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Facebook at 20: How the App Transformed the World

Facebook's rapid rise to become the most popular social network. The monetisation of personal data and the challenges of data mishandling. Facebook's role in shaping political campaigns and grassroots movements.

Facebook, the social media giant founded by Mark Zuckerberg, has undeniably changed the landscape of online communication. Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has revolutionised the way we connect, share, and interact with others. Let's explore four key ways in which this app has transformed the world.

Firstly, Facebook disrupted the social media game. While platforms like MySpace existed before Facebook, it was Zuckerberg's creation that truly captured the public's attention. Within a year of its launch, Facebook had amassed one million users, and in just four years, it surpassed MySpace in popularity. The ability to "tag" people in photos and the constantly changing activity feed were major draws for early users. Today, Facebook boasts over 2.11 billion daily users, making it the most popular social network worldwide.

Secondly, Facebook demonstrated the value of personal data. Through its parent company Meta, Facebook has become an advertising giant, generating billions of dollars in revenue by offering highly targeted ad services. However, the company has also faced criticism for mishandling personal data. Notably, the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2014 resulted in a $725 million settlement for Facebook due to a significant data breach. Meta has also been fined for allowing personal data to be extracted from the site.

Thirdly, Facebook has played a pivotal role in shaping the internet's political landscape. With its targeted advertising capabilities, the platform has become a major platform for election campaigning worldwide. During the 2020 US presidential election, incumbent President Donald Trump's team spent over $40 million on Facebook ads. Facebook has also facilitated grassroots political movements, such as the Arab Spring, by enabling users to gather, campaign, and plan action on a global scale. However, the platform has faced criticism for its impact on human rights, particularly in instances where it failed to prevent the incitement of violence against marginalised communities.

Lastly, Facebook's success kick-started Meta's dominance. Under the umbrella company Facebook, which rebranded as Meta in 2021, acquisitions like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus were turbo-charged, solidifying Meta's position as a technology empire. Today, over three billion people use at least one of Meta's products daily. When unable to acquire rivals, Meta has been accused of copying their features to maintain its dominance. However, regulatory challenges and increased competition have forced Meta to make concessions, such as selling Giphy at a loss due to concerns of over-dominance in the market.

Looking ahead, the next 20 years will present monumental challenges for Facebook and Meta. As the industry rapidly evolves, maintaining Facebook's status as the most popular social network will require constant innovation. Meta's focus on building the Metaverse and advancing artificial intelligence indicates a shift away from Facebook itself. Whether the world will follow suit, given the enduring popularity of the platform, remains to be seen.

  • Facebook's rapid rise to become the most popular social network

  • The monetisation of personal data and the challenges of data mishandling

  • Facebook's role in shaping political campaigns and grassroots movements

Source: BBC

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