Last week, Facebook completed its acquisition of mobile messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion in the largest-ever purchase of a Silicon Valley company. That $19 billion figure has since risen to a $22 billion valuation, thanks to Facebook's rising share price.
On the day the deal closed, former British foreign secretary and current president of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband sent this poignant tweet:
Milliband has a point. On its own, the enormous valuation of a hot new messaging tool is fairly staggering. But what's more disturbing is that Facebook, a company that makes money off monopolizing your attention, spent more to acquire a slick messaging app than the world spent to combat some of the planet's most pressing humanitarian crises.
According to the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), humanitarian groups like International Rescue Committee, which "responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild," needed a minimum of $17.2 billion to finance humanitarian aid in 2014. As of Oct. 9, UNOCHA had raised only $8.4 billion, just 49% of what it actually needs.
For additional context, donors only raised $19.1 billion in assistance to help combat HIV and AIDS around the world in 2013, a record year for the global response to HIV. The U.N. Development Program's entire integrated budget for 2014-2017, which encompasses UNDP, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UN-Women, is projected to include $9.8 billion in 2014.
In fairness, 2013 was a record year for humanitarian relief, as global spending soared to $22 billion due to, as the Guardian notes, "conflicts in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria combined with natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines," which drove donors "to pay out more emergency aid than ever before."
But these two charts do capture a worrying tendency in the world's consumer culture. WhatsApp is worth $22 billion because that's what hundreds of technology analysts and millions of consumers believe, but global humanitarian crises rarely get the same support from our global economy. People can invest and spend their hard-earned money however they want and for whatever reason they want, but this stark contrast reveals something alarming about our values.
The best articulation of this disparity in attention actually comes from former Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher. "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," Hammerbacher told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2011. "That sucks."
Yes. Yes it does.
h/t The Independent