On 4 February 2004, a social networking site was launched to students of Harvard University. Calling itself TheFacebook, it allowed them to connect with each other using their university emails and photos. It was founded by a psychology and computer science student called Mark Zuckerberg, along with other Harvard students. Zuckerberg had previously developed a site called “FaceMash” on which visitors could compare the photos of two students and decide which one was more attractive.
TAGGING AND LIKES
Within twenty-four hours, 1,200 students had signed up to TheFacebook. Within a month, more than half the university’s undergraduates were members. The platform expanded to other US universities, high schools and tech companies like Apple and Microsoft. In 2005, the site changed its name to Facebook and introduced the idea of tagging people in photos. News Feed was launched in 2006. The ‘Like’ button appeared in 2009.
Facebook quickly went global. People all over the world discovered that you could keep in touch with family and friends constantly, make new friends easily, and express yourself freely without the discomfort of physical interaction. Advertisers discovered that they could engage customers directly, which brought even more people to Facebook. By 2012, the platform had over 1 billion monthly active users.
ADDICTION AND BULLYING
However, social dilemmas were beginning to arise. People tended to carefully curate their pages and image, and the scroll of miscellaneous attention-seeking ‘news’ became endless. The site became a source of distraction, unhealthy comparison and insecurity. It was easy to troll, stalk or bully someone on Facebook, or to mislead them by creating a false identity.
DEALS WITH DATA
Facebook also faced major controversies related to privacy, content moderation, influence on media, ethical concerns and security issues. It has been criticised for its handling of user data, such as in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal when, in the 2010s, personal data belonging to millions of users was collected without their consent and used for political advertising. Facebook has also been criticised for its opaque policies on dangerous content, including hate speech, incitement of violence and the spread of disinformation.
In 2021, Facebook had nearly three billion users, making it the largest social network in the world. That year, the company changed its name to Meta. CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he now wants to focus the company on building the metaverse, a shared virtual environment that will fuse physical and digital worlds. The success of the metaverse is a topic of ongoing debate and speculation.
a legal battle
From its early days, Facebook was subject to court cases. The most famous was that of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin brothers who sued CEO Zuckerberg, claiming that he stole their idea. This legal battle was depicted in the movie The Social Network. In 2008, the twins accepted a settlement which included $20 million in cash and over a million Facebook shares.
In 2013, Tristan Harris, then a Google Design Ethicist, created the viral presentation “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.” This led to the 2018 founding of the non-profit organisation Center for Humane Technology (CHT). In the 2020 Netflix documentary film The Social Dilemma, CHT affiliates spoke up about the serious negative effects of social media, including, of course, Facebook. Today, CHT continues its work exposing the drivers behind all extractive technologies steering our thoughts, behaviours and actions. The organisation believes that by understanding the causes of harmful technology we can build humane technology that supports our well-being, democracy and shared reality.