In June, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the social media network had reached an important milestone: 2 billion users. Me being one of them.
When I was putting together this editorial, I decided to check when I first joined Facebook. It was 10 years ago in 2007 (back when I was just one of 50 million users). I vaguely remember it was because a friend had just returned from a trip to Iceland and the only way I could view her pictures was on her Facebook. At the time, that’s what Facebook was primarily used for: to connect with friends and family, share cute baby pictures, and laugh over funny pet photos. And you can still do that on Facebook, you just now have to scroll through ads, videos, and news stories.
Over the years, Facebook’s role has gone through some scrutiny. Is it a social media platform? Is it a media organization? Is it a technology company? And the answer is yes, all of the above. No matter how you categorize Facebook, you can’t get away from it. With 2 billion users now, Zuckerberg said Facebook is “making progress connecting the world” and bringing “the world closer together.”
But what does “closer together” mean when we have to make connections through a computer or phone screen? Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a think piece about how smartphones and technology today is actually creating more of a disconnect among humans (there are already enough of those articles out there), but when you have 2 billion people in the world interacting on one platform, you have to wonder how we’re going to reach and communicate with each other in the future. And where will newspapers fit in?
I believe they still have a place among those 2 billion users. Facebook also believes so. They created the Facebook Journalism Project this year and they’re chasing after publishers to join their Instant Articles program. To me, “closer together” means coming together. When I created my Facebook account 10 years ago, it was to connect with one friend. Now, I can connect with the New York Times, Target, and Madonna. In the same way, newspapers can connect with readers everywhere.
Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post said if Facebook was a religion, it would be the second largest in the world. And for many people, Facebook is their religion. Even if it’s through a screen, we’re “closer together” than ever.
“There are more Facebook users than speakers of any of the world’s languages, according to Ethnologue, a long-running catalogue of the world’s languages…” Ingraham wrote. “Likes, shares, comments and friend requests are becoming the closest thing humanity has to a universal tongue.”
Ingraham also reported that Facebook reached its first billion in 2012, eight years after it launched, and it only took five to reach its second. If that trend continues, it probably won’t take long until Facebook reaches its next billion.
Strangely enough, the friend who went to Iceland and the reason behind me creating my Facebook, has since deleted her account. We live in different states now and choose to keep in touch through texts, phone calls, and even the occasional letter in the mail. So I guess it shows if you want to stay in touch with someone, you do so, no matter what the form is.
In this month’s issue, we have other examples of “coming together:” the strength of small newspapers, many of them still family-owned, and how they cover their communities; newspaper departments in different markets working with various vendors and suppliers to meet their needs and find solutions; and why newspapers are becoming more accountable and transparent with their reporting (online Sept. 18).