The Problem With Facebook
Facebook is dying.
In 2018, 74% of Americans told a Pew Survey they had reduced their interactions with the service in the past year. 26% said they deleted the app from their phones. Younger users are more likely to do this, with 44% of users aged 18-29 deleting the Facebook app. The chief reason for all of this is privacy.
Since 2016, Facebook has been the subject of all kinds of privacy-related news stories. From Russia’s manipulation of the U.S. POTUS elections via social media to Cambridge Analytica’s illegal use of user information to influence voting behavior, users rightfully have a reason to feel insecure about using the service. And for all the promises the company has made regarding changes, consider this: the issue is with social media in general, not just Facebook.
Facebook makes its money running ads. The more relevant the ad, the likelier a business is to spend money on them. To do that, Facebook keeps data on user preferences, likes, and dislikes. This data should only be available to the individual user and Facebook, but that is not the reality. In fact, the chief problem with storing large amounts of data like they do is in keeping it secure.
But that is a problem every tech company faces, not just Facebook. Twitter works the same way. YouTube too (although, there is a difference; Twitter and YouTube offer up easy ways to delete the data they have on you, Facebook does not — more on this later). A proposed to fix this security issue is Blockchain.
Blockchain-based Social Media
Although niche and outside the popular conversation, many blockchain-based social media services have developed in the last few years. The idea is to use Blockchain’s democratized networks to store data securely. This way, hackers and third parties who want access to user data will have to find it from many nodes rather than a central one. Examples include the Mercury Protocol, a startup that got backing from Mark Cuban in 2017. Mercury Protocol uses blockchain technology to ensure data security and works with current social media platforms, letting you interact with other users across platforms safely. They also plan on using the service to curb the contagion of fake news and echo chambers, but that story is for another day.
Facebook’s New Changes
This brings us to 2019.
On March 6, 2019, Mark Zuckerberg sent out a note on his Facebook profile. In it, he spoke about his plans to change Facebook’s platform over the next few years. In a lot of ways, these changes resemble a blockchain-based platform. Mark says the plan is to transition to more secure communications between smaller groups of people. To transition from a “town square” to a “living room.” User data will also be encrypted more comprehensively than it currently is. While it is not completely decentralized, nor completely secure, it is a step toward something resembling blockchain-based technology. It may come at a huge cost for Facebook but better to lose a few advertisers than to lose the entire platform.
Social media is evolving, like any product that has to stay alive. And we have a good idea of how it will look in its next manifestation. The question is if Facebook has a future in it.