Social Networks

Once upon a time in 2012

A lot has changed for Facebook since 2012 when the article What Facebook Knows was written; over the past 5 years, Facebook not only doubled its monthly active user number from 1 billion to 2 billion but also grew its revenue from 5 billion USD to 27.5 billion USD. Just in the span of 5 years, the entire advertising revenue concentrated on either Facebook or Google, the two companies that reap almost 100% of today’s digital ad revenue growth. This monopolistic growth could only come with the huge amount and specificity of data that Facebook has accumulated over the years, so it’s hard to imagine that then the entire data science team at Facebook was only 12 people.

It’s not just the user number and ad revenue that changed for Facebook; the more significant change that Facebook precipitated is perhaps our social behavior and habits around social media. In the article, Eytan Bakshy is quoted as saying how teams at Facebook only began to predict the “echo chamber” it puts users in and the polarized voter reactions to various recent political events very well reflect this echo chamber after 5 years of its initial conception.

The social experiments that engineering teams were able to conduct fast and at a massive scale were also interestingly explained by “the primary goal of his team to support the wellbeing of the people who provide Facebook with their data, using it to make the service smarter.” This reminded me of the 12 Leverage Points by Donella Meadows. In her writing, she makes a clear distinction between goal, paradigm, and making a profit. By her definition, the goal of every system is to grow in size and control over the population, a paradigm is an ideology that the system was created out of, and making a profit is a mere condition to keep the system running. I think this statement that Marlow makes about the company’s primary goal is exactly what makes Facebook users not customers; users are shown the abstracted, ambiguous layer of some paradigm but are hidden from its true goal to know more and control more.