Friday, December 31, 2021

Facebook 2021: A,I can’t help you A,I won’t help you?


Company over country; profit over propriety. These were the key points made in the recent book An Ugly Truth, and the documentary The Social Dilemma. Facebook (aka Meta) has been exposed to a staggering amount of bad press which included a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, federal lawsuits, and accusations of pandering to children at a time when suicide among the very young is startlingly increasing.

Yet, especially despite all of the above, Facebook’s numbers are dazzling. Yahoo! Reported on November 24th of this year:

“Meta's third-quarter 2021 earnings of $3.22 per share beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 0.6% and increased 18.8% year over year.

Revenues of $29.01 billion missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 1.8% but increased 35.1% year over year. At constant currency (cc), the top line improved 34%.

Geographically, Asia-Pacific, the United States & Canada, Europe, and Rest of World (RoW) revenues grew 29.1%, 34.3%, 36.3%, and 49.1%, on a year-over-year basis, respectively.

Average Revenue per User (ARPU) in RoW, Europe, the United States & Canada, and Asia-Pacific grew 41.4%, 33%, 32.1% and 17.2%, on a year-over-year basis, respectively.

Advertising revenues surged 33.2% year over year to $28.28 billion and accounted for 97.5% of third-quarter revenues. Other revenues surged 194.8% year over year to $734 million.

The tech giant’s RoW, Europe, the United States & Canada, and Asia-Pacific advertising revenues grew 49.6%, 35%, 31.1% and 28.5%, on a year-over-year basis, respectively.

Ad impressions served rose 9% and average price per ad increased 22% from the year-ago quarter.

User Base Continues to Expand

Monthly active users (MAUs) were 2.910 billion, up 6.2% year over year.

MAUs in Asia-Pacific, RoW, Europe, and the United States & Canada grew 9.6%, 4.7%, 2.4% and 2.4% to 1.28 billion, 949 million, 423 million and 261 million, respectively.

Daily Active Users (DAUs) were 1.930 billion, which increased 6% year over year and represented 66% of MAUs.

Asia-Pacific DAUs were up 10.7% year over year to 805 million. DAUs in RoW and Europe grew 4.9% and 1% to 622 million and 308 million, respectively. The United States & Canada DAUs were unchanged at 196 million.

Family Daily Active People or DAP, defined as a registered and logged-in user who visited at least one of the Family products (Meta, Instagram, Messenger and/or WhatsApp) on a given day, were 2.81 billion, up 10.6% year over year.” 

Scott Galloway’s New Algorithm of Value is surely at work here. (What it basically says is the bigger you get, the more data you can gather; the more data you can gather, the bigger you get). Can Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg be held responsible for anything that happens, whether intentionally due to their AI or as a result of it?

The Economist recently reported in a piece called “Accounting for algorithms,” that a UN report published in 2018 attributed a “determining role” for Facebook’s platform in the Rohingya genocide. According to the article, on December 6th of 2021 a letter was delivered to Facebook’s offices in London and California. The suit will seek “at least $150bn in compensations for “wrongful death, personal injury, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of property.” The suit is predicated on being able to apply Burmese law for harms done in Myanmar. 

Most importantly, the article points out that, “The current lawsuits argue that Facebook is both manufacturer and, to some extent, messenger: its algorithms decide what people see. Whether and how the firm is liable for what its algorithms do will now be tested.” 

That is just the point: If Facebook can create algorithms and media that facilitate this kind of hate and tragedy, do they not have the power to create algorithms that don’t, even if it costs them revenue? For example, with today’s algorithms, if you like to see hate posts or fake news, revolutionary or destructive posts, Facebook’s algorithms will show you more of those. Whatever changes Facebook says it has made to better control that sort of thing, how far has it gone? Has Facebook demonstrated what its algorithms will be in the future so it can capture the positive aspects of a global media app and eliminate the negative and tragic? 

Will the US Government succeed in taking Facebook to task in court, as they have tried to do and failed? I think not. Why? Because Senators, Congressmen, all politicians cannot get elected without Facebook. So why kill their golden goose?

Does getting elected take precedence over protecting the electorate?

After showing my students the above documentary and their reading the book, they said they were “trying to cut down” on social media time (like trying to quit smoking—never works). And, when asked the question as to whether someone who chooses to advertise on Facebook is also responsible for its ills, their answer was—silence.

Mark Zuckerberg has proven to be the Teflon Don to a degree that John Gotti could not even dream of. So if we accept the fact that Facebook is too big and too much a part of everyone’s lives to control, we can only hope that he sees the light at some point and makes the changes that will address all these recurring issues. If he does, the case might be that Facebook does not lose users; it may gain back those who (like me) have abandoned it and its avatars.

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