A few reflections on Facebook at Fifteen

To think that Facebook has only just turned 15 and it’s the world’s 6th largest company with a market cap of just under $400 billion. Today it has 2.32 billion users and direct influence over 70% (with Google) of the world’s internet. With $7 billion profits in the last quarter alone and monopolistic tendencies (buying up Instagram and WhatsApp for example) , it doesn’t look like it’s influence is going to wane anytime soon.

Facebook has had a lot of criticism in recent years about putting profits before privacy, much of it focussing on the underhand ways in which Facebook sells people’s personal data on to third parties so they can use it to manipulate people’s opinions and actions.

An anniversary’s a good time to reflect on some of the problems associated with Facebook.

selected Criticisms levelled at Facebook over the last 15 years…

  • Child exploitation – paying children as young as 13 $20 a month to give it access to all the data on their phones
  • Teenage suicides – Pictures of self-harm on Instagram being linked to teen suicides.
  • Fake News – Failing to deal with ‘Fake News’ stories – the company it hired recently to fact check its stories (Snopes) has just decided not to renew its contract with Facebook because it believes they have just been hired for PR rather than thorough fact checking.
  • Influencing the outcome of elections with said fake news.
  • Ignoring its own privacy policies and sharing user data without their explicit permission.
  • Allowing the dissemination of propaganda which has sparked violence
  • The normalisation of conspiracy theories and the polarisation of opinion.
  • Links to increasing incidence of anxiety and depression and low self-esteem among many users.

Facebook has a track record of behaving irresponsibly and selfishly, putting profit before the well-being of users and demonstrating a woeful lack of social responsibility, forever, claiming that it will ‘do better’ in the future… but it turns out that the social responsibility initiatives it puts in place are usually just P.R.

Will it be possible to reign Facebook in?

Governments seem powerless to do anything about it, maybe that’s because they gain from the distraction politics that Facebook perpetuates.

It also seems unlikely that there’s going to be a mass exodus from Facebook anytime soon – despite all of the issues over privacy and manipulation people just don’t care… its user base is still growing, even in the U.S.

Having said that, maybe there is hope…in 2004 when Facebook has only 100K users, Zuckerberg was asked whether this might be ‘the next big thing’, Zuckerberg’s response… ‘who knows… maybe we can make something cool’.

2004 wasn’t that long ago, so who knows where steem and other decentralised social networks might be in 2034?

Maybe that’s a little bleak – my best evidence that Facebook’s power might decline is the uncertain and unpredictable nature of postmodern social life!

Sources 

The Conversation 

The Week, 9th Feb, 2019

Image source – https://twitter.com/facebookevil

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