As Mark Zuckerberg put it in his ever-so-cool announcement message, Facebook now has a whopping two billion monthly users. The achievement highlights Facebook’s dominance in the burgeoning social media sector, as the next highest monthly user figure is held by YouTube, at 1.5 billion. Among messaging apps, Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Messenger are the only other apps to have a 1-billion-plus user base, and Instagram is also inching steadily towards the figure, with 700 million. Facebook’s growing dominance in the social communication sector has led to rising worries about its role in influencing society and the way ‘netizens’ across the world think. This has made the company think long and hard about its social responsibility, leading to a glut of clearly intentioned programs.
With Growing Power Comes More Responsibility
The role of Facebook algorithms in presenting user-centric update feeds has already been questioned by numerous voices regarding fears that it led to exacerbation of preexisting echo chambers. Facebook’s growing reach and the rapid growth of the data crunching algorithms that drive Facebook’s technological and economic cycles has become a concern due to the increasing prominence of social media in the global exchange of ideas. Events such as suicides on Facebook Live have, naturally, caught the spotlight, but the problem lies deeper in the inherent commercial need of the platform to encourage freedom of expression to an extreme degree.
Having spent more than a decade building a product and then a steady user base, the ball is now in Facebook’s court to make constructive use of the unprecedented success of its platform. Zuckerberg’s cross-country listening tour is part of the initiative, while Facebook’s pitch for the Free Basics program in developing countries was also centered on the ability of the platform to connect and unite the common people. Facebook’s concerns must therefore now shift to building a community rather than building the product.