By anyone’s standards 2016 has been a peculiar year. But, at Facebook HQ, the last 12 months has been largely business as usual. Of course, business as usual for the social networking giant can have a huge and lasting impact on countless other media businesses and (as we’ll see later) on billions of people across the globe.
Facebook has been mentioned more times in our blogs over the last year than any other subject, and it has been notable how many different contexts the social network has been mentioned in. Often, it wasn’t the principal subject of a post we’d written, but mention or reference to it had to be made simply because of the influence it brought.
Here are a few examples of the ways in which Facebook cropped up on our blog:
1. There’s the corporate business context (and here)
2. How it affects how other publishers find audiences (and here)
3. Smart user-engagement developments.
4. The role its new Live Video function played in the US election
5. Finally, its likely role in, and effect on, the future of recruitment (and use of virtual reality), which could see the network compete head-to-head with LinkedIn.
Just in this small selection we’re able to establish a flavour of the ground Facebook occupies, but it’s only really a flavour; because Facebook is everywhere and into everything. It’s worth remembering that as of the end of the third quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.79bn active users each month – that’s a quarter of the world’s entire population. In the first quarter of 2016, 75% of new digital advertising money in the US went to Facebook or Google. This is doubly significant because digital ads are expected to overtake TV as the biggest advertising destination in the US next year. The company already makes more advertising revenue than the entire US newspaper industry. In the nine months to November, ad revenue on Facebook was $17.9bn. The total ad revenue earned by newspapers in the US was $16.4bn. In August, Facebook was named the 5th most valuable company in the world, with a value of $356.9bn.
Facebook is so dominant, in fact, we’re almost at the point where a conversation about any digital media activity is going to include a reference to it is impacted by Facebook – or the way in which Facebook has reacted to a change or development. It’s basically a mini internet on the internet, meeting the business and leisure needs of billions of users and facilitating multiple interests, motivations, and requirements.
Beyond a Media company?
But it is also clear that Facebook has plans to – excuse the pun – spread its wings beyond media. However, its efforts have been repeatedly brought back down to earth.
First, there’s the plan to use a solar-powered plane to provide internet access to developing countries (there was an issue on its test flight that the American National Transportation Safety Board is investigating), and the company also planned to put a satellite in space (it was destroyed when the SpaceX rocket exploded).
Yet, after this year’s US election was mired by misinformation and the spread of fake news, Facebook has been forced to refocus on its core mission: Mark Zuckeberg moved last month to introduce several new approaches to help prevent the spread of misinformation. The company has introduced new warnings on the site, processes for better detection of fake news, easier reporting mechanisms, and the introduction of fact checking by humans. The sort of thing that many media observers would recognise as the bare minimum requirements.
Nonetheless, these changes mark a significant step away from Facebook’s continued claim that it is just a technology provider and into a realm of greater accountability. It’s a shift from being a dominant channel to an organisation finally prepared to publicly recognise its role as a media player.
The BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee, neatly summed up the position Facebook, and Zuckerberg, now find themselves in: ‘Never has any private company,’ said Lee, ‘had such immediate power over the way we act, feel, think, date, buy, fight.’
It might just be that 2016 is the year that Facebook fully realised – or at least acknowledged – the power it can have over people’s lives and began to work within the media conventions that it has always scorned.