A Call for Self-Regulation

Written by Anya Srivats

Facebook, standing at the forefront of the growing social media industry, is one of the first corporate giants of its kind. Seeming to have outgrown the limits of its medium of business, Facebook has risen to such a powerful position that it is actually redefining the industry. However, with this meteoric growth, the company struggles with public perception now more than ever, particularly due to the recent surge in breaches of data privacy and so-called “fake news”.

Facebook reflects a growing unregulated internet media industry. Given the acquisition and growth of Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook is well on its way to being a monopoly. However, its user issues are a very real threat to its growth and the industry as a whole. These data and safety complications are impending dangers to the user, and whether perceived or real, they have the power to do real damage.

But like the company itself, these issues are new. Formed in the early 2000s, Facebook has little to no history to look back on and learn from. Its own short timeline paired with being at the top of such a new industry creates a soft spot. Government regulation is minimal to none and is comprised of a few nonspecific clauses at best. The industry is new and changing so rapidly still that it’s difficult to regulate externally. But without governmental help or any historical experiences to look back on, Facebook has been left to fix the problems of the industry on its own.

Without any changes, Facebook is doomed to fail. The company thrives off of the network effect, so public perception is crucial. For example, in Korean pop music, the fans, or “stans”, dictate the type of music the groups make. This active consumer role is mirrored in Facebook and other social networking sites. Consumers dictate what they want and don’t want out of these sites because such business models are comprised entirely of consumer approval. In essence, bad press means no product. Since external regulation is so sparse, Zuckerberg and his team are left to internally regulate, and hope that their users choose to do the same.

For social media companies, not just Facebook, to continue growing, both user and company perspective about what content to allow must change and expand. Facebook created challenges for itself by trying to grow without addressing these budding problems. But so did users. As Facebook grew powerful, there were subtle changes– personal advertisements, different news stories being presented, and more tailored content. The site thrived until users realized they had been analyzed repeatedly until their identity was mirrored in a personalized American Apparel ad.

The invisible hand is guiding our market in the direction of change, but it’s time to listen. Social media has immense power– it is the broadest link to others, and is brimming with positive potential. Facebook grew to the giant it is because the shift in what the market wanted was acting in its favor, but now we must decide if we want to keep it there, and just how we plan to do so.

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