How Facebook Changed the World

Facebook is only as interesting as the things that people share on it, but that doesn’t mean the company hasn’t made a worldly impact or two on its own. Here are the top eight ways that Facebook has changed — for better or worse — the world that just keeps on sharing.

1. Facebook Changed How We Keep in Touch

Facebook made the world smaller, and it’s the most obvious, yet arguably the most important element of Facebook’s early legacy. Whether you’re chatting with old college friends abroad, or messaging your roommate from down the hall, Facebook has solidified itself as an important tool for staying in touch with those you love, as well as those you met briefly.

One often-ignored part of the service: Facebook has always been free. Yes, users “pay” by sharing their personal information with the company and agreeing to ads, but financially, having a Facebook account has never costed users a dime. It was because the service is free that Facebook was able to collect more than 1 billion users, and it is because of this rich user base that people continue to use the service.

“Socializing the people around the world when they’re online was something we hadn’t had before,” says Brian Blau, research director for consumer technology at Gartner. “Yes, Myspace was popular, but not in the way that Facebook is. Getting more than a billion people to do something at the same time on a regular basis is a task that virtually no other company has ever achieved.”

2. Facebook Changed the Way We Share Our Lives

Facebook is no longer the only social network that helps us share our lives, but it definitely got the ball rolling. Your photos, your thoughts, your favorite videos, movies, and books — what used to be personal is now plastered on your social profile, and almost everyone is guilty of oversharing at one point or another.

While we’ve been sharing online for years, it’s getting easier and easier. With miniature computers and high-quality cameras in almost everybody’s pocket, the ability to share is always there — and Facebook has long-provided an outlet for people to lay bare. In 2013, Facebook users shared approximately 41,000 posts per second, according to online-advertising company Qmee — that’s more than 2.4 million posts every minute.

To some, like Greylock partner and a former Facebook employee Josh Elman, the practice of social sharing is more than just a fad. “Because of Facebook,” he says, “sharing is now a human instinct.”

3. Facebook Changed the Way We Consume Content

You can’t change the way people share if you don’t also change the way they consume. Facebook users don’t just post about their personal lives; they also post news and content that are important to them. Political news, sports scores, funny videos — on Facebook, it’s all fair game.

It starts with News Feed, a never-ending stream of content from the people and companies that you’ve connected with on the platform. News Feed never ends; in theory, users could scroll on forever, a feature that was unheard of when News Feed debuted in 2006. It’s since been adopted by most social sites, including Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

News Feed is not without faults, of course. Its algorithm is always changing, and because posts don’t always appear in chronological order, it can be tough to keep news and events organized as they come across your screen. Facebook is still working on the best way to surface ads in News Feed, and that means providing relevant ads to each user.

That hasn’t stopped users from turning to Facebook for gathering news.

Roughly 71% of 18- to 24-year-olds credit the Internet as their main news source, and 30% of people in their 30s get news from Facebook specifically,according to the Pew Research Center.

It’s this aspect of Facebook that the company has focused on most closely over the past 12 months. Mark Zuckerberg has high hopes for News Feed. He plans to create the world’s best“personalized newspaper” for each Facebook user, and that means identifying what people want to see and when.

Facebook unveiled an element of this plan last week by introducing Paper, a standalone news-reader app that combines curated third-party news with users’ News Feeds. It’s a tool that aims to provide all the news you need in one place. Facebook already changed the way we consume news; now it’s trying to perfect it.

4. Facebook Changed the Way We View Privacy

Facebook has lots of data, and it was collected from you (or users just like you). Facebook knows our names, our schools, our friends, our favorite sports teams. It knows what types of brands we like, and what music we listen to. For more than a billion people who use Facebook each and every month, this is acceptable.

Privacy issues arise because Facebook likely knows more than this, and it’s not entirely clear what information it has collected about all of its users. The privacy settings change often, which makes it hard for users to keep up, Blau says. It’s been a long-running issue between Facebook and its users: What is private, and what is free for Facebook to take?

“I don’t think that Facebook fundamentally changed the privacy equation, but it brought it to the forefront,” Blau explains. “The tactics that Facebook used to get our data, and the resulting sort of implications on privacy, have really had a huge impact on virtually everybody in our country and around the world.”

In 2011, Facebook settled charges filed by the Federal Trade Commission that alleged the company wasn’t maintaining its users’ privacy, as promised. In June, reports surfaced that Facebook was giving user data to the National Security Agency. Facebook denied the claims, released a transparency report to try and show it has nothing to hide, and Zuckerberg told The Atlantic that the allegations affected users’ trust in Facebook.

It’s still unclear what the NSA claims will mean for Facebook in the long-term, but there’s one thing you can bet on in the next decade: As long as people use Facebook, privacy will be an issue. “To some degree,” Blau says, “I think it’s one of the Achilles’ heels that Facebook has. They don’t have many, but this is one that is a continual story that doesn’t go away.”

5. Facebook Changed American Politics

Much like former U.S. President John F. Kennedy used television to his advantage during the 1960 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama used the Internet — and specifically Facebook — to cruise past competitor John McCain in 2008.

Obama quickly adopted the platform, using Facebook to demonstrate his youth, and to connect with young voters. McCain, who was 71 years old at the time, was less appealing to a population that was becoming more and more tech-savvy. As Obama’s team had predicted, Facebook mattered; 5.4 million people clicked the “I Voted” button on Facebook’s official election page in 2008. Nearly 70% of voters under 25 voted for Obama.

President Obama participated in a town hall style meeting at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters in April 2011.


Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington summed it up well at the 2008 Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco just days after the election: “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president,” she said. “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee.”

Facebook continues to matter to American politicians. In 2011, Obama participated in his first Facebook town hall meeting at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters. Many of the the top nominees for the 2016 presidential ticket are also active on Facebook, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christiecongressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

6. Facebook Changed the Middle East

The collective power of Facebook was on full display three years ago when the Middle East was flipped upside down during a number of collective uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Facebook served as a place for rebel leaders to share news, engage in discussion and ultimately recruit others to their cause. The result was new heads of government in four different countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

In Tunisia, a reported 2 million people used Facebook to communicate during the revolution. In Egypt, nearly half a million people gathered news about protests from the social network. Facebook also officials reportedly provided extra protection to the revolution’s pages to ensure they weren’t attacked, or the leaders identified.

One anonymous Tunisian in a MIT Technology Review story summed Facebook’s contribution to the Arab Spring best by referring to the social network as “pretty much the GPS for this revolution.”

7. Facebook Changed the Way People Are Bullied

The Internet is a cruel place, although simply identifying it as such does nothing to preventcyberbullying, one of the unfortunate consequences of such a connected, share-happy community. Since Facebook’s inception, bullies have used the social network to do their worst behind the protection of a computer screen.

Facebook’s structure can create easy targets, and more than 40% of people between 14 and 24 years old reported being “electronically harassed,” according to a recent study. Where else can a bully leave a comment, or upload a photo for his victim’s entire social circle to see?

While Facebook is not the only website where this type of behavior occurs, its bullying incidents often make the news.Last September, a 12-year-old Florida girl jumped to her death after months of cyberbullying over social sites and text messages. Her bullies took to Facebook to boast about their harassment.

In April, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons died after sustaining injuries from a failed suicide attempt. Parsons tried to kill herself after she was allegedly sexually assaulted, and images of the assault circulated the Internet, including on social-media sites.

Facebook does try to prevent these types of incidents from occurring. Users can report bullying directly through the site, and there are tools in place to block unwanted people from commenting or messaging them. Last October, Facebook participated inNational Bullying Prevention Month, and offered tips to parents and teachers on keeping teens safe.

8. Facebook Changed the Way Businesses Interact With Customers

In 2010, Pepsi had a crazy idea: It decided to skip out on advertising during the Super Bowl for the first time in 23 seasons. Instead, the company pushed out a social-media campaign on Facebook, Twitter and its own website. Back then, the idea that Facebook could be more valuable to Pepsi than a traditional Super Bowl ad was an odd one; today, the idea seems a lot less crazy.

Many of the popular Super Bowl campaigns now include some sort of crowdsourced participation. During last year’s Coke campaign, customers actually selected the end of its ad in an online vote. This year, Jaguar hired a team of more than 30 people to monitor and engage with customers on social sites during the Super Bowl (it also took out a 60-second TV spot.)

The rise of social media, particularly Facebook, forced brands to rethink how they deal with customers. Now, if someone complains on a brand’s Facebook page or Twitter account, a customer-service rep responds. News travels fast on social media, and the last thing a brand wants is for an angry customer to tell all his friends about a poor experience.

Staffing a 1-800 helpline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. no longer cuts it. Most major brands have entire teams of employees tasked with creating interesting social-media content, and dealing with customers online.

Brands that figured out social media early had strong Facebook pages by 2010, Blau says, although many companies knew there was a need, but were slow to act.

Even today, some brands continue to struggle. “I still talk to companies today that are not sure what to do,” Blau explains. “If you look at some of the big companies, they may look like they have it all together, but you talk to them internally, and you see that they don’t.”

If we’ve learned anything about Facebook over these past 10 years, it’s that we shouldn’t be surprised by the reach and impact the social network has on issues ranging from sports to politics. For a decade, Facebook has been changing the world. With more than a billion users already in the fold, only time will tell what impact the next 10 years will bring.

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