Photo by Bastian Riccardi on Unsplash

For two decades, it has been the titan of social media and one of the biggest influencers on our global politics and our data online. Facebook is a name we all know. Now, after 20 years of connecting people online, I wish to acknowledge the influential and controversial aspects of its history as well as query what the future of the company, now called Meta, might look like.

The beginnings of Facebook were already a dicey subject, as its establishment on the internet brought with it multiple lawsuits and allegations against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. The two that had the most attention were those of the Winklevoss twins, who sued Zuckerberg for stealing the idea for their website ConnectU, and co-founder of Facebook Eduardo Saverin, who battled with the company after his shares were significantly diluted. These disputes became the foundation for the 2010 film The Social Network, which is a fantastic depiction of the real events despite some dramatisation for the sake of the story. Facebook clearly faced a rocky first couple of years, but the social media platform flourished between 2010 and 2015, hosting at least one billion monthly active users since 2012.

But the streak of success did not last forever, as in 2015 it was first reported that Facebook had supplied Cambridge Analytica with the personal information of its users to be used for targeted political advertisements on the platform. This spawned a massive public scandal that devastated the reputation of Facebook, as the platform and its owner were outed for sacrificing the privacy of their users in service of their interests. It is crucial to understand the scale to which this scandal affected the current state of politics across the globe, effectively putting Donald Trump in office through the use of microtargeted political ads that were designed to sway users who were profiled as impressionable. This breach of privacy and user agreements was a devastating blow that led the company to entirely reinvent its brand in an attempt to regain relevance in the ever-changing digital landscape.

And thus, Meta was born. By this point in the company’s lifespan, the $725 million settlement they have had to pay pales in comparison to the annual revenue of $134 billion from last year. And with platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp also under the Meta umbrella, it is safe to say that financially, the company has more than recovered. So what will the next 20 years have in store for Meta? For starters, AI seems to be their biggest upcoming investment and something they will use to continue to push their “Metaverse” further into the public sphere. The first example is AI chatbots introduced last year, each with different personalities and appearing as some of the most popular celebrities and influencers in Western Europe, including MrBeast and Kylie Jenner. Responses to these chatbots have been mixed, to say the least, but it seems the company will continue to invest in AI, making it a fundamental asset to the “Metaverse” future they are building.

In review, it is clear that Facebook has seen more controversy than your average tech company. But Zuckerberg and his friends at Harvard are truly the ones to thank (or, depending on who you ask, blame) for what is now a society of online connectivity. I would highly recommend the article “Unpacking the Facebook Tragedy as It Turns 20” by David Kirkpatrick, who perfectly captures the complex ecosystem that was born as a result of the social media platform. The world was not the same after Facebook, and personally, I doubt it ever will be.


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