Facebook needs to adapt to the new realities of the age

Even before the Facebook scandal, the company had already been facing some PR trouble for, among other things, facial recognition and speech recognition. It had already made some missteps on the rollout of a…

Facebook needs to adapt to the new realities of the age

Even before the Facebook scandal, the company had already been facing some PR trouble for, among other things, facial recognition and speech recognition. It had already made some missteps on the rollout of a News Feed that would prioritize posts from friends and family. But as the Atlantic pointed out, Facebook has been struggling with one sticky issue that was in plain sight for more than a year: a brand problem in real life.

“Unless Facebook gets rid of Mark Zuckerberg, he will remain the face of a social media platform whose purpose has little to do with his own,” wrote Marshall Kirkpatrick, editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, at the time.

Now, The New York Times is reporting that Facebook has nearly completed the process of remaking itself as a “meta” company, and has notched some high-profile wins: Twitter is reportedly considering buying the company to challenge its real-world rival LinkedIn for the lifeblood of professional-grade users, and Salesforce has made a bid to buy the social media company. Business Insider reported that one move that has been thrown into the mix is the idea of Facebook/Snapchat-style “cross-platform products,” meaning that you could add an “i” to Facebook and Snapchat in order to access messages between the two.

These are all laudable moves. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have blazed the way toward “meta” companies by acquiring successful startups and then making them so good that users abandon their real-world lives in search of better things to do. (If you’re nostalgic for shopping at the mall or trying on the jeans you saw in a magazine, then use Amazon instead. If you want to read articles on the Atlantic website, Google is your friend.) Acknowledging that real-world problems lie in the future of the company will help Facebook get in front of them and take a step forward. The feature of a property being owned by users, and not managed by large corporations, that has long been a hallmark of the decentralized, decentralized world we now live in.

But in some ways, these big companies now paint themselves as Facebook if not quite as a meta one than as a rival. To regain its former status as one of the great American success stories, Facebook will have to do more than admit to the problems and offer a package of services that make the company feel more welcoming to all. Facebook, which was born out of fear of that becoming a reality, now needs to earn the trust of its own people, whom it once dismissed as jerks. If you want to be helpful, honest, and open, you don’t start by dragging your butt kicking and screaming into office environments and then stomping on company values while showing up half-attentive.

For Facebook, this transition won’t mean deciding to try to be a clone of something instead of trying to do it differently. They’ll need to acknowledge that they’re not just competing with Google for public data, but they’re competing with individual businesspeople to keep data. People no longer trust their employer to put their data to good use, and many people wonder if, when they leave their jobs, they should consider keeping their data in a personal cloud instead of handing it over to one employer, whether that company be Apple, Google, or Facebook. (Then again, this also happens to organizations in all industries — the issue is when they decide to start keeping data at home. Some people view this as a privacy issue, while others see it as an issue of managing information and risk.)

This is only going to be complicated further if former Facebook employees begin providing their own information to competing companies. Then, of course, we’ll need a new name for these “problems.” Perhaps we’ll call it “Facebook-2.0.”

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