Is Facebook Dying?
by Temerity Forthright
Is Facebook dying out, like a bacteria or virus that has run its course?
Facebook first infected the world in February 2004 when Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg launched the social networking site. But the story started long before that.
Twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, also Harvard students, worked on creating a social networking site called HarvardConnection.com with fellow students, including Zuckerberg. While implying he would help build the new website, Zuckerberg instead secretly used their idea to create a competing website.
In 2004, the Winklevoss brothers joined with ConnectU and subsequently filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg alleging he broke an oral contract by copying their idea. In 2008, the Winklevoss litigants were awarded $20 million in cash and $45 million in Facebook stock. But in 2010, they sought to void the settlement when they accused Facebook of misrepresenting the value of its stock. After several hearings and rulings, all further litigation was dropped in 2011.
But they were not the only litigants. There have been numerous lawsuits against Zuckerberg. He won a few and lost others.
The Winklevoss brothers used their lawsuit awards to invest in Bitcoin, making them more than a small fortune. They became the first Bitcoin billionaires. Revenge is sweet.
Facebook enjoyed a meteoric rise in users and revenue for the first few years and now boasts over 2 billion users. But since 2009, Facebook has seen a steady decline in new users. Its ad revenue has continued to increase, but that is bound to suffer the same kind of decreases as the problems with Facebook abuses continue.
Compounding Facebook’s problems are reports of widespread privacy concerns, third-party tracking, copyright infringement by users, hacking, phishing, hate speech, bullying, trolling, fake news, Facebook Live violence, and terrorist recruitment. The controversy surrounding Facebook’s response to these problems, or lack of it, has led a lot of users to rethink their involvement in the social media platform.
Princeton University researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler took it a step further. The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department researchers predicted in a 2014 paper that Facebook would lose 80 percent of its peak user base within the next three years.
They used epidemiological models (the branch of medicine that deals with the spread and control of diseases) to explain the adoption and abandonment of online social networks. It’s analogous to the infection and recovery of members of a certain population, in this case, social media users.
Unlike traditional infections that have an expected recovery rate and end time, the researchers postulated that social media users do not expect to leave networks after a certain period of time, but rather, they simply lose interest. As with diseases, users begin to leave social media networks and “recovery” happens in the same way as with a disease. They call this “infectious abandonment.”
In other words, Facebook will stop spreading its “disease” and naturally recover, or die out.
To test their theory of the disease-like dynamics with social media, researchers used publicly available historical data from Google searches. They validated their use of epidemiological models in the case of MySpace, which allowed them to follow the full life cycle of an online social network, from its inception, rise, and to its ultimate fall.
They even used the traditional SIR model that computes the theoretical number of people infected with a contagious disease over time. (The SIR model is S – susceptibility, I – infections, R – recovered)
They concluded, by extrapolating information from their MySpace data and applying it to the Google search data, that “Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”
This prediction has been surprisingly accurate. Facebook is indeed losing users at an alarming rate. Could this mean that Facebook will succumb to the same fate as MySpace?
Recent reports from eMarketer suggest younger social media users are shifting to other social media platforms such as SnapChat. They estimate Facebook will lose 2 million users age 24 and under, and that 1.9 million of them will move to SnapChat.
Other reports suggest that people are not spending nearly as much time on Facebook as they have in the past. Is it possible that people are sick of hearing others bloviate about their grandchildren, watching cute animal videos, and putting up with the garbage posted on many Facebook pages? In addition to losing current subscribers and failing to recruit new users, Facebook is becoming passé and irrelevant.
So, is Facebook looking at its own demise as the social media giant mimics the course of a virus that infected our culture? If the Princeton University prediction is accurate, Facebook users will experience “infectious abandonment” as they recover from this insidious social media disease.
Facebook logo from Wikipedia.com