Back in 2004, nobody could have foreseen how Facebook would become a platform that more than a quarter of the people on the planet now use. But how’s it coping with its teenage years?
Happy 15th birthday, Facebook! Like any teenager, you’ve had your ups and downs and your stroppy moments.
Now one of the 10 biggest companies in the world by market capitalisation, love it or loathe it, Facebook is and is set to remain a fixed part of the landscape.
I’m one of the 2.32bn monthly active users and have been since December 2006, and there’s a lot I think is actually pretty great about it.
It’s kept me in touch with people I was at school with in Canada 40 years ago, as well as with more recent friends all around the world. I can keep up with my Italian nieces via my sister’s Facebook posts, and with other friends, both in London and further afield.
Over the past 13 years I’ve watched friends’ children grow up via Facebook. I’ve shared holiday photos and cat pictures with hundreds of friends, made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
On Friday afternoon I posted some photos from my late grandmother’s family albums of my great-great grandparents and asked my friends to share their old family photos with me.
That thread is now at 274 comments and still going strong, with my friends sharing the photos and stories of how their family members served in two world wars, left Europe to build new lives in the Commonwealth and how they’ve uncovered family secrets.
A checkered history
I know it’s got problems: we’ve all been concerned about the rise of fake news across the platform, about how Facebook handles our privacy, and about the access it’s given to third parties in the past.
Many are concerned about the relationship between teenagers’ mental health and the social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Serious concerns were raised last year about the role Cambridge Analytica played in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum and subsequent general election, and how Facebook failed to protect the personal information of its users.
That resulted in the ICO fining Facebook £500,000 – the maximum it could impose under the old Data Protection Act – in what many saw as a nadir for Facebook.
Last year was very much an annus horribilis for Facebook: in addition to the row over Cambridge Analytica, it was revealed that millions of accounts had been impacted by a vulnerability that could have allowed attackers to take over users’ accounts.
Mark Zuckerberg also appeared in front of both the European parliament and the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee to answer questions from lawmakers about the platform.
Certainly as this year dawned, Facebook was facing renewed calls for tighter regulation, although what that regulation might look like is a matter for debate.
It will be interesting to see in this coming year if the rumbling concerns turn into a tougher new regime for the platform, or if users turn their discontent into the solid action of leaving the platform.
So how do you feel about Facebook on its 15th birthday?
Is it time for the stroppy teenager to grow up? Do you use Facebook, and how do you use it? Let us know in the comments whether it’s a happy or an unhappy birthday for Mark Zuckerberg’s baby.