Highs and lows from two decades of the social media giant

Facebook is celebrating its twentieth anniversary and has grown from a network for students at one university to one of the largest internet platforms in the world today.

Here’s a look back at some of the biggest moments from the social network’s past 20 years.

– The launch

Facebook first launched on February 4, 2004 as a social network known as TheFacebook, initially aimed at students at Harvard College, before gradually expanding to other universities in the US.

In 2005, ‘The’ was dropped from the name, paving the way for facebook.com – and in September 2006 the site was opened to anyone aged 13 or over.

– Accusations of stolen ideas

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was accused of stealing the idea from fellow Harvard students Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra – who claimed Mr Zuckerberg intended to help them build a social network called HarvardConnection .

A lawsuit was filed against Mr. Zuckerberg, resulting in a settlement in 2008, which was dramatized in the film The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg.

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The stars of The Social Network (Ian West/PA)

– Facebook becomes public

In May 2012, Facebook went public, marking one of the largest initial public offerings (IPOs) in U.S. history.

The company announced 421,233,615 shares at a price of $38 per share, although there were some technical issues on the first day of trading that prevented some orders from going through.

– Instagram buyout

Facebook successfully bought rival social network Instagram for a billion dollars in April 2012, boosting the social network’s presence.

Instagram has been kept largely independent, although parts of it have been integrated with Facebook, such as the ability to share photos to Facebook as well, as well as stories.

– WhatsApp acquisition

Facebook continued its acquisition spree in 2014, buying messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Like Instagram, the app has remained separate, with some parts able to connect to Facebook’s social network.

– Oculus VR

Facebook made another deal in 2014, acquiring virtual reality startup Oculus VR for $2 billion, as the company looked to expand its technology footprint beyond social media.

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Julie Refsdal, 20, tries the Oculus Rift (Frantzesco Kangaris/PA)

– Research into mood influence

One of Facebook’s previous controversies arose in 2014, when it emerged that a mood influence study had been conducted on the News Feed.

The posts that appeared on the homepage of 689,000 users were filtered, although Facebook said the experiment was aimed at understanding how people react to different types of content, whether it is positive or negative in tone.

– Reach a billion users

In August 2015, Facebook announced that it had reached a new milestone: one billion users accessed the service in one day.

– Going beyond likes

Facebook added new reactions to the famous Like button in 2016, with emotions showing love, laughter, wow, sadness and anger.

– Cambridge Analytica

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was one of the biggest controversies to hit Facebook, when an investigation found that the data analytics company passed on personal data from Facebook apps without individuals’ consent.

The company is believed to have collected data from as many as 87 million users in 2014, resulting in fines, including a £500,000 fine, imposed by the UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), on Facebook.

– Data breach of almost 30 million accounts

In September 2018, Facebook revealed that nearly 50 million accounts had been compromised in a security breach, although this number was later reduced to 30 million.

At the time, Facebook vice president Guy Rosen said attackers “exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted View As, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else.”

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Meta’s headquarters in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

– Fake news

Like many online platforms, Facebook has been hit by problems with fake news.

The social network has been criticized for the way it tackles the spread of misinformation, with bad actors mainly targeting Facebook to spread political messages, especially around crucial elections.

In response, Facebook has taken a number of initiatives to combat fake news. Earlier this year it launched a UK arm for its international fact-checking efforts, using Full Fact, a fact-checking charity founded in 2010, to review stories, images and videos flagged by users and to assess them based on their accuracy.

– Increasing pressure from competing platforms

Facebook has also faced intense pressure from the social media industry as new players emerged and tried to compete with the platform for users’ attention.

Its most notable and ongoing rival in this sense is TikTok, which has gained users, especially among the younger generation, and for some has challenged Facebook’s status as an online news source.

In early 2022, as Facebook reported a decline in daily active users for the first time in its history, Mr. Zuckerberg publicly acknowledged TikTok’s competition and admitted that Facebook was in a battle for people’s attention.

Meta has also made a strong push in that fight, introducing a short video feature called Reels, similar to TikTok, to another of its apps, Instagram, in an attempt to beat TikTok at their own game.

– Metaverse guess

In October 2021, Mr. Zuckerberg announced the largest realignment in the company’s history when the parent company was founded and renamed Meta, stating that it was no longer focused on social media but on building the metaverse.

The Facebook founder pledged to invest billions of dollars in the project, which aimed to make Meta the market leader in what he said would be the next version of the internet.

More than two years later, there are few signs that the Metaverse will become the mainstream Internet for the general public.

And with strong economic headwinds for tech companies in 2022 and 2023, post-pandemic, the company was forced to make two rounds of substantial job cuts.

For now, Mr. Zuckerberg’s metaverse gamble has yet to pay off.

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Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears before Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

– Job losses

In the span of four months between late 2022 and March 2023, Meta announced two rounds of major job cuts.

The first saw the loss of 11,000 jobs from the 87,000-strong global workforce, with a further 10,000 job cuts announced just 16 weeks later – although the technology sector did not follow suit in job cuts.

The cuts coincided with the company’s profits taking a hit due to a range of factors, including a slump in the online advertising market, wider global economic problems and increased competition from rivals such as TikTok.

It was also highlighted that the massive investments in building the metaverse put additional strain on the company’s finances at a difficult time for the company.

– More supervision by supervisors

The rise of Facebook and other social media apps has led to increased attention and scrutiny from regulators around the world.

The industry’s rapid pace has made Facebook and other platforms the focus of debates over user privacy, data collection and broader online security, as more and more people spend more time online.

As scrutiny has increased over Facebook’s two decades of existence, the site has had to respond and evolve – introducing large content moderation teams, fact-checking and safety centers to combat misinformation and other harmful content, new rules around advertising and digital wellbeing. tools that help users limit their screen time.

Now a major internet regulation is taking effect in the EU and Britain, with Facebook and others potentially facing billions of dollars in fines, service blocking and even criminal liability for executives if they are found to have broken online safety rules.

The need for effective moderation of Facebook’s online empire has never been more important or under more pressure, and the response to legislation such as the Online Safety Act will determine the company’s success in the years to come.

– Returning financial strength

Despite the problems of recent years, Facebook and Meta have had a resurgent start to 2024, with the company reporting some of its strongest financial results for the last three months of 2023.

Compared to the same period in 2022, revenues increased 25% and net income more than tripled as user growth returned, ad sales recovered and cost savings from significant job losses took effect.

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