Facebook Transformed Our World: For Better or For Worse?

From dorm room project to internet giant; a critical look at Facebook’s development, ecosystem and transformative effects.

Facebook sign up or login page on a computer Image by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

Facebook is a powerful media giant and a global social networking site in which users can connect, share, interact, shop and so much more online. The company’s headquarters resides in Menlo Park, California. It was initially created by Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard University students as a much smaller scale platform limited to students. It has since developed into the largest social network site worldwide with 2.41 billion monthly active users as of the second quarter of 2019. Facebook has had a powerful transformative effect on our use of the internet and our economic and social worlds in both negative and positive ways. These effects are a result of Facebook changing the way we relate socially, communicate, connect, create content, relationships, business models and perceptions of privacy. This essay will profile and critically analyse Facebook and its transformative effects. Through key examples and supporting evidence, we can make sense of how Facebook has transformed our social, and economic relations, for better or for worse.

Facebook is a social media and social networking service but in more recent years it can also be described as a business entity (Naughton, 2018). It started as a small-scale Harvard dorm project but has since grown into a global phenomenon (Hall, 2019) and the most actively used social networking site worldwide (Statista, 2019). It was founded in 2004 by Harvard university students, Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo SaverinDustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes (Hall, 2019). It is hard to believe that this influential, internet giant didn’t even exist just 15 years ago, so where did it all begin? And how has it reached the transformative effects of today? Well, Facebook’s early history is complicated.

It began in 2003, initially as Facemash, an online hot or not service used to rank fellow students on their attractiveness (Hall, 2019). The primary creator Mark Zuckerberg breached university policy in developing the site and it was taken down after only 2 days. In that short time, 450 people with an accumulative 22,000 votes used Facemash (Hall, 2019). That considerable success encouraged him to create the URL http://www.thefacebook.com and then further developed the new social network to that address with the help of Saverin, Moskovitz, and Hughes (Hall, 2019). As a new component onto The Facebook came the Wall, which enabled users to create their profile, add photos and information. This drove the rapid growth of the social media platform, reaching 1 million active users by the end of 2004 (Hall, 2019).

  • In 2005, TheFacebook.com changed to Facebook.com after the address was purchased for $200,000 (Phillips, 2007).
  • In September of 2005 members of other U.S schools could use the site, and it began to spread globally extending to schools in the UK by October 2005 (Phillips, 2007).
  • In 2006, the doors were finally open to the public, subject to being over 13 years old (Hall, 2019).

This created powerful connections across the world, particularly in terms of advertising and customer relationships. “This kind of direct consumer engagement on such a large scale had not been possible before Facebook, and more companies began using the social network for marketing and advertising” (Hall, 2019, para. 8). Facebook revenue has since grown vastly from “7.87 billion in 2013 to 55.8 billion US dollars in 2018” (Statista, 2019, p. 1). Almost all that revenue was derived from advertisement revenue (Statista, 2019). The success of the advertisement revenue is a result of the heavy surveillance of users and the collection of their data, allowing for algorithmic and targeted advertising (Naughton, 2018). “Facebook depends on millions of people voluntarily divulging accurate personal information” (Veer, 2011, p. 15). The advertisement model and the success of Facebook is expected to continue to grow over the coming years (Statista. 2019).

Constantly connected through technology and social media Image by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

The evidence supports that Facebook has grown into a huge media giant and has had a powerful influence on the lives of many, particularly in social and economic terms (Hall, 2019). Other early social media sites such as Six degrees and Myspace could not compare to the revolutionary success and impact that Facebook soon created (Hall, 2019). Facebook was developed into a far more positioned, clean, controlled and professional platform than that of other early emerging platforms in the social media domain (Veer, 2011).

Facebook has created many transformative effects in the way we use the internet and in social and economic terms. (Veer, 2011). Facebook opened the gates for a multitude of new uses of the internet. Some of the uses Facebook has paved the way for, or aided to the development of, include:

  • Joining a network
  • Connecting globally
  • Exchanging automatic updates
  • Participating in groups, events
  • Shopping
  • Collaborating
  • Advertising

(Veer, 2011).

Some of the most powerful transformative effects Facebook has had are within:

  • Communication
  • Interaction
  • Business
  • Privacy

The whole concept of interaction has been completely transformed by Facebook (Veer, 2011). Facebook paved the way for a new connected world (Hall, 2019). Allowing people to become friends, keep in touch instantly and interact on a global scale (Veer, 2011). This, however, is only on a virtual level and has affected our natural social reality and communication skills, or lack thereof (Elgot, 2015). Take Facebooks unfriending option for example. In real life “deleting” a friend is often a painful, hidden and gradual process (Elgot, 2015). On Facebook, you simply click a button and within seconds a powerful choice has been made. “You can pull the plug and walk away. There’s no forcing mechanism that makes us have to learn” (Elgot, 2015, para. 8). With Facebook’s transformation to our concept of interaction and connection comes considerable implications. Such as its transformative effects on real-life relationships, communication, perception and privacy.

Watch this video that reports on a study regarding social media making people Anti-social and Jealous.

There has been much debate regarding this kind of online connectivity making us antisocial, competitive and jealous by replacing real and natural relationships and perceptions (Elgot, 2015). It can be argued that Facebook creates antisocial behaviour in the sense that Instead of knowing or interacting with people on real levels of the essence of their character we perceive them on superficial levels (Elgot, 2015). The evidence that supports Facebooks recognition in realising their influence in fostering superficial relationships is highlighted by the recent hiding of the number of likes on posts (Bogle, 2019). Facebook in Australia, following in the footsteps of Instagram, decided to remove likes as a test as of September 2018 (Bogle, 2019). Facebook has been accused of transforming social interaction into a “damaging and competitive activity” (Bogle, 2019, para. 10) as the emphasis is focused on like numbers, followers and friend count. The test is aimed at improving user experience, in a bid to remove some of the social comparisons, superficial interactions and judgement (Bogle, 2019).  The change on Facebook “indicates the pressure the social media giant is facing over the possible impact its technology has on mental health, and especially on children” (Bogle, 2019, para. 9). While this is one potentially positive improvement, more can be done (Bogle, 2019). There are also several other negative impacts of Facebook that call for concern.

Facebook has hidden likes on posts in an attempt to minimise social comparison Image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

“There are two things wrong with Facebook: how it works and how people use it” (Vaidhyanathan as cited in Naughton, 2018, para. 3). Facebook’s business model is surveillance capitalism and that intertwined with poor behaviour from users has transformed our interactions and privacy in a negative manner (Naughton, 2018). Facebooks main founder, Mark Zuckerberg has created a “corporate monster” (Naughton, 2018, para. 2) that is spectacularly good at creating money but failing to foster protected, positive, online communities (Naughton, 2018). This is because Facebook’s act of creating such enormous wealth relies on the exploitation of user’s data and defies the original intentions to connect users in a safe, positive way (Naughton, 2018). Facebook collects as much data as possible on its users, monitoring their every move. They then take this information to “paint virtual targets on their back at which advertisers (Facebook’s real customers) can take aim” (Naughton, 2018, para. 3).

Check out this podcast: How Tracking And Selling Our Data Became A Business Model with Meghna Chakrabarti and Guest Shoshana Zuboff.

 

Facebook is not really a “free” service at all as the real price users must pay is forsaking their personal data and privacy (Naughton, 2018). This is essentially why Facebook quietly changed its slogan from “free and always will be” to “its quick and easy” (Moynihan, 2019). Ditching the idea that it doesn’t cost to be a user (Moynihan, 2019). Facebook’s main source of revenue is derived from the users and their online activities and personal information- form their photos, to their interactions to their friendship groups (Naughton, 2018). According to one report, each users profile contains 98 data points and this user data is all collected (Naughton, 2018). “The more data they produce, the more user engagement, in other words- the better” (Naughton, 2018, para. 5). The negative abuse of the platform triggers this high user engagement: from hate content to fake speech (Naughton, 2018). So essentially the issue with Facebook’s business model is that these negative impactions of user’s behaviour are say “a feature, not a bug” (Naughton, 2018, para. 5).

Facebook is tracking users through a business model of surveillance capitalism Image by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Facebooks lack of privacy, regulation and security further enhances the ability for hate speech, fake news and a vast array of other antisocial acts (Naughton, 2018). This claim can be supported by the recent example of the Christchurch shooting on live video stream. In March 2019, “a gunman with a semi-automatic weapon live-streamed the massacre of 50 worshippers as they gathered for prayers” (ABC News, 2019, para. 2). The footage explicitly showed the man walking through the mosque shooting at his victims and circulated on Facebook in the hours following the attack (ABC News, 2019). While Facebook claimed great efforts were made to remove the video, it was still available to the public for several hours causing a vast array of harm and distress (ABC News, 2019). This example is just one of the many reasons Facebook has been called to better their regulation, privacy and security (ABC News, 2019).

Another one of the significant negative transformative effects Facebook has created is to perceptions of privacy. Privacy and security should be perceived as “significant means of providing the space, the breathing room, or the buffer between ourselves and the world that is necessary for self-development” (Mosco, 2014, p.139). However, in a society that leans towards attitudes of surveillance apathy, this view is not readily adopted (Lyons, 2017). Users have lost care and action in their protection of privacy or are willing to sacrifice it to these social media giants (Lyons, 2017). According to a major survey on privacy in 2017 around 70% of Australians are more concerned about privacy (Lyons, 2017). However rapid growth in the use of social media which defy the protection of privacy says otherwise. With almost 80% of internet users in Australia using social media (Lyons, 2017). This is a “privacy paradox”, a term that has arisen from the claims of care about privacy whilst simultaneously giving it away (Barth, et al., 2017). Survey results show privacy protection of personal data is important for users worldwide, yet most users voluntarily forsake it and make little effort to protect it (Lyons, 2017).

Facebook status option- what’s on your mind? Image By Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Facebooks surveillance capitalism business model has influenced a turn towards surveillance apathy and a complex privacy paradox. This is dangerous in its threat to user’s privacy and security, as data can be hacked, stolen, bought, sold and utilised for wrong purposes (Mosco, 2014). Users are also not fully aware of the extent of surveillance, due to a lack of transparency from the social media companies end (Mosco, 2014). Take the Cambridge analytical scandal for example. In 2018, this was a major political scandal in which millions of user’s data on Facebook had been harvested and their privacy breached, without their permission. It was used for political advertising and manipulation purposes (Common, 2018). This scandal heavily resonated with users as it created electoral manipulation and extreme breaches in user privacy (Common, 2018). Despite this, there is still a lack of accountability and protection of user’s privacy, security and sufficient regulation (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019). This is largely a fault of Facebook’s monopoly and the will to maintain it (Naughton, 2018). To better contextualise this, we may turn to Facebook’s ownership and key statistics.

In 2018 Facebook had a net income of 22.1Billion USD, and 55.8 Billion USD revenue (Statista, 2019). It went from just 150 employees in 2006 to 35,587 full-time employees as of December 2018 (Statista, 2019). The total key executive compensation was 105.4 million US dollars (Statista, 2019). Facebooks stock is “widely held by large institutional investors, mutual funds, and ETFs” (Maverick, 2019, para. 3). The individuals who amount to the largest share hold of stock are all former or present key leaders at Facebook (Maverick, 2019). The top 6 shareholders are Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, Jan Koum, Sheryl Sandberg and Michael Schroepfer (Maverick, 2019). One of the owners Mark Zuckerberg is known as “the founder and face of Facebook” (Maverick, 2019, para. 4). He indirectly holds approximately 11.92 class A Facebook shares and 3992.71 million class B shares (Maverick, 2019). With such a huge amount in class B shares, it gives Zuckerberg 53.3% voting rights in the company (Maverick, 2019). Facebook works with a diverse set of partnerships with companies, organizations and individuals. Various teams include media, workplace, publisher, Engineering, platforms, marketplace, gaming, community, mobile and financial services. Within each category is a multitude of partners from a range of internal and external sources (Facebook, 2019). Facebook also owns other internet giants such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram (Internet Health Report, 2018). Facebook does not have many serious competitor threats and is a global monopoly, not willing to sacrifice its surveillance capitalism in order to successfully regulate (Naughton, 2018).

 

FACEBOOK ECOSYSTEM

Facebook does have some regulation in place such as guidelines, policies and the action of removal, blocking or reporting content as well as asking users to self-regulate (Facebook Help, 2019). However, it is certainly not successful nor at the level it is needed to be (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019). This is likely due to the companies own economic interests and lack of value for regulation (Naughton, 2018).

There is some great debate towards cyberspace freedom with no regulation, John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace being one of them. With the ideas of freedom of speech, no unwanted governance and relying on unwritten codes of ethics (Barlow, 1996). However, the actual reality of having no regulation on Facebook and other social media platforms is just not acceptable in our current media landscape (Gillespie, 2018). Unfortunately, “the internet itself has great potential for abuse” (Dickerson, 2009, p. 67). There are obligatory barriers and protection needed, particularly for minors from harmful content. So, “platforms must, in some form or another, moderate” (Gillespie, 2018, Para. 5). Regulation is complex and challenging. However, if as much value went into regulation, as it does with surveillance, we might just be able to move towards better regulation (Gillespie, 2018). Some of the relevant issues that arise with attempts to regulate Facebook include the sheer mass of users and content (Gillespie, 2018).

Facebook has a huge 2.41 billion monthly active users as of the second quarter of 2019, from all over the world (Statista, 2019). It is used by anyone and everyone that wishes to, as making an account is just that easy (Veer, 2011). Unless you are in a country that has banned access to Facebook, which includes China, Iran and North Korea (Kirkland, 2014). Hence it is a major company that defines the information ecosystem in much of the world (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019). However, it is “hardly regulated and hardly accountable, these companies are completely transforming the public sphere” (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019, para. 1).  Facebooks lack of successful regulation enables bad actors that spread hate, misinformation, engage in bullying/ harassment and steal personal data (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019). Regulate Social Media.Org suggests greater transparency, accountability and responsibility for addressing social costs is needed for Facebook to better regulate.

Facebook has completely transformed our use of the internet in social and economic terms. It has also been innovative in designing new ways to communicate, network, create, share, collaborate as well as developing powerful business models (Hall, 2019). It has changed the way people relate socially by providing new opportunities for global communication, interaction and instant connectivity (Veer, 2011). Facebook has Mobilised social change in the way that people define relationships, communication, allowing for user-generated content, networking, collaboration and participation (Elgot, 2015). However, it has also given rise to negative social relations, such as anti-social behaviour, hate speech, harassment, manipulation, fake news, and exposure to harmful and explicit content (Naughton, 2018).

Facebook has also played a key role in developing the business model of surveillance capitalism. Relying on user data as the source of its operation (Naughton, 2018). This has paved the way for targeted advertising and many companies have since adopted the same model (Hall, 2019). This has been a powerful transformation in economic terms, particularly in benefiting media giants. However, it has seriously jeopardised the privacy and security of users (Naughton, 2018). The negative implications of some of Facebooks transformative effects have triggered a need for new regulation (Regulatesocialmedia.org, 2019).

In conclusion, the evidence and examples support that the social media giant Facebook is a powerful online ecology which has transformed the internet both positively and negatively. Facebooks transformative effects are particularly evident in on our use of the internet and in social and economic relations. We can see Facebooks transformative effects in communication, interactions, connections, content, business models and views of privacy. Facebook has paved the way for connectivity and networking on a global scale. However, the negative transformative effects have outweighed many of the positives. Facebook transformation to business models with the use of surveillance capitalism, poses alarming threats to uses privacy and security. The heavy surveillance of user data has also given rise to surveillance apathy and complex perceptions of privacy. Users must be aware of the impactions of Facebook and a call for better regulation is certainly needed. However, there is no denying Facebook changed the internet space. For better or for worse, what do you think?

 

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