April 18, 2024

Facebook at 20: ups and downs, scandal and a future defined by AI

Facebook remains one of the most influential pieces of technology in the world, an expert said, despite recent scandals, pressure from rivals and other problems it faces as it marks its 20th anniversary.

Founded by a group that included CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm in 2004, it has grown to become one of the world’s largest technology companies as Meta, the parent company of Facebook and its sister apps Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Throughout its 20 years of existence, Facebook has helped usher in the era of social media as a space for communication, a means of content creation and a source of news, but it has also been at the center of major scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data breach, as well as growing concerns about the impact of the Internet, and specifically social media, on health and well-being, the mental health of younger users and on the very foundations of the democracy.

Despite this, Facebook has proven to be strong: just last week it reported its best financial results in recent memory, with revenue up 25%.

Even that good news came as the company and Zuckerberg were in the spotlight for the site’s negative impact: a forceful appearance for the billionaire before the US Congress saw him confront and apologize to the families of children who died after being affected by online harm while A senator called Facebook a product “that is killing people,” and technology platforms were accused of failing to protect young people.

Amid the scandals, social media expert Drew Benvie says it can be easy to forget how transformative Facebook has been for the modern world.

“Mark Zuckerberg, with his hunger for success, fame, transformation and democratization of everything, really ushered in a whole new era of information and entertainment,” he told the PA news agency.

“We must not forget how influential Facebook is now, through its parent company Meta and its sister companies: Instagram, WhatsApp and others it absorbed along the way.

“More than three billion monthly users are on one of Meta’s platforms, that’s two-thirds of the world connected to the Internet, and whether for messaging, scrolling stories, local community groups, elections, shopping, entertainment or “Keeping in touch has absolutely changed the world.”

Despite apparent threats to the platform from regulators and indeed rival platforms, Benvie believes the social network is not going anywhere anytime soon.

“I think we have another 20 years ahead of us. I think what Zuckerberg has done and what he plans to do is largely due to investments in messaging, entertainment and then the most recent move, which is building AI that will power the future of Meta, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

“I think there’s still a lot of life in the old dog,” he said, noting that how the company responds to the changing regulatory landscape will shape its future.

“I think the upcoming regulation will also be a big part of Facebook’s future, because no one wants to feel unhappy, sick or harmed because of the ease and speed with which information travels.” social media.

“So social media has a lot to answer for, and I think a lot of responsibility will also fall on their shoulders in the future, largely on the larger apps, like Facebook and its family of apps.

“The rough direction of travel is that social networks are clamping down (against harmful content) as much as they can.”

He added that artificial intelligence (AI) will be another key aspect of the platform’s future, an area that Meta has already started investing in and last year announced its first chatbots built using its own Llamama big language model.

Benvie said it won’t be this application of AI, but how Meta uses it more broadly that could define its next two decades.

“Increasingly, (moderation) is the job of technology and not human moderators, so I think that’s where AI will play an important role in the future of Meta,” he said.

Social media experts said AI will play a big role in Facebook’s future Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

“In the future, AI will help detect content that maybe shouldn’t be there and help remove it faster, and it will do other great things for social media. It will provide users with tools and technologies they have not had before.

“I think AI will do a lot to keep people safer online and also improve people’s experiences on social media, if done the right way. So, I think it’s something to look forward to.

“AI is a huge space to look at and it’s not just a social media topic either, it’s in all lines of work, so Meta could expand far beyond social media if it gets the AI ​​right, so which is definitely something to keep in mind.” look.”

However, one area of ​​innovation that Benvie says has so far been “a bit of a mistake” has been the company’s investment in the metaverse.

The social media expert said he believed the company had been “too quick to innovate” and would have been better off waiting for more interest in the technology to grow.

Zuckerberg pledged billions of dollars and rebranded the company to launch his Metaverse project, a 3D mixed reality space that he said is the future of the Internet but does not yet exist as a tangible space or platform.

Despite his very hands-on approach around the metaverse, Benvie said he could see Zuckerberg following the lead of other high-profile tech founders and stepping away from day-to-day management at some point.

“Maybe we’ll see Mark Zuckerberg take a step back, a bit like we’ve seen from the founders of other innovative technologies in the social media space: I’m thinking Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, Bill Gates at Microsoft (still has influence), Mark Zuckerberg would probably still have a lot of influence, but there will come a point where we will see his other interests take over,” he said.

However, whether Zuckerberg is at the helm or not, Benvie said Facebook and Meta’s handling of impending regulation – including the UK’s Online Safety Act – would be critical to their performance in the coming years.

“All the social networks are looking for ways to make their platforms as sticky as possible; they want people to stay online longer,” he said.

“That takes a toll and unfortunately we’ve seen issues ranging from mental health issues to actual harm and all sorts of negative activities that social media has facilitated. They are working hard to stop that, but they can definitely work harder.

“No organization is to blame and everyone is working to improve it, especially for young people, who are growing up in a different world from that of Mark Zuckerberg or also that of regulators, where it is normal to be on a screen as often as it is. possible, and that brings with it health risks and also opportunities.

“I think balancing those things will be key to the future of Facebook, Meta and also social media in general.”

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