A cloud of smug could be seen above Capitol Hill as senators revelled in Facebook’s losses last summer. After reporting its slowest-ever user growth in July, one of the world’s top five biggest businesses had 20% wiped from its share price. It lost $120 billion of market value in one day.
That alone signalled a tough year for Facebook, even without the allegations of data deceit, swaying elections and inciting genocide.
When discussing Facebook, it’s important to remember it is vastly more than a social network. As a social network alone, it serves 2.27 billion people – over quarter of the world’s population. However, it is also one of the world’s largest online marketplaces, a TV channel and a media owner that made nearly $40 billion in ad revenue in 2017. Under its wing are also Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus - to name three of the 74 companies that it has either acquired or merged with since its inception.
The diversity and sheer weight of the group makes it very difficult to envisage a time when Facebook will be no more. But it will dramatically change.
Losing its cool
The New Statesman published an article suggesting that Facebook could be broken up as soon as this year, claiming that it has lost touch with its youth. Last year, Pew Research published a survey of 3,400 Facebook users where 44% of users aged 18 – 29 had deleted the app from their phone.
Certainly, neglecting a younger generation who are responsible for adopting and driving technology will see Facebook struggle. In the social media class, you want to be the cool kid and this year will see many more young millennials ditching Facebook for the slicker, easy going circles of Instagram and Snapchat.
But slowing user growth doesn’t signal total collapse. Many fickle stock market folks now think that Facebook will bounce back, largely citing numerous potential growth areas and a reduced stock price as reasons to buy. At the time of writing, Facebook stock has moved sharply higher since hitting rock bottom in late December.
Taming the beast
Lock up your programmers, the regulators are coming. But how do you regulate a beast like Facebook? It moves in all directions and most policies on the internet are too loose, too strict and continually exploited by users.
As I mentioned in a previous article, this technology is in its infancy and Facebook is still an early stages platform. You’ll look back at today’s Facebook interface like the first PC you ever saw. Together, we’re driving how it is used and developed, and whatever regulations are applied to Facebook will pave the way for any future iterations of social media.
What will change?
This year will see the end of the disruptive Silicon Valley culture of grow fast, leave mistakes behind. Everything will need to be more considered, putting a huge emphasis on governance and control. Facebook must self-regulate as reliance on external regulators will be met with resistance. Some regulators and governments are already of the mind Facebook is too big and complex to control, and the only solution is to shut it down.
To improve from within, the platform has been urged to look at its leadership. Almost any other public business, under this kind of pressure, would have repented by thrusting forward the resignation of a senior executive. Not here. Instead, Facebook have countered by hiring policy-entwined leaders such as Nick Clegg, our ex-deputy PM, and Kate Pachen, who led the department of justice’s anti-trust department in San Francisco.
The new school is choosing the old school to better fit the structures with which high impact corporate businesses must acknowledge.
It’s unlikely that Facebook will disappear but this year won’t get any easier for Zuck. Misuse of information, particularly personal data, is a severe issue and the fixes must be embedded in all parts of the business. Facebook will focus on helping itself while the press, regulators and competition look to revel in its demise.
As users, I recommend that we remain a part of the conversation and subsequent solution. Future versions of Facebook will be much more powerful and practical than what we see today.