In February, Facebook turned 12, but the social media company got a head start on the difficult teenage years, with a very rough 2016.
The last aspect is still causing problems, and has led to the Menlo Park company to hit the classifieds.
Facebook still makes money – and lots of it – but the old PR department are hurting a little.
The most damaging hit of all came following the US election, the cherry on top of a shaky year. In the run-up to America’s Big Decision, Facebook was swamped with misinformation and fake news, with articles suggesting that Hillary Clinton is a murderer (she isn’t) and that the Pope endorses Trump (he didn’t).
An oft-cited study by Buzzfeed identified that the articles not only came from a surprising location (Macedonia), but also were slanted in Trump’s favour. This led to an inevitable question – Did Facebook help Trump win?
Measuring media effects is tricky at the best of times, so this isn’t easy to answer. However, Mark Zuckerberg’s response was lacking.
For Facebook to say that it isn’t a news source is either naïve or delusional, with a recent study showing that more than 40 per cent of Americans get news on Facebook.
It looks like Facebook is taking the problem even more seriously now, with a recent job posting for a Head of News Partnerships. They aren’t looking for a spring chicken either – searching for someone with more than 20 years experience in the field to become the “public facing voice of Facebook and its role in the news ecosystem”.
In other words, they want someone old to fix the broken news.
According to Business Insider, Facebook is also working a new feature called ‘Collections’, which will showcase lists of curated content from respected and handpicked media partners.
Moving into 2017, Facebook will have other things to worry about. The biggest threat of all is probably Snapchat – its younger, cooler and sexier sibling.
It’s well-known that Facebook likes a good acquisition – when it sees something it likes, it buys it, and if it can’t buy it, it finds a way to copy it. In the case of Snapchat, Facebook has copied key features at least six times.
Facebook also tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in 2013, but Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel famously swiped left on the Zuck.
Snapchat turned five this year, so it’s still just a toddler. One can’t help but wonder if it will face similar problems as it heads toward its awkward teenager years.
Maybe we have all been a bit hard on old Zuck. But just because he seems well intentioned, doesn’t mean that his company is perfect. To think that a company that size and with that much influence can remain neutral is ludicrous.
The fake news problem is massive, and it will be interesting to see if the new hire, features and policies can fix it.