"It's complicated" would be an understatement.
Facebook is a social networking behemoth -- a cultural mainstay. It is an edifying medium that has forever changed the way we talk, share, court, and even think.
Yet it is also irritating, over-stimulating, and campy -- invasive, censored, and exploitative. And above all, its users are starting to show signs of Facebook fatigue.
Just take a look at the numbers. Last December in the U.S. and the U.K., Facebook's largest developed markets -- approximately 1.4 million Americans and 600 thousand Brits -- left the site. Only a drop in the 1 billion-plus user bucket of course, but this mass exodus may be a sign of the bad things to come for the social networking giant.
I know what many of you are thinking -- "Facebook is too big to fail, it's intertwined into our cultural complexion." But is it really? If the history of the Internet has taught us anything, it's that no company, no matter how dominant, is too big to fail.
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"You will not engage in unlawful multi-level marketing, such as a pyramid scheme, on Facebook." OK, so Facebook doesn't mention of Ponzi schemes specifically, but lying, cheating and scamming are definitely out. Leave the crookery to the pros on Wall Street and stick to raising pixelated chickens on your virtual farm. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender." 'Nough said. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission [...] You will not create more than one personal account." No Facebook profiles for dogs, no automated bots, and no accounts for 2-month-old children. Hey, wait, we kind of like this rule. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user." Cyberbulling has become a hot topic as social media usage continues to expand. In a recent U.K. court case, Facebook was ordered to reveal the identities of several bullies who had set up fake Facebook accounts to harass a 45-year-old mother. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not use Facebook if you are under 13." Not a teenager yet? Sorry, no dice. In 2011, the chief privacy adviser of Facebook said that an average of 20,000 underage Facebook accounts are shut down daily. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not post unauthorized commercial communications (such as spam) on Facebook [...] You will not upload viruses or other malicious code." That means you, hackers and pushers of penis-enlargement pills. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." The lines blur a little with this commandment. While the policy is meant to curb inappropriate activity, opinion is split over what makes a post unsuitable. Perhaps surprisingly, if you were to compare Twitter's terms of service with Facebook's, you'd see that Twitter currently has no policy on hate speech. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not post anyone's identification documents or sensitive financial information on Facebook." This one should be common sense. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not use your personal timeline for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser) [...] You will not sell user data [...] You will not sell, transfer, or sublicense our code, APIs, or tools to anyone." So basically, no, you cannot profit from Facebook unless Facebook's getting a cut. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
"You will not facilitate or encourage any violations of this Statement or our policies." Whatever you say, Facebook. You've got the whole world in your hands. Taken from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
Take the brutal decline of Yahoo, an industry leader in content curation in the 1990s, Yahoo seemed poised to dominate the search engine market. But an identity crisis, lack of innovation, and a series of squandered opportunities paved that way for Google to easily overtake the fledging former titan, despite Yahoo's huge head start.
What's more, popular culture is not so much driven by Facebook specifically, as it is by social media more generally. Sure, Facebook seems to dominate the discourse right now, but that's only because it's still at the top -- they have some substantial ground to make up, but Google + and YouTube are nipping at Facebook's heels.
So while social media will likely drive our cultural consciousness for many years to come, that does not necessarily mean that Facebook will always be a huge part of this cognizance. Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Google's tandem of Google+ and YouTube are on the up -- some of which is at the expense of Facebook's user traffic.
In my opinion, there are two key reasons as to why Facebook's once immovable foundations are beginning to show signs of gradual erosion. I want to emphasize the word gradual here, because I think that the decline of Facebook will be a very slow process -- a steady deterioration as the network struggles to stay fresh and relevant.
The first of these is market oversaturation.
What I mean by this is Facebook has critically saturated its largest markets -- Europe, Canada, and the U.S., which account for 78 per cent of the site's total revenue. In these markets, over 80 per cent of possible users are already on Facebook, meaning there is little room for further user-based growth in the developed world.
In an ironic twist of fate, this last 20 per cent of older and less digitally inclined users which are finally trickling onto Facebook are starting to ostracize the site's core age group. For as more parents, grandparents, and teachers filter onto Facebook, the network becomes less exclusive, and thereby less popular amongst younger users.
As these older users scare away their kids and students -- for fear of that awkward comment or scandalous photo, Facebook loses some of its highest value users. And at the risk of sounding ageist, it is the young professionals and college students who are the most engaged online, and trading them in for grandparents is disconcerting.
So why doesn't Facebook just expand to developing markets chock-full of those 15- to 30-year-olds who provided the foundation for the site's initial explosion you say?
Easier said that done. For example, China pops up on everyone's radar as the world's most fertile online market, but gaining access to the country's 1-billion potential users would require Facebook to turn over some control of its Chinese operations to the communist government's Central Committee -- a slap in the face to the site's core principles.
That brings me to the second reason, informational negligence.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post exploring the linkages between social media and politics. In it, I discussed just how censoring social networking sites such as Facebook -- which pays foreign workers one dollar an hour to scour the site for any content which challenges its comprehensive 17-page censorship manual -- can be.
Moreover, Facebook publically supports CISPA -- the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, a proposed American law permitting the sharing of Internet traffic information between various government agencies and private technology firms in the interest of "national security." Firms including -- you guessed it, Facebook.
At the individual level, many of Facebook's features also seem to show little concern for user privacy. For example, the frictionless sharing app automatically latches onto your account and broadcasts articles you've read, videos you've watched, and songs you've listened to, while the new graph search allows for any and all content -- text, photos, videos -- ever posted by you, or posted about you, to be easily located.
But why does this negligence on the part of Facebook make users want to deactivate their accounts for good?
Well as Huffington Post technology editor Bianca Bosker puts it, "lack of trust, mostly -- a sense that Facebook can't be depended on to protect our personal information and will sell us out to make a buck."
Of course, beyond abusing trust and oversaturating core markets, there are other factors which signal that Facebook has peaked. For starters -- while it may own Instagram, Facebook's flagship mobile efforts have been lacklustre at best, its ads remain a point of contention among users and advertisers, and its IPO -- hyped as the "must buy of the decade" -- continues to be a complete and utter failure.
Yet perhaps even more important than all that is the fact that in the tech industry, generational failure seems to be accelerated. No company, not even Apple, appears to be able to continually reinvent itself in such a way that it is impervious to decay.
So in that familiar vein of Yahoo, MySpace, and Digg, the great and impregnable Facebook is starting to show signs of wear. The collapse probably won't happen any time soon, but it will happen -- nothing can rule the World Wide Web forever.
Follow Adam Kingsmith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/akingsmith