Why Was Facebook So Easy to Hijack? By Christopher Mims.
What do Facebook Inc., the Soviet Union and the European
Reformation have in common? They all consist of networks that formed quickly by leveraging new communications technologies and then just as swiftly were taken over by a handful of people who consolidated their influence over millions of people.
Some historians and scientists are coming to understand that the internet — and specifically Facebook — are only the latest examples of the revolution spawning networks, common throughout history, that give rise to hierarchies that both empower and oppress. …
Take the Bolshevik revolutions of 1917, for instance. The coalition of the armed forces and the industrial workforce that overthrew the czar was, essentially, a distributed network. But the circle of insiders who subsequently consolidated power over the Communist Party — whose control peaked with the rule of Joseph Stalin — is the hierarchy. …
Technology usually plays a role in revolutionary change. In Russia, it was telegraphs and railroads. In the case of the Reformation, the printing press allowed for the rapid spread of the Bible in local languages. The distributed network of believers posed a sudden threat to the established Catholic hierarchy, yet once Protestantism achieved critical mass, its own hierarchy arose.
“Luther thought that it would be great if everyone was connected and could read the Bible in the vernacular,” [historian Niall Ferguson] said. What Luther didn’t anticipate is what would come next — nearly 200 years of civil war.
“What happened in the 16th century in Europe is visible in American politics today, where you have two pretty hostile and separate spheres of conservatives and liberals who are scarcely communicating across a largely vacated middle,” Mr. Ferguson said.