In a time in which Facebook is in the corner where the punches are falling it’s easy to focus on all that is wrong with the social media giant. Shady advertisers had access to large amounts of personal data, fake news could spread like wildfire, posts deemed offensive or inappropriate were removed inconsistently, the user interface was poor, and those are just a handful of the things the company is criticized about in recent months. This almost makes you forget that with over 2 billion users in 2017 Facebook is the largest social network out there and fulfills an important role on the global stage. In this post I take a closer look at why the world actually needs a Facebook.
For starters, the very reason most of us are on Facebook is not because it offers the best user interface (R.I.P. MSN Messenger), but because it allows you to connect with your friends and family throughout the world in an easy manner. Some of your friends might only use Instagram or Whatsapp, but when you want to stay in touch with as good as everyone else they are all on Facebook. For this very reason Facebook has placed itself in an important position to allow for truly all-round connectivity with a large portion of the people you know.
Aside friends and family, this all-round connectivity possibility also allows you to stay in touch with organisations you care about and to come together with like-minded people. That last thing can be called a good thing and a bad thing, but for the critical citizens we should be it can only be seen as good that Facebook allows us to come together big time in much easier ways than in the past.
The cliche that this great power comes with great responsibility is very much true. The bigger Facebook becomes and strengthens its role of the global connector, the bigger the company’s responsibility becomes to protect the safety of its users and stakeholders. Even though many guidelines have been set in place we have all heard about how it went wrong when finding out about people their personal data being misused for shady ends. Even though the culprits like Cambridge Analytica and other third parties were responsible for this misuse, it was Facebook as gatekeeper that allowed it to happen.
In other words, I do not believe this is something Facebook desired to happen. It was very naive to say the least that it was even possible to collect personal data on Facebook so easily. Lessons were luckily learned. Even though they were harsh lessons, we must not forget that the company is just over a decade old and learns as it grows. The threats and behaviors of people cannot always be predicted and should also be an example for others that follow. You must for example always assume that everything you do, such as making it as easy as possible for advertisers to set up campaigns focused on a target audience, can be used for bad means as well.
I thereby find it ironic that a lot of hate about Facebook is shared on other social networks, such as Twitter and YouTube. Two competitors that struggle with similar challenges as Facebook and can also be found on the stock exchange. The question that subsequently comes to my mind is if we would all leave Facebook as some suggest what platform would be able to provide the same benefits? Perhaps Skype? Is it Twitter? YouTube? Instagram? Maybe even Vkontakte? These platforms all struggle with the same that can be said about Facebook, yet only on a smaller scale for not being used by the same amount of people compared to Facebook.
So am I some kind of Facebook fanboy that believes we should all use it? I am definitely not some super fan of the social network and do not urge anyone to use it, but I do believe that a truly connected world with platforms like Facebook is a better one. The criticism in recent months must be taken very seriously and many steps have already been made to better safeguard users and provide a better experience. It is therefore my belief that on the long run these attacks and debates will lead to something much better than we have today. We are the first generation that can communicate with potentially billions around the world instantly using these type of networks. How freaking cool is that? If we would all leave as some suggest, disperse to smaller, similar and more local platforms with perhaps much less morals or critical stakeholders supervising operations, that could turn the world back decades.