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Why 2019 will be Facebook’s Year of Reckoning – and How it can Fix it

Facebook’s stock peaked at $218.62 on 25 July 2018. It will never reach that height again. The social network will see declining growth rates – if not an outright downward trajectory – this year unless it makes two specific and significant changes.

The financial reasons 

The total number of daily active users (DAUs) is increasing. However, the number of US and Canadian DAUs has remained flat for a year. Growth has stopped. In Europe, the number has declined since January 2018. DAUs are growing only in other parts of the world.

Average revenue per user is more than $27 in the US and Canada and almost $9 in Europe – all places where usage has stopped growing or declined. Where Facebook use is increasing, the ARPU is $2.67 at most.

The decline in rich, developed countries and growth in poor, developing countries does not bode well. Squeezing more and more ad clicks out of rich westerners will only work for so long because ad blocker use is increasing.

Further, Pivotal Research Group in the US shared with me a December 2018 report based on Nielsen Digital Content Ratings data showing that the digital content consumption share of Facebook (including Messenger) is continuing to decline.

No matter how many in the third world start to use Facebook, their added value will never replace that of the now-stagnant first world – especially if China continues to block the platform.

The moral reasons

The moral degradation does not stop at snubbing governments. Last year, Guardian reporters Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison broke the news that Cambridge Analytica had harvested 50 million Facebook profiles to build a software program for influencing elections. Cadwalladr also tweeted that Facebook had threatened to sue the day before publication.

At a later event in New York City, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said that the threat was “probably not our wisest move”. No shit. You know the best way to look guilty and inspire countless other journalists to investigate you? Threaten to sue a media outlet.

Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times reported that Facebook’s crisis PR activities included the hiring of Definers Public Affairs, a sleazy political firm that does opposition-style research for corporate clients. Definers allegedly cast George Soros – a longtime target of shadowy, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – as the force behind the growing anti-Facebook movement.

On 15 November, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote this: “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing.” On 21 November, Sandberg changed her story: “Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.”

There is a word for that: lying. One of the best ways to lose all credibility with reporters is to lie. (You would think a top comms executive would know that.) Sure, we expect publicists to spin events, evade questions, and omit facts – but knowingly stating what is untrue is beyond the spokesperson pale.

We have nothing to fear but Facebook itself

The biggest moral failing has been Facebook’s effect on society itself.

Donald Trump would not be the “illegitimate” president of the United States if Facebook did not exist. An illegal, last-minute Brexit ad campaign shifting enough votes to Leave would not have happened if Facebook did not exist. Paris would not have been burning if Facebook did not exist. More than 700,000 people in Myanmar would not have been raped, murdered or ethnically cleansed if Facebook did not exist, according to The New York Times report. I could go on.

I hope an angel trying to get its wings showed that to Mark Zuckerberg last month.

Now, the obvious counterpoint is that communications channels should not be blamed for how people use them. After all, propagandists have always used print, radio, and television. But traditional media neutrally transmits whatever is sent. Facebook itself is biased.

The network’s algorithms automatically spread whatever gets the most engagement by being the most provocative – and posts that are far left, far right, racist, sexist, political propaganda, or self-reaffirming conspiracy theories naturally do better than boring, centrist material.

Originally published by Samuel Scott 

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