Is Facebook the most powerful company there has ever been?

This is an excerpt from the Tracking ’16 — an Irish digital outlook report for 2016.
To download the full thing for free, click here.

Imagine a company that could control the emotions of 1.5 billion people, that owns the main distribution channel for hundreds of thousands of brands, that could swing elections or political sentiment in hundreds of countries around the world with one small algorithm change or decrease traffic to certain newspaper sites by 40% in the flick of a switch.

Well this company already exists and it’s probably likely that you have it open on another tab as you read this. Sure, the above is purposely a little bit dystopian in its outlook. Zuckerberg seems like a nice, humble benevolent dictator and gave a literal fortune to charity this year.

But it’s also true — Facebook is the most powerful company in terms of share of attention that there’s likely ever been, and its modus operandi is to expand that attention by creating it’s own better products and buying others. The purchase of WhatsApp in particular was a piece of inspired genius. The messaging space is ripe for a big shift next year and Facebook will control a lot of that.

The power it has as a platform over consumers, society, culture and business is enormous and unprecedented.

The reaction to Facebook conducting a small study in 2014 that artificially changed the prevailing emotion in a user’s newsfeed was met with surprise and disgust — yet nobody involved knew about it until it was over. Imagine what could be happening to our newsfeeds at the moment without us knowing?

Facebook has, of course, begun using its power for good, as we saw after the Paris attacks this year. But the question then becomes ‘who’s to say what ‘good’ is?’ The argument might be — who decided that Facebook wouldn’t build in a feature allowing users to change their profile to a Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian flag, and why?

Facebook is, most likely, where most of the developed world gets their news, whether they’d admit it or not. Thus, the person who is controlling who gets served what has immense influence in shaping the national conversation. With one code push, Facebook could materially impact the upcoming US election. The platform is even more powerful than a single nation because its reach is truly worldwide. That’s a lot of ‘soft power’.w

Let’s just hope that Zuck and his board of directors really are the nice guys they seem to be, and aren’t plotting a world takeover of ‘Skynet’ proportions!

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