David O'Reilly

Why do people still use Facebook?

In a blog post on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg shared his vision for the future of social networking apps as a more intimate and privacy-focused way of communication. Naturally, the announcement was met with scepticism; Facebook’s track-record on user privacy has been pretty poor up until now.

But despite being at odds with its core business model, it’s no surprise that Facebook’s CEO is bringing privacy to the forefront of the conversation. Trying to make amends, the tech giant’s push towards doing what’s right for the user is an attempt to repair some of the damage its reputation has suffered as of late.

In the last year or so, Facebook has been plagued with bad press. A multitude of high-profile news stories have centred around the social network’s mishandling of user data, and its role in 2016’s US Presidential Election and UK/EU Referendum. Congress even summoned Zuckerberg himself to testify to Facebook’s shady dealings.

The controversy also extended across the globe, with the core platform being blamed for its involvement in anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka and human rights abuses of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and a string of murders in India linked to the spread of false information through WhatsApp.

As the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, stocks in the tech company plummeted by an estimated $25B, sparked by the #DeleteFacebook campaign.

Finding it difficult to shake the Evil Corp. persona, Facebook desperately needs to revamp its image. A recent reports suggests that millions of users in the US are turning their backs on the social network. With privacy being a main concern, the trend towards ephemeral sharing among the younger demographic has been steadily growing. It’s this type of social sharing that has been key to the success of apps such as Snapchat, providing an alternative to the permanence offering of traditional social networking profiles. The inability to acquire Snap Inc. has resulted in Facebook rolling out copycat features across its whole range of social media platforms, with varying degrees of success.

An increasing concern over public persecution is driving the other big upward trend in social sharing. By providing safe spaces to share with small, close selections of friends and relatives, the humble group chat is becoming an ever more popular form of communication. With its acquisition of WhatsApp back in 2014, and the greater development of the Messenger platform, Facebook already has a strong foothold in group chat market, but still faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple’s iMessage service. Mark’s announcement makes clear Facebook’s investment in this area, citing encryption as a major feature of these types of interactions, and one it’s committed to providing across the board.

Zuckerberg and co. are saying all the right things; it’s clear that this is the direction Facebook needs to head in, not just to claw back its diminishing user base, but to distance itself from its recent unscrupulous activities. Its core platform has become a hotbed for misinformation, political propaganda, and extremist content, and the trust it once had of its users has all but dissipated.

The intention of Facebook to act as a town square has always been its raison d’être, but in its current form, and in our sociopolitical climate, who wants to shout over deafening noise just to be heard, all whilst having their most intimate details sold behind the scenes to the highest bidder?

In 2019, why do people still use Facebook?