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Facebook turns 15 (and people have opinions about it)

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On this day in 2004, Facebook entered the world. Today lots of us reckoned with the company 15 years
 
February 4 · Issue #283 · View online
The Interface
On this day in 2004, Facebook entered the world. Today lots of us reckoned with the company 15 years on, and it may surprise you to know that opinions tended to vary sharply depending on whether or not you work there.
Mark Zuckerberg tried to set the tone with a sober but optimistic post on his company’s history. It sounded many of the most familiar notes — did you know Facebook was started in his dorm room? — but also took pains to say that recent coverage of Facebook has been “overly negative.”
As networks of people replace traditional hierarchies and reshape many institutions in our society – from government to business to media to communities and more – there is a tendency of some people to lament this change, to overly emphasize the negative, and in some cases to go so far as saying the shift to empowering people in the ways the internet and these networks do is mostly harmful to society and democracy.
To the contrary, while any rapid social change creates uncertainty, I believe what we’re seeing is people having more power, and a long term trend reshaping society to be more open and accountable over time. 
Beat reporters were somewhat surprised to see Zuckerberg predicting the rise of a more accountable society, given that he designed Facebook’s corporate governance to prevent the board from holding him accountable. One of the chief lessons of last week’s big conflict with Apple was that many people are desperate to see Facebook held accountable for something, even if only for the violation of another platform’s developer policies.
Perhaps in anticipation of the criticisms likely to attend any Facebook anniversary celebration, the company published a lengthy blog post about the work it was doing to prevent election interference, improve data privacy, and promote the well being of its user base. This was justly ignored by my fellow beat reporters, who were busy highlighting and screenshotting full paragraphs of Zuckerberg’s post and adding variants of “???” and “!!!”
Wired looked at 15 moments that defined Facebook’s first 15 years, and considered the legacy of its open-source contributions. Recode put together a visualization of the company’s prodigious acquisition of users. Vox asked 15 influential people to consider whether Facebook is good or bad, including Malcolm Gladwell, Sherry Turkle, Jonah Peretti, and Ro Khanna. Only two people gave an unqualified thumbs-up to Facebook: Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley in Congress, and Fox News personality Dana Perino, who I’ll quote here:
Facebook provided a way to reconnect with people from all walks of your life, especially the generations who didn’t grow up with cell phones. A good example is my husband and stepson — they’d been estranged for almost 18 years when finally Barry contacted his dad on Christmas Day a couple of years ago. I now call them “the happy couple” — it’s brought a lot of joy into our lives.
At the New York Times, Sarah Jeong called Facebook “the friendship no one asked for.” In a video that parodies the automated videos Facebook puts together to promote sharing in the News Feed, she runs down 15 years of social-network calamities, in entertaining fashion. Meanwhile, in Slate, Shannon Palus quit Facebook and found that no one cared.
One of my favorite takes today came from a Twitter account, previously unknown to me and apparently anonymous, named Antirobust. In a thread, the author says that it is not yet possible to render a verdict on whether Facebook is a net positive. What’s more important, they say, is that we live in a world that almost inevitably would have produced something like Facebook. They write:
When claiming Facebook is bad, the counterfactual isn’t “everything the same except no Facebook”
It’s “we don’t have the sort of world where innovations in digital communications inevitably lead to something like Facebook”
I don’t want to live in that second world, and neither do you
Perhaps Facebook is uniquely nefarious (bad luck when picking our multiverse, i guess)
But I think when people ask whether ‘Facebook’ is good or bad, they’re mostly identifying general aspects of technology, not anything Facebook-specific
So to wrap-up
The question isn’t really: “do the actual and predicted benefits of Facebook outweigh the actual and predicted costs of Facebook?”
It’s more like: “does the level of oppression required to hopefully eliminate some of the predicted downsides of facebook outweigh the predicted benefit of doing the oppression?”
I think the answer is quite obviously that whatever harms you see in Facebook, the *system* that produced Facebook is overwhelmingly good and essential for the long-run welfare and safety of society.
These points are worth making, though I’d add two notes. One, you can support the system that produced Facebook and still think it ought to be regulated in a more … robust fashion. (In its what-we’re-working-on post today, the company noted that it is actively seeking more regulation.)
Two, while I believe a Facebook-like service was inevitable, I don’t think its current size or level of power proceed logically from what came before them. Indeed, the company’s user base is unprecedented in size — and that size lies at the root of nearly all of its problems. I can understand why, on its 15th birthday, we are talking about whether it is good or it’s bad. But regardless of how you feel, the question would not feel nearly so urgent were Facebook simply not so big.

Democracy
Facebook Privacy Lapses Are the Target of More Probes in the U.S.
Apple Filing Details User Data the Company Is Storing in Russia
Russian troll accounts purged by Twitter pushed Qanon and other conspiracy theories
Taking Down Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in Indonesia | Facebook Newsroom
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Tells Joe Rogan: Trump Is No Worse Than Obama
Elsewhere
Apple restores Facebook’s ability to run internal iOS apps
Apple Shows Facebook Who Has the Power in an App Dispute
We Found People Who Let Facebook Collect All Their Digital Activity for $20 a Month. Here’s What We Learned.
What would happen if Apple fully banned Facebook from the App Store?
Facebook Makes First Blockchain Acquisition With Chainspace
How Facebook and YouTube help spread anti-vaxxer propaganda
Snopes pulls out of its fact-checking partnership with Facebook
Users are buying and selling Instagram accounts for their follower counts
Twitter cuts off API access to follow/unfollow spam dealers
Harassment, Transphobia, and Racism: A Look Inside Blind's Anonymous Chatting Forum for Google Employees
Meet the Creator of the Egg That Broke Instagram
Launches
Instagram to launch 'sensitivity screens' after Molly Russell's death
Months later, Facebook has updated its apps for the iPhone XS Max, XR, and new iPad Pros
Twitter now lets you invite guests into Periscope live streams
Takes
Facebook Is Done Apologizing
Facebook has declared sovereignty
Regulate social media now. The future of democracy is at stake.
And finally ...
Randi Zuckerberg: Dad gave Mark the option to open a McDonald's franchise
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your birthday wishes for Facebook: casey@theverge.com.
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