Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains his “Metaverse” virtual world concept, which he says is about “connecting with people.” pic.twitter.com/24YZk5ag5J
— The Recount (@therecount) October 28, 2021
I don’t usually do this, but as I graded my annual predictions for the year, I ended up creating a pretty dense, link-filled syllabus of Facebook’s terrible 2021. I thought it deserved its own entry in the database of intentions, so herewith I present to you the full accounting of my 2021 prediction on the company: Facebook’s chickens come home to roost…2021 will be a dismal year for Facebook.
Oh my, was it ever. Facebook’s year was so terrible, the company decided to change its name as a result. Because I took notes all year, here’s a brief review of Facebook’s 2021:
- January: Facebook kicks off the year with a WhatsApp privacy disaster, sparking outrage both inside and outside the company. Apple CEO Tim Cook pounces, leveraging his bully pulpit to pummel Zuck & Co. Also in January, Facebook outsources the single most important decision it’s ever made- de-platforming a sitting President – to its “oversight board.” (PS, the Board essentially kicked the decision back to Facebook).
- February: Facebook decides to down-rank political news, which as many pointed out, is itself a deeply political act. This does not have the intended effect, instead driving even more insanity into its poorly considered “Groups” feature.
- March: Apple’s back at it, this time releasing iOS 14 privacy policies which batter Facebook’s core ads business.
- April: After testifying that Facebook was not used to coordinate the Jan. 6th attack, Facebook executives are hit with the devastating leak of an internal report contradicting their testimony. It was to be the first of many.
- May: Plans for Zuck & Co. to go on the offensive via a PR campaign are unmasked. The WhatsApp story deteriorates.
- June: Europe opens new antitrust probes into the company. More bad news about Apple’s impact on Facebook’s core ads business.
- July: The President of the United States says Facebook is killing people. Vaccine mis- and dis-information has become hopelessly entangled with the company’s brand image. An Ugly Truth is published, detailing Facebook’s struggles with, well, the truth, and it dominates the summer tech news cycle.
- August: Facebook is taken to task for its practice of silencing its employees. This is before the publication of the Facebook Files/Papers – Facebook’s most damaging leak – next month. Oh, and the company’s ads business is busted for allowing promotion of ivermectin. Never one to misplay a comms response, Facebook continues its PR offensive by releasing internal studies on “widely used content.” Turns out, it cherry picked which report it decided to release, and buried the one it didn’t like.
- September: The steady stream of bad news becomes a flood, thanks to whistleblower and ex-employee Frances Haugen. The Journal publishes the first of its “Facebook Files” investigation, alleging duplicity in the company’s “XCheck” program for politicians and celebrities. This is followed up by damaging reports of internal knowledge of Instagram’s impact on teenagers, the platform’s uncanny ability to engender anger, and much, much more. Facebook responds by doubling down on its communications strategy of pushing pro-Facebook narratives (and no longer apologizing) but, embarrassingly, has to delay Instagram for Kids. Meanwhile, key people leave the company.
- October: The Facebook platform goes down, for everyone – the company’s worst outage ever. Meanwhile, the think pieces based on Haugen’s revelations begin to seep into public conversation: “Facebook is Weaker Than We Knew” is one of an endless barrage of chin stroking, most of it negative. The company’s own “oversight board” rebukes Facebook for the XCheck debacle. The Facebook Files expand into the Facebook Papers, as Haugen’s redacted documents are leaked, and the Post carries the Journal’s work into fresh allegations of indefensible behavior by the company. The FTC gets into the action. Clearly, a pivot is in order. And by the end of this horrific month, Facebook changes the conversation, and its name, to Meta.
- November/December: No one seems to appreciate the new name, and Zuck’s performance in the roll out is widely ridiculed. Employee defections are rife. Tik Tok overtakes Facebook and Google as the most visited domain in the US. To cap it all off, Facebook is voted “The Worst Company of the Year” by readers of …Yahoo! Finance. Now that’s meta.
I’ve left off dozens of ugly narratives while compiling this list – and admittedly, I’ve also left off a fair number of pro-Facebook responses as well. But overall, I think this particular prediction was pretty spot on. Let’s call it a win and move on…