Facebook: Portrait of a challenging year
Amongst the array of topics covered by the digital news media this year, Facebook and its PR rollercoaster occupied a primary place. So what are the past year’s takeaways following the algorithmic changes that have directly affected brands’ strategies, especially post–Cambridge Analytica? How much do users now trust Facebook? This situation calls for an assessment.
While the DailyDot has published the entire saga of 2018’s big tech scandal, we’ve instead put together all the post-scandal highlights. Here’s a look at the year in Facebook ups and downs through the privileged view of our digital agency’s internal resources. Remember, you can only plan for a better future by first taking stock of the past!
Facebook in hot water
March 2018: Cambridge Analytica outrages the planet
Facebook data were used without user consent for marketing purposes. A bond of trust is broken followed by stormy media coverage. To better understand the uproar and what’s at stake, listen to our podcast episode on the subject (only available in French for now.)
July 2018: Platforms are doing a major cleanup of fake accounts
Instagram and Twitter have deleted millions of fake accounts in recent weeks, after months (or should I say years?) of speculation on the content of fake accounts and their effect on real users.
Key takeaway: Silicon Valley built these platforms, but it doesn’t want to fix them unless their revenue or reputation is at stake (i.e., follower decrease or reputation crisis). There’s no point waiting for the platforms themselves to make changes. Instead, we should equip ourselves with the tools we need to see clearly through potentially scrambled metrics. (Shout-out to SocialBlade for detecting fake subscribers!)
July 2018: Facebook can’t seem to figure out how to fix its disinformation problem
A clear and well documented piece on how Facebook (and social tech in general) doesn’t know or want to fix the problem it caused through misuse of its platform (i.e., real harm in the real world).
Key takeaway: The cold hard truth is that, as we’ve seen after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the presence of disinformation doesn’t hurt their bottom line or user growth, even if they don’t do shit to fix the problems they created. Fixing the problem is not a priority for these guys, continuous growth is.
August 2018: Inside Facebook’s moderation process
A long (but interesting) read if you haven’t followed the whole “How does Facebook moderate hate speech?” issue. Vice gathered together internal documents and interviews from current and past Facebook employees to write this piece.
Key takeaway: Zuckerberg believes that Facebook’s problems can be solved. Many experts do not. And to be hopelessly optimistic about the future use of his platform hasn’t served Zuck very well in recent months.
September 30, 2018: Both of Instagram’s co-founders just quit
Kevin Systrom and fellow co-founder Mike Krieger announced they were departing the social media firm. The move reportedly came after growing tensions with Mark Zuckerberg over the direction of the product.
Key takeaway: Remember when WhatsApp’s founder ALSO left because of the handling of privacy issues on the platform? Looks like The Zuck is managing his empire in a Thatcher-esque manner, even to the point of driving away higher management out of disgust. If only we could say that has paid off so far…
October 8, 2019: Facebook’s toxic management is what led WhatsApp’s founder to quit
Forbes met with WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton to talk about the reasons why he left WhatsApp (which Facebook bought for $19B in 2014), reasons which mostly revolve around data privacy issues between the two platforms. In the end, Facebook matched users’ phone numbers with their Facebook IDs to target ads.
Key takeaway: I’m not going to give you (again) the “Facebook’s only goal is to get more data to sell more ads” speech. This move shows how crucial access to data is nowadays: Those who can get the data (and make sense of it) are the ones succeeding at this marketing technology game.
November 18, 2018: Can Zuckerberg fix Facebook?
He is said to be the sole captain aboard the Facebook ship and has pledged to fix it by the end of 2018. But is he the right man for the job? The New York Times argues that he might not be. Could he possibly be replaced? Not really.
Key takeaway: Is Facebook screwed or doomed? From a PR perspective, the platform is not doing so well (and their PR strategy isn’t doing so well either). From a monthly active user perspective, it’s not doing much better. BUT revenue-wise, it’s doing very, very well (even though they have been playing down expectations lately). As long as they’re selling tons of ads, don’t be fooled into thinking they’ll implement a lot of changes.
December 16, 2018: The Facebook Fact Checker project isn’t working
Current and former Facebook fact checkers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impact of their work.
Key takeaway: This is basically a PR move. I kind of have to agree that they don’t seem to have made significant progress on the fake news problem. Journalists working on the project are even starting to say that working with Facebook makes them look bad.
January 13, 2019: Boomers can’t tell what’s fake and what’s not on Facebook
American researchers found that people over 65 are the most likely to share fake news on Facebook. Age seems to predict behaviour better than any other characteristic (education, race, sex) in this case.
Key takeaway: This is what I call “digital adolescence” (I should have written a book on the subject…). Our parents/grandparents find themselves in a completely different situation compared to us: We are digitally mature, while they are completely new to the medium… and will often say or do anything, or believe anything they read. It might be cute when they post a comment on one of your photos thinking they’re sending a private message, but it really isn’t when they share (and believe) fake news.
January 27, 2019: Facebook to start encrypting messages on Instagram and Messenger
After announcing it was going to (somewhat) merge Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram messages into one big pool, Facebook announced that it would also start to encrypt messages on Messenger and Instagram.
Key takeaway: WhatsApp’s founder was very against any kind of merger with Facebook platforms (mostly because of the question of encryption, or lack thereof). Now that he’s out of the way, this news isn’t that surprising. I personally think that this issue of “making it easier for users to connect” between apps (and adding encryption) is a smokescreen: Facebook is doing this to serve better (and more) ads.
January 27, 2019: People don’t really know how Facebook learns about their ad interests
Pew Research released a study on users’ perceptions (and understanding) of how Facebook learns (and stores) their interests to target ads to them. A whopping 74% of U.S. Facebook users didn’t know that Facebook maintained a list of their interests and traits.
Key takeaway: Though the survey was performed last September (a lot of bad press for Facebook continued to appear after that), it seems people don’t really understand what kind of personal data they are handing over to Facebook. And that’s good news for Facebook: As long as people don’t understand to what extent their data is being harvested, they can’t get (too) mad at Facebook.
February 3, 2019: Facebook’s recent problems don’t hurt its bottom line
Revenues increased 9% YoY in the last quarter. Monthly active users are also up 9% YoY. A decrease in active users in Europe has changed course, turning into an increase of 6M users compared to last quarter.
Key takeaway: We talk A LOT about Facebook’s problems (me especially), but the truth is they are still doing very well. We all sound like we’re mad at Facebook, but the vast majority of us are still using the platform and our clients are still pouring money into it. As long as they have these two things, they’re not going anywhere.
March 17, 2019: An estimated 15M U.S. users have left Facebook since 2017
Edison Research reports that the biggest drop was in the 12–34 age group, going from 79M in 2017 to 62M in 2019. The only age group showing growth is the 55+ group (+4M in two years). The decrease in Facebook users coincides with the growth of Instagram users.
Key takeaway: People are leaving Facebook to spend time on Instagram. The takeaway here is that people are not necessarily spending less time on social media, they’re just spending it at places other than Facebook.
April 7, 2019: The most popular Facebook post of the year so far is huge clickbait
It was written by a small radio station in the U.S. and had an alarming yet geographically ambiguous headline, “Suspected Human Trafficker, Child Predator May Be in Our Area,” and now has over 1M shares.
Key takeaway: We were told by Facebook that their countless tweaks over the years were designed to promote “high-quality content,” discourage clickbait and like-bait, fact-check bogus stories, and punish pages that peddle misinformation. Well obviously this isn’t the case. This is pure clickbait and low-quality content, and yet it’s the most popular story of the year so far. I’m beyond annoyed at this point.
June 16, 2019: Deepfakes are coming to Facebook/Instagram
There is a deepfake video showing Mark Zuckerberg talking about taking over the world in some way. The image is quite convincing, the voice not so much though. Facebook first decided not to delete it (just like they did with the fake Nancy Pelosi video a few days ago), and then changed their mind… because it violated a CBSN trademark.
Key takeaway: Not deleting fake videos that spread misinformation shows the guys are having a really hard time applying their own policies. As long as decisions are not made according to basic morals, we’ll see a lot more of this.
June 24, 2019: Privacy scandals cause Facebook usage to go down, big time
The Cambridge Analytica scandal (and many others) have taken a toll on engagement from users on the platform. Independent data shows that engagement is down 20% since April 2018, even though official records show kind of the opposite.
Key takeaway: I think the real answer is somewhere in between. Facebook usage is (most probably) down globally, but I don’t think it is solely because of the scandals—it might be just because of overall fatigue.
For those keen on pursuing the subject
What’s in store for Facebook? Growth? Stagnation? Decline? No matter what the future holds, our content marketing team will be happy to help you take advantage of future opportunities for your brand!
In the meantime, here’s some content that’s sure to light up a few brain cells:
- In the interview “How does your brand image play online?” I explain the reality now faced by brands, whether they’re digital natives or traditional.
- What impact does social media have on consumers? Our data scientist, Nicolas Scott, disentangles the various mechanisms that influence behaviour.
- Need more concrete information? Learn how we helped Nespresso’s social media team!