Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerburg sought to illustrate the wholesome side of his character, announcing that Facebook will be subject to decisive changes. The decision came after a recorded 7% drop in traffic in 2018, a figure which is consistent with the increasing sense of hostility from the public towards his social networking platform and seemingly emphasises its perception as a scourge of modern society. On the face of it, the world’s dominant tech company is set to undergo a process of rigorous cleansing in a bid to return to its fundamental purpose, to open and connect the world. He stressed that his aim is to boost ‘meaningful interactions’ and improve experience by modifying the algorithm that customises the user’s news feed so as to ensure that people see more posts from friends and family and less sponsored content. For Zuckerburg, the need for such evaluation and change has been on the cards for some time now, as society prepares to devise new laws that would hold social media companies accountable for their negligence.
‘Everyone — and I do mean literally everyone — is selling their equity and raising millions and millions of pounds seemingly for one reason — to pay for ads on Facebook’ asserted Richard Reed, a columnist for The Times in rather perplexed terms. Zuckerburg and his co creators of Facebook could hardly have predicted the seismic shift in the global economic model that the advent of Facebook would provoke when it launched in 2004. The most profitable companies are no longer those who manufacture new and exciting products or that sell services that positively influence our lives, but rather it is those who have the power to monopolise the avenues through which the goods and services are promoted to people. Reed added that Facebook’s business model is an ‘economic illustration of the infallibility of the human species, in that when businesses raise more money to spend on more Facebook ads, ‘their competitors have to do the same, and therefore the demand for the ads increases, and in return the price of ads goes up’.
The figures substantiate his claims and while levels of inventory available for free advertising on Facebook have depleted almost entirely, so many businesses remain convinced that pouring the bulk of their budget impulsively into it will improve their fortunes. In the first half of 2016, publishers recorded a 52% decline in organic reach, a figure which has steadily decreased. This drop played directly into Zuckerberg’s hands, as it has since become essentially a pay to play service, a zero-sum game in which there is only one winner. The notion of Facebook likes as being conducive to sales and business success seems to distract companies from the true purpose of marketing, engagement and the scale of dependence on Facebook by the masses is symptomatic of the crisis of integrity and anxieties pervading the advertising industry as a whole.
Regardless of what Zuckerburg may claim to be its true raison d’être, Facebook has morphed over time into an insuperable force; a publisher and a vehicle for advertising for over 60 million businesses worldwide. The faith of many in Facebook as an effective sales medium remains unshaken in the face of growing revelations of ad fraud, through invalid clicks and fake profiles designed to provide brands with an illusion of large scale engagement. The revelations in 2017 pertaining to the existence of several ‘click farms’ in nations such as India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, through which paid content effectively goes unnoticed, were an illustration of why Facebook functions as a divisive and disingenuous force in society and is a reminder that its sole purpose is simply to maximise its own profit.
On top of that, these new changes threaten to further undermine the effectiveness of Facebook as an advertising platform, as sponsored content will move down the pecking order of user’s daily news feeds. Yet, most companies are seemingly willing to see beyond this, as for them Facebook remains the most important channel of communicating with an audience of roughly 2.07 billion active users.
To revamp Facebook’s integrity, a minor tweaking of an algorithm will not suffice. As a frequent user, It feels trivial to complain about something that is free. Yet, by not paying for this product, I am the product and my privacy and behaviour is being compromised every time I log on. Back in November, former Facebook president Sean Parker spoke of a disturbing truth that many of us had suspected. His claim that the company’s founders had deliberately designed it to take advantage of the “vulnerability in human psychology” in a bid to maximise ad revenues. Meanwhile for brands, the cost of paying for ad space is disproportionate to its effectiveness, as without rigorous targeting and profiling of users internet ads pale in significance.
Should Facebook not become a paid service? A fee of £2.50 a month or whatever it takes would be a small price to pay for something so ubiquitous in our daily lives and crucially would mean that our data is not commoditised so relentlessly. If Zuckerberg indeed opted to charge even a quarter of Facebook’s 2 billion users were willing to pay $1 monthly in exchange for a transparent, ad-free service he would still turnover profits beyond the $4.5 billion mark, according to Zeynep Tufekci in The New York Times.
Such a move would also have favourable consequences for the advertising industry, with platforms such as Facebook, Youtube and Instagram having become a disincentive to bravery and creativity. There are still authentic means of creating engagement outside of social media; the most impactful communicators today are the ones who engage with people on a human level, through experiences and conversations and the best thing about this type of engagement, is of course that its free.