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Facebook @ 20: With 3.07 billion Monthly Active Users (MAUs), it’s the world’s largest social networking site

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For years, I have been on the mailing list of Statista, a leading global data and business intelligence platform. So, two days ago I got a reminder, via one of its serial mails, that Facebook will be 20 today. Statista proceeds to state:

“We’ve been hearing variations of the same story for years: “Facebook is no longer cool”, “people are leaving Facebook behind”, “teenagers are over Facebook” and so on and so forth. And yet, here we are, two days ahead of the platform’s 20th birthday and Facebook is still growing. According to Meta’s latest earnings release, the world’s largest social network ended 2023 with 3.07 billion monthly active users, up 3 percent – or more than a hundred million users – from a year ago.”

Facebook is Meta’s oldest and flagship arm. Others that came later include Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Threads. As documented in my book – Social Media, Social Demography and Voting Behaviour in Nigeria, published in May 2023 by Premium Times Books, Washington/Abuja, Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg and four of his colleagues at Harvard in February 2004 to connect people for friendship.

As Vaidhyanathan (2018) reasoned and as I amplified his voice in my book, Facebook has migrated from connecting friends and students at Harvard and its environs to become a leading global brand in social networking, summoning people to a cause, soliciting donations, urging people to vote a candidate, selling products, triggering research, propagating ideas and much more.

Any subscriber and user can easily glean the value of Facebook in promoting communication, cultivating friendship, enabling collaboration and building a community. Facebook has helped to reconnect us with great people from our past that we thought we would never meet again. So, it is not surprising Statista confirmed that by December 2023 Facebook had hit 3.07 billion monthly active users, making it the world’s largest social networking site. That fact indicated an increase of 100 million users within a year.

In its 20 years of operation, Facebook has been a source of disruption in a positive and negative sense. Vaidhyanathan as cited, Fuchs (2017) and many other critical and informed scholars have shown irrefutably that Facebook may be for good, but it can undermine democracy even as it builds community of scholars, collaborators, and nodes of networks. Indeed, it can strengthen status-conferral power and reinforce capitalism blatantly and unapologetically.

Perhaps it is also ‘guilty’ of a modicum of propaganda that may be injurious, and as Tufekci (2016) also noted, Facebook may be guilty of data harvesting to strengthen its advertising markets. Hayes (2012) was even frontal in asserting that Snowden’s revelations points to the existence of a “surveillance-industrial complex in which social media such as Facebook are entwined” (Ibietan, 2023:65).

However, against the claim of Vaidhyanathan and Fuchs (2017) and other radical scholars, Facebook can strengthen democracy. As I have established in my works, Facebook communication is significantly correlated to some social action and political participation, up to shaping voting behaviour. It is the reason two-thirds of heads of government have active Facebook accounts, especially in jurisdictions that permitted citizens access to the Site.

Importantly, in the emergent digital economy in which scholars like Miller et al (2016) and Giddens & Sutton (2013) asserted the centrality of culture as arbiter of social media engagement; and the human agency projected as critical to the flourishing of social communication, Facebook is also being redefined by its users to strengthen aspirations as individuals, businesses and economies.

At its Connect Conference on October 28, 2021, Facebook announced a rebranding of its essence to Meta, carrying with it existing arms of the company and adding ‘Threads’ in the group. The rebranding as Katte (2022) reasoned and as I captured in my book (p.66), speaks to Facebook’s ambition to move from being just a social networking site to a virtual confluence “planned to appropriate consumers’ time for both work and play”.

After all, all work and no play…


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