Facebook can no longer be considered a mere social media network.
As it approaches 2bn users – some 28 per cent of the world – were it a nation, Facebook’s population would be greater than all but one continent. Its revenue would be in the top 30 nations ranked by GDP. The mind should boggle at the plethora of enriched data about our daily lives that the site holds.
It is the deep, tangled roots of the internet, a cornerstone of the digital economy, and with it, a potently influential power.
Facebook is a facilitator of much good for both businesses and individuals. However, despite Sheryl Sandberg’s insistence last week, it has become more than just a social media platform for users’ personal activities. The site is in the midst of an identity crisis.
First, it is confused about whether or not it is a publisher. On the one hand, it is not creating the content its users post. However, as demonstrated by its announcement that it will hire 3,000 people to review video content, it appears to recognise its role as a content host. Nevertheless, it has an accountability problem. In the last week alone it faced allegations of users illegally broadcasting last Saturday’s boxing match and that it employs tools to target ads to vulnerable teenagers. And yet invariably, when called out, it issues a review of its practices – the findings of which get lost in the ether with questions unanswered.
Pressure is mounting across the West for it to take responsibility for the content that helps generate the company billions in advertising. On Monday, the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested fines in the tens of millions for failing to tackle illegal and dangerous content.
Whatever it considers its purpose, with so much influence yet so little competition, it must go further if it is to avoid the inevitable bane of regulation and political interference.