Facebook just turned 20, but don’t expect a party

Facebook just turned 20, but don’t expect a party

Facebook is now 20 years old, but don’t expect a big party.

The company hit a historic milestone on Sunday, marking the day in 2004 when 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg launched a new website. It was initially open only to Harvard students and then to students at other colleges, and was known at the time as thefacebook.com.

The blue-colored app is still recognizable, although it has come a long way. Facebook now falls under the umbrella of Zuckerberg’s company Meta, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta is valued at more than $1 trillion, making it one of the most valuable American companies, based on its stock price. On Thursday, it announced $39 billion in earnings for 2023 and 3.07 billion monthly users for Facebook alone, sending the stock price up 20.3% the next day.

But for Facebook and Meta, the 20th birthday comes at a critical time. Four days ago, Zuckerberg appeared before a Senate committee and was pressed to apologize to parents who said their children died from suicide or drug overdoses, which would not have happened without social media.

Zuckerberg, as Meta’s CEO and majority owner, was met with audible hisses when he entered the hearing room on Wednesday. Over the course of several hours, he faced intense questions from lawmakers about child safety and whether the company was investing enough resources to protect children and teens.

“No one should have to go through the things your families went through,” Zuckerberg told the parents.

The Senate hearing reinforced a dynamic that has been true for years: Zuckerberg’s company seems inextricably linked to controversy and political scrutiny, even though it has enjoyed overwhelming success as a profitable company and social media leader with features like news feeds and clickbait. .

Lawmakers say they are moving toward potentially landmark legislation to regulate Meta and other social media companies. Some lawmakers want to partially roll back a 1996 law known as Section 230 that gives internet platforms immunity from several types of lawsuits, including lawsuits for publishing or hosting potentially defamatory posts written by others. The companies, including Meta, said their Section 230 immunity is broad, and also bars lawsuits alleging their products have harmful design flaws such as causing addiction or recommending terrorist content.

Addressing his volatile week, Zuckerberg said in a post on Thursday that he is focused on the long term.

“You’re not as good as they say when you’re going up, or as bad as they say when you’re going down. Just keep building and doing well over long periods of time,” he wrote on the threads.

The constant scrutiny of the Meta by politicians, regulators, advocates and journalists leaves little room for public celebration, though it’s possible Zuckerberg will mark his birthday with a Facebook or Instagram post, as he has done at other milestones.

A decade ago, on Facebook’s 10th birthday, Zuckerberg posted that he was amazed at the company’s success at that point compared to its competitors.

“We just care about connecting the world more than anyone else,” he wrote in 2014, according to TechCrunch.

A 20th birthday or anniversary of a major company is usually a cause for success in a public celebration. Walmart held parties at its 500 or so stores when the retailer reached the 20-year mark in October 1982, according to a press release issued at the time. Microsoft opened a company museum on its 20th anniversary in 1995, and Apple celebrated in 1997 with a special edition of its personal computer, called the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.

Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, has not announced similar plans to celebrate Christmas. A company representative declined to comment.

In recent days, the French newspaper Le Figaro noted this important event at Facebook through a poll on its website, asking readers: “Have social networks been a progress for society?” As of Friday, 86% said “no.”

Facebook has faced controversy since its early days. Weeks before the launch, in a nod to future congressional testimony, Zuckerberg appeared before Harvard University’s board of directors to address criticism over a previous site he created, Facemash.com. This site allowed fellow students to rank their classmates on physical attractiveness.

Zuckerberg’s creation has been a lightning rod ever since.

In 2004, two of Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates, twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, sued him for copying Facebook’s idea from them. The conflict was loosely depicted in the 2010 film The Social Network, which won three Academy Awards. Zuckerberg and his co-founders denied the allegations. A settlement was reached between the two parties, with the Winklevey twins receiving $65 million.

Although Facebook officially had five co-founders, Zuckerberg was in charge from the beginning, and for many years, Facebook’s website included the slogan “Produced by Mark Zuckerberg.”

Many of Facebook’s controversies have involved content moderation: the rules people must follow when posting on the site. In 2008, the company faced backlash from breastfeeding mothers over a rule against images containing a nipple. Meta now allows images of exposed female nipples in the context of breastfeeding, acts of protest, and other specified exceptions. As similar debates have erupted over the years, Facebook has turned over decision-making to an external “supreme court” known as the Oversight Board. Zuckerberg says he considers the board’s decisions “binding.”

But other scandals have been of Facebook’s making, as in 2012 when Facebook allowed researchers to conduct a psychological experiment on their users, which showed what they called “widespread emotional contagion.” The researchers said they tested “reducing the amount of emotional content in the news feed” of 689,003 people, and found that doing so reliably changed their feelings.

“When positive expressions decreased, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts,” they wrote.

In the paper, the researchers said Facebook users gave “informed consent” to the tests because they agreed to Facebook’s data use policy “before creating the account.” But backlash followed when the paper was published in 2014, and Facebook’s then-COO, Sheryl Sandberg, apologized, saying the company had not communicated well about the experiments.

To be sure, many Facebook users have found value in the service: connecting long-lost friends and family, creating communities around shared interests or experiences or raising awareness and raising money for charitable causes.

But the barrage of criticism has been constant, especially since the 2016 election. A Facebook employee helped run the Facebook advertising arm of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and the Trump campaign credited Facebook with helping him win because of the site’s targeted advertising power. Facebook said it was standard practice at the time for the company to provide hands-on assistance to prominent political campaigns, a service it later scaled back. Months later, Facebook revealed that Russian operatives ran a secret influence operation on the site, and although the extent of their influence was never clear, the revelations changed public perceptions about the power of social media and the lack of safeguards.

Zuckerberg had rejected the extent of his power in late November 2016, saying at an event that it was a “pretty crazy idea” to believe that fake news on Facebook influenced the election that year.

Another publicity storm exploded in 2018, when journalists accused British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica of improperly extracting data from Facebook for use in political campaigns. Experts in the field and a British government investigation found that Cambridge Analytica’s capabilities were overstated, but Meta agreed to pay $725 million to end a class-action lawsuit accusing it of failing to protect user data. Meta did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The accusations have escalated since then, including reports by UN human rights experts and Amnesty International that Facebook played a role in spreading hate speech that led to the genocide in Myanmar. The company said in 2018 that it agreed it was not doing enough to prevent its platform from being used to incite violence offline, and said it was spending more on people and technology to address Facebook abuse in Myanmar. It also said it was working with UN investigators, and the company had formed a team with the aim of avoiding similar cases of violence offline.

Over the years, Zuckerberg has testified before Congress eight times, according to the C-SPAN online archive. Topics of his appearances have ranged from Russian influence to Facebook’s compliance with antitrust laws to the impact of social media on teens’ mental health.

Frances Hogan, a former Facebook employee, alleged various problems at the company including negative impacts on teens’ mental health when she leaked company documents to the Wall Street Journal in 2021, leading to a series called the “Facebook Files.”

The company has faced countless lawsuits and regulatory actions, including an attempt to break up Facebook. In this case, Facebook sought to have the case dismissed for lack of evidence, although the lawsuit continues. In a series of lawsuits, school systems are demanding that Facebook and its competitors compensate them for the indirect costs of students’ alleged addiction to social media; The companies sought to have the lawsuits dismissed, saying they could not be held liable under federal laws related to defective products, but were unsuccessful.

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