When Facebook first went public in 2012, I was skeptical, but far more impressed with the supposed brilliance of what they were doing in terms of social media.
In January that year, I predicted that Facebook’s stock would fall in the next year, a bit less of a prudent call than it turns out to be for some reason. But then that year was to get better for Facebook, culminating in a year when the company’s stock grew by almost 400 per cent.
Well, Facebook got it right on a couple of fronts. It revamped its app to see more about you, and tried to grow the service across the world. Of course that hasn’t come without its challenges, but the aim was to address a lack of user choice. The problem with that was that Facebook has repeatedly betrayed its users, especially that which comes from outsiders.
The very first reasons to worry about social media was not just that it eroded control, but in 2011 Facebook suddenly went off the rails. It emerged in 2012 that 400,000 Facebook accounts in the United States were being used to fund the genocidal regime of Joseph Kony. Following that revelation, Facebook fined itself US$10m (S$13.5m) for failing to spot the problem.
Yes, it took quite a while for the web to realise how much of a liability it had become. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter I became a master at creeping unnoticed around the internet, researching without realising and reporting the risks in real time. So think of my current concerns as a post-apocalyptic take on what my fellow users now face every morning.
So, what did happen in the 2016 US presidential election?
For many Brits that was an eye-watering shock. I had just been to a meeting in the States at which a central figure in the election attended. I remembered my conversation with him from that day, because he was, in a way, a mirror for all my uncertainty in 2012.
He talked about how he was deeply bothered by the fake news, but didn’t have the resources or expertise to stamp it out. Indeed, he had seen a metric that many were using to monitor and disrupt the press. Unlike BuzzFeed and other crowd-funded site sites, people using this apparatus were individuals with a weighty axe to grind.