I am not a tech expert. I’m not even a tech-sort-of/kind-of-fan. But I am (as we all are) entwined in the industry’s every episode, with personality, privacy and productivity all at the mercy of its mercurial metamorphoses. What follows is far from a scientific forecast of what’s to come, but rather, a prophecy of what may—should the titans of technology continue to ignore the shifting expectations of today’s misused users.
It’s November 14, 2022, and the day is warm and sunny. Children are playing in the streets with their hover-spinners and fidget-boards. A mobile trash compactor takes a brief respite to recharge its solar cells. And Facebook has just declared bankruptcy. It’s been a long, strange haul for the embattled corporation ever since the infamous Cambridge Analytica breach of 2018. After learning that their personal data had been used for nefarious means and without explicit consent, millions of people began to reevaluate what it meant to be part of an online “community,” designed to trade personal details for profit.
The following months proved tumultuous for Facebook, as users left in waves—first, those disgusted by the Cambridge Analytica revelations, then those angered by Mark Zuckerberg’s non-committal response, and then those saddened by the shadow of things that once were. With every attempt at reparation from the company came another wave of outrage from disaffected consumers who felt it wasn’t enough. “Talk is cheap,” they affirmed, “Trust is not.”
At the same time, a long-dormant volcano of anti-tech resentment had been given a fresh vent from whence to erupt. An ever-growing body of consumers, exhausted by the ceaseless "S-cycle" sameness (was the iPhone 6s really any better than the 6?) and overdosing on ineffective advertising, were all too happy to sacrifice the lamb of likes. Theirs was a god not of feeds and filters, but of meadows and mead—a neo-romantic religion of nostalgia born from the boredom and frustration of the twenty-teens.
The downfall of Mark Zuckerberg provided the perfect spark for a new movement, one that celebrated individual expression both IRL and with the assistance of a new generation of niche, unobtrusive micro-social networks.
The downfall of Mark Zuckerberg provided the perfect spark for a new movement, one that celebrated individual expression both IRL and with the assistance of a new generation of niche, unobtrusive micro-social networks. Without wit or intention, the social giant had fathered a new era of digital communities—one in which the creators held the reins.
And Facebook never saw it coming. They had forgotten the lessons taught by their predecessors and peers: MySpace, Google Plus, Vine, Club Penguin. Chiefly, that an online platform is only as cool as its youngest users. In order to attract new audience share and maintain any semblance of relevance, you must bow to the whims of fashion. The Internet is always novel, and because of that, always outdated. Facebook failed to see exactly how easy it was to provide what it did—and how simply a smaller, nimbler, newer company could do it. In WWWonderland, up is down, new is old, and legacy is not always an advantage.
After the exodus, all that remained was an ideological retirement home, a ghost town where residents could echo their narrow opinions in comfort and self-reassurance. Where long-lost high school sweethearts might still reconnect, and long-reviled frenemies might continue trying to one-up each other in the game of life. The only advertisers who stuck around tailored to this kind of forlorn, backwards-facing user, offering get-rich advice, anti-aging potions and increasingly off-the-rails political clickbait.
Smart marketers learned to wield the data honed from the new ‘netwokes’ responsibly, usefully and un-annoyingly. Those who didn’t learn from their mistakes were destined to repeat them.
Without a sizable audience to target, most brands quickly shifted their resources elsewhere. The data which they so coveted had become cursed, with every ad placed on Facebook resulting in protests, boycotts, and other PR headaches. Smart marketers learned to wield the data honed from the new ‘netwokes’ responsibly, usefully and un-annoyingly. Those who didn’t learn from their mistakes were destined to repeat them. Ultimately the world became better, with less obtrusive and more relevant ads, safer data transactions, and happier, more vocal consumers.
And so here lies Facebook: cast asunder by a flood of angry users, a famine of new ideas, and a fire of Neo-Luddism. The mighty Zuckerberg learned that at the end of the day, it takes more than name recognition, piece-meal fixes, and an unflinching faith in the future to make a social net work. In the words of a certain webmaster of yore, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Check out what other brands have to learn from the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica fiasco: Data and Trust—4 Pressing Risks for CMOs.