Scandal, looming regulations and a future built around AI

Facebook remains one of the most influential pieces of technology in the world, an expert says, despite recent scandals, pressure from rivals and other issues facing Facebook as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Founded by a group including CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, it has grown into one of the largest tech companies in the world as Meta – the parent company of Facebook and its sister apps Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Throughout its two decades of existence, Facebook has helped usher in the era of social media as a communication space, content creation channel, and news source, but it has also been at the root of major scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica data breach, as well as increased concerns about the impact of the Internet , and in particular social media, on the health and well-being, mental health of younger users, and on the foundations of democracy.

Despite this, Facebook has proven itself to be robust; Only last week Facebook reported its best financial results in recent history, with a 25% increase in revenue.

Even that good news came as the company and Zuckerberg were in the spotlight for the site’s negative impact — an embarrassing appearance for the billionaire before Congress saw him confront and apologize to families of children who died after were hit by online harm, while Facebook was branded by a senator as a product ‘that kills people’, and tech platforms were accused of failing to protect young people.

Amid the scandals, social media expert Drew Benvie says it can be easy to forget how transformative Facebook has been to the modern world.

“Mark Zuckerberg, with his hunger for success, fame, transformation and democratization of everything, has truly ushered in a completely new era of information and entertainment,” he told the PA news agency.

“We shouldn’t forget how influential Facebook is now, through its parent company Meta and sister companies – Instagram, WhatsApp and others it has acquired along the way.

“More than three billion monthly users use one of Meta’s platforms – that’s two-thirds of the internet-connected world – and whether it’s messaging, scrolling stories, local community groups, elections, shopping, entertainment or keeping in touch, it has the way of communicating has definitely changed. world.”

Despite the apparent threats to the platform from regulators and even competing platforms, Mr Benvie believes the social network is not going anywhere anytime soon.

“I think we still have twenty years ahead of us. I think what Zuckerberg has done and what he plans to do is largely due to investments in messaging, entertainment and then the latest move which is building AI that will power the future of Meta, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram .

“I think there’s still a lot of life in the old dog,” he said, noting that how the company responds to the changing regulatory landscape will determine its future.

“The regulations that are coming, I think are going to be a big part of Facebook’s future as well, because no one wants to feel unhappy or sick or have any harm caused because of the ease and speed at which information moves. social media.

“For that, social networks have a lot to answer for and I think a lot of responsibility will be placed on their shoulders in the future, largely on the biggest apps, like Facebook and its family of apps.

“The rough direction of the journey is for social networks to limit harmful content as much as possible.”

He added that artificial intelligence (AI) will be another key aspect of the platform’s future – an area in which Meta has already begun investing, last year announcing its first chatbots built using its own Llarma- language model.

Mr Benvie said it will not be this application of AI, but how Meta uses it more broadly, that could define the next twenty years.

“Moderation is increasingly the job of the technology and not the human moderators, so that’s where AI, I think, will play a big role in Meta’s future,” he said.

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Social media experts say AI will play a big role in Facebook’s future (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“In the future, AI will help detect content that perhaps shouldn’t be there, it will help remove it faster, and it will do other great things for social media. It gives users tools and technologies they didn’t have before.

“I think AI will do a lot to keep people safer online and will also improve people’s experiences with social media, if done right. So I think this is something to look forward to.

“AI is such a huge space to look at and it’s also not just a social media related topic, it’s across all fields so Meta could go way beyond just social media if AI gets it right gets, so it’s definitely a topic to watch. watch.”

However, one area of ​​innovation that Benvie says has been “a bit of a mistake” so far is the company’s investment in the metaverse.

The social media expert said he believed the company had “simply been too quick to innovate” and that it would have been better off waiting for interest in the technology to grow further.

Zuckerberg pledged billions of dollars and rebranded the company to launch his metaverse project, a 3D mixed reality space that he said he believes is the future of the internet, but which doesn’t yet exist as a tangible space or platform.

Despite his very hands-on approach to the metaverse, Mr Benvie said he could see Zuckerberg following the example of other high-profile tech founders and at some point stepping back from day-to-day management.

“We may see Mark Zuckerberg take a bit of a step back, a bit like we’ve seen from the founders of other innovative social media technologies – I’m thinking of Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google, Bill Gates at Microsoft – they still have influence – Mark Zuckerberg would probably still have a lot of influence, but it will reach a point where we see his other interests take over,” he said.

Whether Zuckerberg is at the helm or not, however, Mr Benvie said Facebook and Meta’s handling of looming regulations – including the UK’s Online Safety Act – would be critical to Facebook and Meta’s performance in the coming years .

“All social networks are looking for ways to make their platforms as sticky as possible – they want people to stay online longer,” he said.

“That comes at a cost and unfortunately we have seen issues ranging from mental health issues to real harm from all kinds of negative activities that social networks have facilitated. They’re working hard to stop that, but they can definitely work even harder.

“No organization is to blame, and everyone is working to make it better, especially for young people, who are growing up in a world that is different from that of Mark Zuckerberg or even the regulators, where it is just normal to be in a screen as often as you can, and that brings health risks, but also opportunities.

“I think balancing these things will also be critical for the future of Facebook, Meta and broader social media.”

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