20 Years of Facebook: Four Major Impacts that Changed the World

Look at the image above. This is how Facebook, or The Facebook as it was then known, looked when Mark Zuckerberg and a handful of friends launched it from their student digs 20 years ago.Since then, the world’s most popular social network has been redesigned dozens of times. But its aim has remained the same: to connect people online and make mountains of money from advertising.

As the platform turns 20, here are four ways Facebook has changed the world.

1. Changing the Social Media Game

Although other social networks like MySpace existed before Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s site instantly took off when it launched in 2004, proving just how rapidly an online site of this kind could take hold. In less than a year, it had one million users, and within four years, it had overtaken MySpace. Fueled by innovations such as the ability to “tag” people in photos, taking a digital camera on a night out and tagging your friends in dozens of pictures became a staple of teenage life in the late noughties. Despite a decrease in popularity among young people, it remains the most popular social network in the world, with over 2.11 billion daily users reported at the end of 2023.

2. Making Personal Data Valuable… and Less Personal xxxxxx

Facebook proved that collecting our likes and dislikes is extremely lucrative. These days, Facebook’s parent company Meta is an advertising giant that, alongside Google, takes the lion’s share of global advertising money. On Thursday, Meta reported more than $40 billion in revenue for the last quarter of 2023, chiefly from offering advertisers highly targeted ad services. Some $14 billion was declared as profit. But Facebook has also shown where data collection can go awry. Meta has been fined multiple times for mishandling personal data, with the most publicized case being the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2014, which led to Facebook paying $725 million to settle legal action due to a significant data breach. In 2022, Facebook also paid a €265 million EU fine for allowing personal data to be extracted from the site.

3. Making the Internet Political

By offering targeted advertising, Facebook has become a major platform for election campaigning around the world. For example, in the five months leading up to the US presidential election of 2020, incumbent President Donald Trump’s team spent more than $40 million on Facebook adverts, according to Statista research. Facebook has had a hand in changing grassroots politics too, by enabling disparate groups of users to gather, campaign, and plan action on a global scale. Facebook and Twitter were said to be crucial during the Arab Spring in helping to coordinate protests and spread the news about what was happening on the ground. But the adoption of Facebook for political ends has been criticized for some of its consequences, including its impact on human rights. In 2018, Facebook agreed with a UN report that said it had failed to prevent people using the platform to “incite offline violence” against Rohingya people in Myanmar.

4. Kickstarting Meta’s Dominance

With the huge success of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg built a social network and technology empire that remains unprecedented in terms of users and its consequent power. Up-and-coming companies, including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus, were all purchased and turbo-charged under the umbrella company Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in 2021. Meta now says more than three billion people use at least one of its products every day. And when it hasn’t been able to buy its rivals, Meta has often been accused of copying them – in order to maintain its dominance. Tactics have become more important than ever, thanks to increased competition and a more strict regulatory environment. In 2022, Meta was forced to sell GIF-maker Giphy at a loss after UK regulators blocked it from owning the service due to fears of over-dominance in the market.

In its two-decade journey, Facebook has woven a history that frames how we interact, advertise, and engage politically in this digital era. Despite controversy, it is undeniable that Facebook has become a major force shaping the face of the modern internet.