Mark Zuckerberg announced on his eponymous social network his 2018 personal goal of researching decentralization technologies, including cryptocurrencies, in order to better “give people the power” within Facebook.
Since 2008, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has embarked on a personal mission each year. Throughout these yearly goals he has built a Morgan Freeman-voiced AI for his home, ran a mile a day, learned Mandarin, and visited every state. While his previous goals seem to have been more focused on his personal development, this year sees a significant shift with great implications for the design and fundamental nature of Facebook itself.
In the post, he acknowledges the divisive state of the world and what Facebook can do to address this trend by “protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” The second is a clear reaction to the evidence that other countries, notably Russia, used the platform for the purposes of “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum” during the U.S. Presidential Election.
It seems Zuckerberg is keen to revive the original, collective vision of the Internet as a “decentralizing force” that was prominent in its inception before the rise of platform monopolies like Amazon and Google at the end of the dot com boom and even Facebook itself years later.
There are important counter-trends to this — like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.
This would be a massive undertaking for a company as centralized as Facebook with many challenges to consider. For example, one of Facebook’s key revenue streams comes from mining users’ data. Ideally, in a decentralized system the people would have complete control over their own data and be the main beneficiaries of any value generated from its monetization. It is entirely possible that an FBC coin lies in the future which would be used in various methods of commerce, community engagement, and user-centric monetization structures within the platform.
There are projects within the blockchain and cryptocurrency space attempting to face the challenge of a decentralized network. Two examples:
Steemit is a social blogging platform that implements an incentivized curation model that rewards users for creating their own content and engaging with others.
Akasha, a long-gestating project built on the Ethereum network, is seeking to create a censorship-resistant social network as an ideological alternative to giants such as Twitter and Facebook.
And surely there are others.
Will Facebook give up some of its systemic sovereignty in order to further live up to their mission statement and resolve the growing dissatisfaction beset by their user base? This change could be nothing short of seismic for the platform and its 2 billion users.
Image via CNet