June 18, 2021

From public square to family room: a Facebook to walk around the house? | Trends

From public square to family room: a Facebook to walk around the house? | Trends

If our bank had a bad reputation; If the credibility of your CEO is below zero, and if we knew that our savings have been used for illegitimate purposes, have been managed erratically and do not even guarantee your safety, we would change banks immediately. However, although that is exactly what happens with Facebook and with our personal data capital, 2,300 million people around the world continue to actively use this social network. Why?

First, because network economy applies here: the more people use a product or service, the more advantageous it is to use it as well. Social networks with more users attract us because they offer us interaction options with more potentially interesting people and organizations.

Second, by inertia. 15 years of life (an age for a social network) have allowed Facebook to become a substantial part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people. If we add to this the supposedly addictive nature of these platforms and the barriers to entry associated with the use of any new social network, we will note that taking away from Facebook is not so simple.

And third because, although our personal data may not only be highly sensitive but often also extremely valuable, it is obvious that we still do not take their protection as seriously as our flows. In fact, we are just beginning to raise awareness about it.

All in all, Mark Zuckerberg knows that his empire has been very touched by the incessant string of scandals unveiled, errors of bulk evidenced and criticisms received. And since he is not willing to let his hen escape from the golden eggs (the profits of the company exceeded 22 billion dollars in 2018 despite the Annus horribilis lived), just move tab with a statement of intents that has been dissected by analysts around the world eager to glimpse the future of the platform.

From my point of view, four are the keys that emerge from the words of Zuckerberg: Facebook needs to wash its image, grow in number of profitable users, avoid definitively responsibilities that it has always tried to avoid and monetize the deficit platforms of the family of Facebook services.

From the outset, the twist that now encourages presenting itself as a champion of privacy evokes the well-known saying tell me what you presume and I'll tell you what you lack, and clearly points to an image washing operation. With such low credibility, however, it will take much more than proclamations to revive Facebook's reputation.

Significantly, in recent years the growth of Facebook users has been very weak in the United States, Canada and Europe, and has focused on markets where the profitability it obtains for each user is infinitely lower (only three dollars in Asia-Oceania, Africa and Latin America during the third quarter of 2018 versus 35 dollars per user in the United States and Canada). To make matters worse, the youngest user – the one who sets a trend in terms of social networks and the one who can contribute to net growth in mature and saturated markets – is defecting from Facebook or not even enrolling in this platform. Consequently, integrating all the platforms controlled by the company (mainly WhatsApp, Instagram, FB Messenger and Facebook itself) would be a way to, jointly, continue to grow in the most profitable markets and reach the most elusive publics.

On the other hand, Facebook – which has been presented since its inception as a technological platform, a mere instrument to connect people with what interests them – has always resisted being considered a means of communication. And it is that being a means takes its toll (especially when you become a clear channel for the circulation of fake news capable of putting in check the democratic system or when they use you to broadcast live acts as aberrant as the massacre that occurred in New Zealand a few days ago) and carries responsibilities.

Hybridize Facebook with the apps of messaging (that is, converting it into the living room of the house instead of the public square that it is now, according to the metaphor used by Zuckerberg himself) would help to free the managers of the social network from the unpleasant media responsibility that with the they had begun to assume, moved more by social and institutional pressure than by conviction. And if the carom goes well, this hybridization could also facilitate the monetization of apps messaging, which for years have grown and developed parasitically at the expense of the financial muscle of the parent company, and even advance to regulatory attempts antitrust court.

A perfect squaring of the circle or the umpteenth erratic flight forward? In the case of Facebook, I bet on the second.

Ferran Lalueza is a professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the UOC and researcher of the group GAME-CNM


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