhatsApp is worth every penny of the $19 billon it paid.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was smart to buy WhatsApp before Facebook went into the desuetude that inevitably befalls all social networks. By instructive contrast, Rupert Murdoch was foolish to buy MySpace (for $580 million in 2005) when it was already in desuetude. This is why he had no choice but to excise MySpace for a mere $35 million just six years later to cauterize its metastasizing effect on the rest of his News Corporation.

I just hope Zuckerberg honors his promise to leave WhatsApp users well enough alone. Because I’m all too mindful that he did not become a multibillionaire by providing Facebook users a network to overshare everything about their humdrum lives free of charge. He became one by peddling all of the private information they blithely overshare on that network to data brokers looking to sell them everything from subprime mortgages and toothpaste to swampland and penis pumps.

Incidentally, I cannot point out too often that these are the same misguided nincompoops who vented shocked indignation at the NSA for mining this data to keep them safe.

Mind you, Zuckerberg reconciles this peddling with his corporate conscience by duly noting that Facebook users implicitly agree to his Faustian bargain: free use of his network in exchange for allowing him to peddle their private information.

But on behalf of all WhatsApp users I hereby explicitly reject any such bargain. We’d prefer to pay a fee (from $1 to $100 per year) to be spared his creepy solicitations for more and more personal information (“to enhance our WhatsApp experience”), his commercial exploitation of that information, and his defiling our WhatsApp screens with commercial ads.

Of course I appreciate that, for Facebook users, this might seem like charging babies for breast milk. After all, they’ve developed the childish expectation that they should be able to not only network and text but also consume all online content free of charge. This is just one of the many cultural maladies Facebook has wrought.

In any event, replacing its Faustian bargain with this new pay-for-use paradigm might mean that, instead of a net worth of $28.5 billion (as of March 2014 according to Forbes), Zuckerberg would have to make do with $15 billion (give or take a billion). But even that reduced amount should constitute an embarrassment of riches for this man who continually professes that an acute social conscience guides his corporate mission.

Interestingly enough, Zuckerberg justifies his purchase by lauding WhatsApp’s unprecedented rate of growth with undisguised envy. He would be loath to acknowledge, however, that much of this growth stems from disaffected Facebook users finally realizing that they are alienating not only virtual but real friends with their TMI posts.

Not to mention the turnoff Instagram selfies have become. Aren’t you shocked at the number of pathetic fools who think it’s cool to post selfies -- invariably mugging for the camera or showing off in various stages of undress -- for all the world to see…?

Indeed, it’s no wonder Zuckerberg was forced to pay nearly 20 times more for WhatsApp’s simple person-to-person messaging than he paid for Instagram’s Facebook-like person-to-people oversharing.

Ultimately, Facebook buying WhatsApp represents the belated triumph of good old-fashioned commonsense and discretion over fleeting narcissism and self-delusion. In other words, it will finally dawn on all Facebook users that they and their banal thoughts are no more interesting in the virtual world than they are in the real world.

Therefore, I say to them, get over yourselves already and use WhatsApp!

NOTE: I’m not asserting that Facebook has no socially redeeming value. It works well as a public registry and message board, for example.

Related commentaries:
Facebook next MySpace

Reads: 3494

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The Caribbean Writer 2014

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