The concept of social media – where people connect with others by “adding” them as friends – arguably dates back to the era of Friendster and MySpace, both precursors to Facebook.
Friendster, which allowed users to create a profile and connect with friends, amassed three million users within months of its 2002 debut.
A year later, MySpace allowed users to customize their publicly visible profile pages. By 2005, it had 25 million users and was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s media company, News Corp.
However, MySpace and Friendster have been bogged down by technical difficulties and an inability to track user preferences.
While Friendster was finally shut down in 2015, MySpace rebranded itself as a social networking site for users to discover and share music. It is now jointly owned by US media companies TI Gotham and Time.
Meanwhile, in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, a sophomore at Harvard University, was developing a site called “FaceMash,” designed to gauge the attractiveness of women on campus.
But the “hoax site”, as described by Mr. Zuckerberg during a hearing by the United States Congress in 2018, quickly gave way to “The Facebook”.
The platform allowed Harvard students, and later anyone with a verified email address, to create their personal profiles, update their relationship status, and “add” themselves as a ‘friends.
Within four years, it had become the benchmark site for “social interaction” in cyberspace – amassing 100 million users, then expanding to one billion over the next four years.
Currently, Facebook, as it is now called, has nearly three billion active users every month.
In addition to remaking the way people communicate and connect, Facebook has also changed the way information is produced, delivered and consumed.
“Facebook’s role has evolved from a network for friends to share personal information to a way for people to share, recommend and link all kinds of information, including news,” the authors said. a 2011 report from Pew Research, based in Washington DC. Center on the importance of Facebook.
“If information seeking has been the most important development of the past decade, information sharing could be among the most important of the next,” they added.
Since then, other social media platforms have also served as news outlets, including YouTube, Instagram (which was acquired by Facebook’s parent company Meta), and Twitter.
All major platforms have changed their algorithms and functions over the years, causing media companies to change their products to bring more traffic to their own media sites.
In the case of Facebook, one of its first changes dates back to 2009, when it stopped displaying users’ posts in chronological order to increase posts with more likes and comments.
The move prompted users, including publishers and media companies, to design clickbait posts with catchy titles to drive interaction.
Around 2015, Facebook made videos a priority in its algorithm to entice people to spend more time on its platform. That year, Facebook overtook Google as the main driver of traffic to news sites.
But the platform became a hotbed of disinformation in the heat of the 2016 US presidential campaign between Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton.
The situation worsened after another tweak to its algorithm in 2018, which showed users more posts from friends and family than from big publishers; inevitably sending divisive messages about the bitter contest atop people’s feeds.
Since then, Facebook has reduced the importance of news content on its feed.
At the end of July this year, Facebook changed its algorithm so that people browsing its homepage could discover content that was “uniquely personalized to them” instead of emphasizing content from friends and family, Meta, its parent company, said in a blog post.
Similar changes have also been made to Instagram.
Facebook said hard news will continue to be given a lower priority on its feed, with its algorithm refocused to distribute entertainment, lifestyle and sports content, as well as viral stories. It will stop feeding users’ political news and stories feeds. It also won’t boost videos produced on rival TikTok’s platform.
Meanwhile, TikTok, which is rapidly gaining dominance in the social media scene, has signaled that news content will not be a priority on its platform.
Known for its short videos, TikTok presented itself as a platform for “inspire creativity and bring joy“.
It also imposed strict guidelines for news content, such as the inclusion of trigger warnings for “sensitive content” and requiring newsrooms to condemn illegal behavior in publications depicting criminal activity in the purpose of protecting viewers from risky content.