Five paragraphs in the monster blog post that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted yesterday afternoon makes a damned bizarre admission: "Quite frankly, we currently do not have a solid reputation for creating privacy protection services. "
That One line is the context for the rest of Zuckerberg's 3,500-word publication analyzing privacy, messages and the future of Facebook. The problem is not simply that Facebook has a terrible reputation in privacy. It is that we have reached a point where the leader of the company can endure for years the growing distrust and real human harm.
With his latest publication, Zuckerberg is trying to redefine Facebook. The Facebook that he built in the last 15 years is fundamentally structured around a model of privacy and shared use that we have realized is problematic and harmful. People are now demanding privacy and effemerity, and today's Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to have concluded, simply can not offer that.
To start with the obvious: Facebook is not popular An Axios Harris poll published yesterday found that the company's reputation sank substantially during the past year, which it ranks among the 100 most visible companies in the US After years of scandals and a particularly rugged 2018, Facebook is increasingly synonymous with data breaches, false news, propaganda, an indiscriminate indifference to privacy, scary ad tracking practices and, in general, not a comfortable space to hang out online.
The overall growth of Facebook already seemed to have stalled in the US. UU., And a recent report published yesterday said that the social network could be losing millions of users. Critically, that is concentrated among younger users 12 to 34 years old. Snapchat's pioneering ephemeral model has clearly won, even if Snapchat itself is struggling. Facebook has not stopped adopting these models (it cloned the characteristic of Histories that disappear of Snapchat in all the properties that it owns), but they continue being the exception and not the norm.
Writing a blog post, for a long time, is not I'm going to suddenly change this. For the most part, the Zuckerberg publication is a statement of intent, a signal to users, governments, journalists and their own employees about where the company plans to concentrate their efforts. It seems we are saying that we should stop thinking about Facebook as the list of Friends, Like and News Feed. Instead, we should think of this as a collection of relatively popular messaging services: WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.
For that to happen, Zuckerberg says that Facebook will increasingly focus on small-group messaging, encrypted services and ephemeral communications. It describes a platform that feels personal, takes your privacy seriously and is not in the news for causing human rights abuses. A platform "where people can trust what they say is kept secure and their messages and content will not stay forever," writes Zuckerberg. "This is the future, I hope we help achieve it."
Zuckerberg describes it almost as if he were building a new Facebook. It refers to this imagined future as a singular "privacy-centered platform", rather than a series of disparate applications and services. Throughout the note, the current Facebook platform is only known as a bad example: "many people … have pictures of when they were younger that could be embarrassing", or when they mention how this new system will be integrated with better
What is not said is that the News Feed, the core of the success and chaos of Facebook, seems to be a product inherited in this world. The source of news has been fundamental for Facebook: it's where people get updates from their friends and where most of the company's advertising revenue comes from. But he has also been responsible for a lot of Facebook problems. It is where disinformation spreads, where combative discussions with old acquaintances are unleashed, and where big and small publishers compete to compete in the network. The source of the news is the reason why, although "only" 1.8 million people followed a Facebook page linked to Russian propaganda, the publications of those pages could spread to 140 million people.
There is no indication that the news source, or any other part of Facebook as we know it, disappears. But Zuckerberg is clearly interested in diverting attention from the problems of the news service and towards a more limited model for sharing information. This is more or less what already exists in WhatsApp, a model that, although it is more private, can still lead to problems of the real world, but it would radically change the aspect of the company and how it generates money.
We should take this idea with a whole shaker salt. Zuckerberg has made great proclamations about the future of Facebook before, and they rarely take shape exactly as he describes them. Five years ago, he was talking about the construction of next-generation virtual reality computing platforms, something that is still in development, but with a clearly smaller vision around him. The privacy features, too, are something that Facebook has moved slowly on: its promised "history" tool was supposed to arrive in the first half of 2018, but now it's scheduled for later in 2019.
Now, it is clear where Zuckerberg sees things going. He sees Facebook as a lag of time and playing catch-up. Its users have been demanding stricter, more ephemeral and less invasive privacy for years. Today's Facebook does not offer that, and Zuckerberg may finally be ready to try something else.