Who is Facebook?
The first section of this essay will discuss Facebook’s evolution, by analysing its historical context, and innovative development processes. Following this, I will examine Facebook’s success and domination within the social media industry, to provide a framework for the emergence of global media engagement and interactions online. In this Academic paper, I will analyse two contrasting concerns about Facebook’s role in the digital ecosystem, to effectively explore both the positive and negative effects of Facebook’s composition and systems. Positively, Facebook is a successful tool used by networked populations to form community relationships, maintain online identities, protest digitally, and promote global interconnectivity. However, inversely, Facebook is responsible for the proliferation of pre-existing biases and inequalities, and the favouring of influential companies, disrupting the digital sphere and web affordances.
Facebook’s emergence into the digital world: history and business model
Facebook is a social networking platform that dominates the digital communications ecosystem, providing extensive technologies that enable user interactions and the sharing of content from the private to the public sphere. Facebook has a powerful role in the world of social networking, with over ‘2.2 billion monthly active users’ who utilise the platform’s capabilities to enhance their everyday lives (Helmond et al, 2019, p. 123). In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, first introduced ‘thefacebook.com‘ for ‘subscribers’ only, however, the site became extremely popular and in high demand (‘reached one million users by the end of November 2004’), it was evident that Zuckerberg had to take this social space to the global level (Andrews, 2019, p. 1). By the end of September 2006, ‘open registration’ was provided for users to join the evolving Facebook, and the platform’s reach grew exponentially (Andrews, 2019, p. 3). During the foundational phase, the networking site was competing against Myspace, which was, before the introduction of Facebook, the largest social media portal existing. However, Myspace quickly lost out, as Facebook and it’s’ ‘sharing economy’ provided society with a new means of connecting and communicating, that had never been available before, demonstrating the power of internet infrastructure to transform and change drastically (John, 2013). This is in line with Facebook’s mission statement ‘to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’ (John, 2013).
Facebook’s success stems from its ‘platform’ nature, Zuckerberg defines this as an ‘operating system on which other applications could build’, as, in 2007, the site became open to app developers through ‘Facebook’s Application Programme Interface (API)’ (Andrews, 2019). According to Steve Rosenbush, ‘multiple smaller software companies’ are ‘thriving in its ecosystem’ because of Facebooks’ business structure which successfully allows other corporations to benefit from its powerful networking (2011). When analysed in late 2018, Facebook recorded hosting over ’90 million businesses and 6 million active advertisers’ demonstrating how its company model goes beyond basic user interaction and focuses on the commodification of networking (Helmond et al, 2019, p. 123).
Facebook is not ‘just’ facebook. In 2012, Instagram, a well-received photo-sharing site, was bought out by the social giant for $1 Billion, further exemplifying the global acquisition that Zuckerberg’s platform holds and maintains (Andrews, 2019). Not long after, in 2014, Facebook took over WhatsApp for $19 billion, increasing its value and its network effects across the globe (Andrews, 2019).
Facebook has continued to develop its approach to social platforming as the environment it operates in is often subject to change and transformations. For example, when Facebook was first established, it was only accessed via the internet on a computer device, but as technology has reconstructed and evolved, the platform became an app, to be accessed easily via the mobile phone, with Facebook ‘today the bulk of access and 93% of its revenues come from mobile devices’ (Andrew, 2019). This demonstrates how Facebook is an ever-adapting agency, maintaining its domination through a range of digital strategies.
Graph 1, (charliesaidthat, 2011), demonstrates Facebooks’ lifecycle. Graph 2, (Varghese, 2011), demonstrates the typical lifecycle of other social networking sites. The decline in business for Facebook is not yet apparent (unlike other media platforms). This is because of Facebook continually offering new innovative designs and features so that it remains a key industry leader.
How has Facebook transformed the social networking industry?
For broader society, Facebook has transformed the media domain, and its social networking possibilities, becoming an agent in facilitating the majority of digital interface interactions and communications, in an ever-changing and growing industry sector. For users, Facebook has opened up endless opportunities, most importantly through a social and cultural lens. Academic Rebecca Sawyer argues that ‘social media’ is fundamental to the integration of people from different countries and that ‘Facebook’ has positively created a ‘global village’ whereby cross-border communication is commonplace and encouraged online (2011, p. 2). Additionally, Facebook offers ’70 translations available on the site’ which is fundamental to building a multi-cultural platform that services as many users as possible, minimising language barriers (Sawyer, 2011, p.4). The continuous developments and adaptations of the network, such as private vs public groups or the messaging services, has allowed a ‘broad exchange of information among users’ and this has allowed for a ‘common cultural experience’ to be shared, forming a sense of community in the digital space (Nawafleh et al, 2012, p. 334). A sense of community is further established on this site through collective goals, such as charity fundraisers which are supported by the platform and encouraged, for example ‘Over $1Billion has been raised for charities on Facebook’ (Andrews, 2019, p. 28).
Socially, the benefits of digital connectivity are large-scale, not only through the open cultural borders but through the construction of friendships and the maintaining of relationships online, through ‘networked publics’ (Boyd, 2010). Firstly, Facebook is not selective, meaning, anyone ‘who has a valid e-mail address’ can be a part of the community, through an all-inclusive system, allowing minorities to be represented, and heard (Nawafleh et al, 2012, p. 333). Facebook is a unique digital agency because its ‘connective functions’ stimulate ‘identity construction’ and allow users to project their self-image, ‘beyond intimate circles’ which in turn creates an interactive ecosystem (Van Dijck, 2013). Moreover, Facebook offers, through features such as tagging, liking and sharing of posts, the capacity to bond with others, maintain long-distance communications, and enrich in different perspectives to gage a wider understanding of society itself.
Facebook has changed the lives of ordinary civilians by enabling voices to be heard and far reached, through the power of media and its associated infrastructure. Facebook is a ‘platform for protest’, and it is argued that such social sites are ‘profoundly shaping political participation’ and ‘large-scale collective action’ (Jost et al, 2018, p. 85). By connecting people across the world, Facebook can facilitate ‘rapid transmission’ of organised movements and provide a space where freedom of speech is accepted and managed in the online context (Jost et al, 2018, p. 86).
Has Facebook negatively affected lives?
Facebook has transformed the social media world, and the inter-networked phenomenon. However, it also has a disruptive and harmful impact on established digital ecosystems. Lets unpack this even further.
Facebook is built on the reliance of user engagement and experience, and without digital participation from internet lovers, the platform would be non-existent. This is the foundation of how developers have built the company, as they rely on everyone wanting to ‘not miss out’ or be ‘included’ as a mechanism for remaining dominant in the market. This can ‘weaken human relationships among its users and/or create social isolation as those who cannot join the platform, such as young children, feel disconnected from their online friends, and miss out on information that others receive through Facebook’s sharing system (Nawafleh et al, 2012, p. 333). A survey revealed that ’45% of participants’ preferred to ‘communicate with their friends and relatives through Facebook rather than direct interaction’, having a devastating result on those that are not a part of this social media bubble (Nawafleh et al, 2012, p. 339). From an individual perspective, this can be damaging to the wellbeing of those who are ‘obsessed’ with the site. For example, the survey further revealed that ’37% of participants’ felt that they ‘could not learn new skills or knowledge due to spending a long time on Facebook’ (Nawafleh et al, 2012, p. 339). Furthermore, Facebook has changed the definition of ‘friend’ and what it means to ‘share’ your life with others, as privacy is no longer apparent, and users are happy to share private details online, with ‘a friend-of-a-friend’. Addresses, living locations, family members and workplaces are often posted online, which can expose far ‘too’ much of a person’s life, to the ‘networked public’.
Content posted on Facebook is regulated, arising conflicting ideas about what ‘information’ users are pushed to view, and the hidden features, such as algorithms that shape our perspectives and ideologies. The question is do ‘networks favour economies of scale’? And does Facebook filter what users are exposed to online? (Bell, 2016). Scholar Leighton Andrews stated that ‘Facebook’s algorithm prioritised posts which were controversial, resulting in polarisation and extremism’, highlighting the platform’s dominance over public knowledge in an already unequal and misinformed society (Andrews, 2019, p. 49). Facebook’s effect on users is exemplified, as it is recorded that ‘roughly 71% of 18- to 24-year-olds say the internet is their main news source’ (Elgot, 2015).
“Facebook is the Newspaper” by William M Ferriter is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Similarly, Facebook has changed the way advertisers operate and has had a vast impact on the business industry. ‘Numerous companies worldwide have aligned their business models and have integrated their technologies with Facebook’ however Facebook is not stable and is ‘subject to continuous change’ which can provide uncertainty for many stakeholders, who have invested in the social site’s infrastructure and existence (Helmond et al, 2019, p. 124).
Facebook features such as news-feed algorithms, disrupt the flow of the ‘global media ecosystem’ and minimise the role of journalism/news corporations, damaging the internet’s structure (Andrews, 2019).
Additionally, social media, like Facebook, can negatively affect ‘political behaviour’ by spreading misinformation or exposing networked populations to persuasive ideals that can influence political processes, such as voting (Jost et al, 2018, p. 87). This can have a vast global impact.
( Own work)
What is the future of Facebook?
It is clear, from the close analysis above, that Facebook can have both a positive effect and negative impact on the digital ecosystem through dominantly shaping how user’s experience everyday life. With this, Facebook’s powerful sharing economy is forecasted to continue to grow and change the way we interact online, having a far-reaching consequence of inter-networked communications. Over the past years, its foundations have changed as it has been tested as an industry leader and challenged for its corporate and social responsibility policies. To maintain user appeal, Facebook continually updates its features and algorithmic practices, to keep the networked population interested in maintaining a digital presence on its website (Andrews, 2019).
‘The Future of Facebook’ by Nils Smith. This Video discusses the role of Facebook in the digital ecosystem, the growth of the platform and its future within the social networking division.
Scholars argue that the social media industry is a fragile ecosystem, that requires businesses and sites to frequently innovate, and develop new technological systems. Without providing users with exciting designs and features regularly, platforms, like Facebook, risk loosing value and worth in the eyes of consumers. Opportunities such as Virtual Reality are currently being explored by Facebook to enhance its reach and capabilities (Helmond et al, 2019, p. 124).
For stakeholders, Facebook is incredibly valuable and relevant to their everyday objectives and success. For example, ‘investors believe that the social web- centred around facebook- has given them the means to unlock the economic value of the internet and its relationships’, emphasising the significance of Facebook’s growth and potential for key groups (Rosenbush, 2011). Because ‘multiple smaller software companies are thriving in its ecosystem’, Facebook’s role in the digital world is vulnerable to external forces, but is also responsible for the success of other small businesses that rely on the social media platforms for stability and growth (Rosenbush, 2011).
Threats to Facebook maintaining leadership in the market, include its continuous changes to algorithms, questionable access to personal data, commercialisation of user information and other issues such as bias newsfeeds favouring large advertisers.
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