I can still remember when Facebook was still "The Facebook," before its doors were open to anyone who wanted to join, before you wanted to put your head through a wall because of never-ending Farmville and Candy Crush requests. Not so long ago, Facebook served the simple purpose of connecting you with the people that you went to school with and maybe a few friends.
Since then, Facebook has grown and evolved, though not for the better. Now, it bombards users with unnecessary ads for things that no one really wants and useless sponsored stories that look more like spyware than anything anyone wants to read. Oh, and it experiments on its users.
In spite of the criticism it rightfully gets, Facebook still manages to connect its more than 1 billion users.
But the revelations last week that it conducted a social experiment on users by manipulating their feeds should hasten its decline, putting it on course to follow the likes of MySpace, Friendster and similar social sites.
This coming decline is no secret at Facebook. The company is clearly worried that it may be losing its influence with younger users. Earlier this year, Princeton University released a study (download PDF) that concluded, "Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017." And yet the company doesn't seem to truly understand what's brought it to this point.
It's not just the experiment -- which the company apologized for -- that's causing users to flee.
Although Facebook has attempted to curb illegal activity on its site, criminals continue to penetrate it. Both Fox News and the Daily Mail have reported on a number of crimes committed on Facebook, from pedophilia and the dissemination of child pornography to malware attacks on users through shady backdoor links. (Facebook has at least partnered with internet security firm McAfee to resolve malware threats.)
Because Facebook does not verify the profiles of everyday people, literally anyone can create a profile -- including those with malicious intent, those in prison and even members of the world's oldest profession. Yes, prostitutes can advertise their services without standing on a street corner. Facebook paid no attention to these profiles until it was notified of their existence.
Privacy? What privacy?
Privacy concerns have been one of the biggest thorns in the company's side, and they have the potential to become the main reason Facebook may eventually cease to exist. A study from the University of Vienna (download PDF) looked at people who decided to leave Facebook and found almost half, 48%, said they committed "virtual identity suicide" because of privacy concerns.
Being a Facebook user myself, shutting down my account has crossed my mind multiple times, and with every new breach of trust Facebook puts me through this becomes more likely. Facebook has consistently used its own Terms and Conditions to justify using your profile pictures for advertising content and having the full rights to any pictures you post. The company has always kept security settings buried deep in the user interface, a major issue that's left many users angry and pushed some to just pick up and leave.
In January 2012, Facebook ran a sociological experiment as part of a joint venture between Cornell University and the company's own Core Data Science Team. The experiment involved 689,003 users and more than three million status updates. It was designed to determine whether the emotional content of those updates could influence Facebook friends' emotional states. What it did, instead, was to dynamite any sense of trust among users.