This article was published on March 21, 2018

Facebook is tainted – can we build a better one?

Facebook is tainted – can we build a better one?

In the face of the Cambridge Analytica exposé that saw Facebook expose 50 million users’ information to a data mining company, as well as other recent fiascos with the social network like Russia influencing voters in the US and the spread of fake news, it’s becoming clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has evolved into a monster that can’t be tamed. The company’s revenues and net worth are made up of essentially ill-gotten gains. Even Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and sold it to Facebook in 2014 for billions, thinks the site has worn out its welcome.

Is it time to move on? Can there be another Facebook, one that’s safer, less intrusive, and less exploitative?

It’s worth remembering just what we’re hoping to leave behind: a network of more than two billion users around the world, most of whom are familiar and comfortable with how the site works to help them find their loved ones and friends online, an endless feed of content shared by those people, and an easy way to share what’s on your mind – arguably easier and less intimidating than any other network out there.

Yes, there are also publishers, brands, and ads. But at its core, Facebook is great at connecting people. That’s what the next big social network will have to match up to.

At the same time, it’ll have to ward off the evils that plague Facebook in its current form. As our own Tristan Greene wrote, the company is either ignorant or evil – and there are ways to run a business without being either of those things.

Between recent technologies like AI to help weed out malicious content, and decentralized systems that negate the need for hosting data in a central location, it could be possible to build a new social network that meets our needs. The challenge, then, is to grow the network organically, and continue to do so without giving into pressures to monetize by exploiting users’ data to the point that they feel exposed and vulnerable.

With all the trouble that Facebook is in right now, perhaps founders and investors will see value in such a venture. It may not make the CEO one of the five richest people in the world overnight (or even in several years), but it could avoid being questioned by governments for its role in influencing the outcomes of national elections, avoid being gamed by treacherous foreign actors, and prevent the loss of $50 billion in market cap in just a couple of days.

It’s not going to be easy to build the next Facebook. But for many people who are presently on the network, and presumably for the next few billions who will sign up in the coming years, it will be one of their primary experiences of what the web has to offer. Surely we can do better than this.

The Next Web’s 2018 conference is just a few months away, and it’ll be ??. Find out all about our tracks here.