- Facebook has had a truly tumultous 2018.
- The company lurched from scandal to crisis, from spreading genocide-fuelling hate speech in Myanmar to the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
- Business Insider has rounded up the Silicon Valley tech giant's dozens of scandals over the last 12 months.
Mark Zuckerberg kicked off 2018 with a promise: He was going to fix Facebook.
The billionaire chief executive is famous for his often-wacky yearly challenges - build a robot butler! Visit all 50 states! Only eat meat from animals you kill yourself! But after a bruising 2017, with its revelations of Russian misinformation campaigns on Facebook, he announced a more sober goal for the year - tackling Facebook's woes.
"This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I'm looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together," he wrote back on January 4th.
This didn't go so well, it's fair to say.
Over the last 12 months, the Silicon Valley tech giant has lurched from scandal to crisis, barely recovering from one self-inflicted wound before the next damaging report drops. Its issues have been varied: Some have landed it in hot water with lawmakers, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while some have literally been matters of life and death - like the social network's role in spreading hate speech that fuelled genocide in Myanmar.
Business Insider has gone back and rounded up Facebook's 2018, from its dozens of ugly scandals to some rare bright spots and product launches.
Here's how Facebook's nightmare year unfolded:
January 2018: Facebook is slammed by George Soros
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
February 2018: The last quiet month for Facebook
Paul Marotta/Getty Images
March 2018: Cambridge Analytica explodes amid genocide in Myanmar
April 2018: Mark Zuckerberg is in the Congressional hot-seat
- April 4th: Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schoepfer revises upwards the number of people believed to have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, up to 87 million. And he makes another, deeply unsettling admission: "Most" of Facebook's two billion users' data has likely been separately scraped by "malicious actors" in an unrelated breach. Zuckerberg subsequently tells reporters: "It is reasonable to expect that if you've had that setting on in the last several years that someone has accessed your information."
- 5th: Mark Zuckerberg finds himself in a spot of hot water after a TechCrunch report finds that messages sent by the CEO to other users have been quietly deleted from users' inboxes after the fact, and without informing them - a feature not available to normal Facebook users.
- 10th, 11th: Zuckerberg testifies before Congressional committees about Cambridge Analytica, Russian influence campaigns, allegations of anti-conservative bias, and a number of other subjects.
- 24th: For the first time, Facebook officially publishes its full "Community Standards" - the rules for what will get people banned from the social network. However, they had previously leaked online.
- 30th: Jan Koum, one of the cofounders of messaging app WhatsApp, quits Facebook, reportedly due to concerns over the company's approach to privacy and encryption.
May 2018: Facebook restructures its executive team and agrees to audits
- May 1st and 2nd: Facebook holds its annual F8 developer conference, and ends a moratorium of app and bot approvals for its platform it had imposed in the immediate aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica news, disrupting developers.
- 2nd: Facebook commits to conducting a civil rights audit, led by former ACLU director Laura Murphy. It also agrees to a review examining allegations of anti-conservative bias at the company.
- 8th: Facebook has a significant reshuffle of its senior executive teams, re-organising how its core apps and products are managed. It is, Recode reports, the "biggest executive shuffle in company history."
- 24th: Facebook launches its political ad archive, a searchable database of political advertisements that have run on the social network, as it revamps how it vets political ads in an attempt to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016. The company attracts criticism over its classification of ads by news organisations about political news stories as "political ads," which some in the media argued showed a fundamental misunderstanding of what journalism is. News stories are finally exempted from the archive in November.
- 25th: GDPR, the European Union's tough new data protection regulation, comes into effect. Privacy activists immediately file complaints against Facebook and other tech giants.
June 2018: Covert data-sharing agreements come to light, and Facebook closes its drone programme
July 2018: Zuckerman is mired in a controversy over Holocaust denialism, followed by Facebook posting disappointing earnings
Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
August 2018: Facebook continues to fall short in Myanmar, as covert influence campaigns pop into sight
September 2018: Instagram's co-founders leave, and Facebook discloses a huge hack
Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images
- September 4th: New reports on the same day from The New York Times and BuzzFeed News shed more light on how Facebook can fuel political violence around the world, in Libya and the Philippines respectively. In the former case, armed groups used Facebook to identify critics and spread propaganda or misinformation. In the Philippines, meanwhile, Facebook is used to spread hoaxes about the President Duterte's rivals, fuel fake news, and boost his bloody drug war.
- 5th: Sheryl Sandberg testifies to Congress alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about misinformation and other subjects.
- 16th: Business Insider reports on how a tool Facebook built to help facilitate blood donations in India and elsewhere is fuelling an illegal and dangerous black market for human blood in the country.
- 21st: Instagram's new video app, IGTV, is recommending videos of potential child abuse to users, alongside other inappropriate imagery, an investigation by Business Insider finds.
- 24th: The beloved co-founders of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, abruptly quit the company, reportedly due to clashes with Zuckerberg.
- 26th: WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton - who earlier in the year tweeted "#deletefacebook" - gives a scathing interview to Forbes about his former employer. "I sold my users' privacy," he says, and details disagreements with Facebook's leadership over how to monetise the privacy-focused app he helped create.
- 26th: Gizmodo reveals that Facebook has been using phone numbers provided by users for two-factor authentication, a highly recommended security measure, to subsequently target them with advertisements. The tactic comes under criticism from security experts and activists, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as risking "[damaging] users' trust in a foundational security practice."
- 26th, 27th: Facebook holds its annual Oculus Connect virtual reality conference in San Jose, California, and announces the Oculus Quest - its long-awaited virtual reality headset that doesn't require a PC.
- 28th: Facebook announces it has been hacked, and tens of millions of users' data has been stolen by unknown attackers exploiting a vulnerability in the company's software. The company subsequently says around 30 million users were compromised, to varying degrees of severity. The Irish data regulatory body is now investigating, and Facebook could be fined up to $1.6 billion over the breach.
October 2018: Brazilian fake news spreads on WhatsApp while harassment proliferates on Instagram
- October 4th: In late September, Facebook's policy chief Joel Kaplan attends a congressional hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice. Employees exploded in outrage, with the internal revolt finally bursting into public view with news reports in early October. Some employees said they felt uncomfortable working with Kaplan, and that his attendance was "inappropriate."
- 7th: The first round of Brazil's presidential election is held amid a backdrop of widespread hoaxes and misinformation being spread on WhatsApp in support of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who ultimately wins the presidency. The episode starkly illustrates Facebook's ongoing failures to control misinformation on its platforms, especially when faced with WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption.
- 8th: Facebook announces Portal, a home video-chat and smart-speaker gadget.
- 11th: The New York Times reports on how American political actors are increasingly using Facebook to spread politically motivated hoaxes and misinformation, aping the tactics of Russian operative during the 2016 election.
- 15th: The Atlantic publishes an investigation into "rampant" harassment and abuse on Instagram, in stark contrast to the photo-sharing app's benevolent public image.
- 15th: It is reported that hundreds of Myanmar military personnel were directly involved in spreading hate speech and calls for violence on Facebook.
- 16th: A group of marketers sue Facebook alleging ad fraud, claiming it knew of measurement issues and discrepancies in its data for more than a year before reporting it to advertisers. They also allege the discrepancies were by as much as 900% - far more than the 60-80% previously disclosed.
- 19th: Facebook hires former British politician Nick Clegg to act as its new global policy and comms chief.
- 22nd: Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe quits, the latest founder of a Facebook acquisition to quit the company.
- 25th: Facebook's political advertising checks are shown to be not fit for purpose, when Vice manages to pay for ads on the social network that falsely claim to be paid for by Mike Pence and ISIS. Business Insider is subsequently able to run ads pretending to be from the now-banned Cambridge Analytica without being detected.
November 2018: Sheryl Sandberg is hit with new criticism, and employee morale plummets
- November 11th: Controversy erupts over the 2017 departure of Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey. The Wall Street Journal reported that Luckey believes he was fired because of his political support of Donald Trump, though Facebook denies that's the case.
- 13th: Police in Nigeria say that fake news in Nigeria is contributing to killings and inflaming ethnic violence, the BBC reports.
- 13th: A number of former early Instagram employees speak out about their decision to delete the app, saying they have become disillusioned with the product and its impact on society, in interviews with The Washington Post.
- 14th: The New York Times drops a bombshell report into how Facebook's leadership attempted to deflect criticism as its scandals mounted throughout the year. The investigation opens COO Sheryl Sandberg up to unprecedented scrutiny over her role in handling operations, and it reveals that Facebook, via opposition research firm Definers, attempted to smear its critics by linking them to George Soros - a line of attack that has been labelled anti-Semitic. Facebook subsequently severs ties with Definers.
- 14th: Internal data obtained by the Wall Street Journal shows how employee morale at Facebook has plummeted over the last year.
- 15th: Facebook announces it is creating an independent oversight group to review content moderation appeals, an organisation that will monitor the application of the social network's rules and requirements.
- 24th: Britain's Parliament seizes a cache of internal Facebook documents and emails from Six4Three, an app developer engaged with a legal battle with the Silicon Valley firm. The legislative body subsequently publishes them in December, providing a rare window into Zuckerberg's ruthless tactics to crush competitors.
- 27th: Mark Luckie, a former Facebook employee, goes public with a memo accusing Facebook of racism and failing its users and employees of colour.
- 27th: Lawmakers from nine companies hold a rare joint hearing examining Facebook's actions. Zuckerberg is invited repeatedly, but refuses to go, and his stand-in - Richard Allan, Facebook's vice president of policy solution - admits the CEO's absence looks "not great."
December 2018: Facebook faces even more scrutiny over privacy practices and Russian activity on Instagram is exposed
2018 has not been kind to Mark Zuckerberg.
Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images
- December 14th: Facebook discloses that a bug means that the private, unpublished photos of nearly 7 million users may have been shared with 1,500 different apps.
- 14th: Business Insider reports Facebook has quietly closed Building 8, its secretive skunkworks lab, splitting the unit into two separate organisations - Portal, and Facebook Reality Labs.
- 17th: The Senate publishes a new report into Russian activity on Facebook's apps during the 2016 election. It reveals the country's efforts were broader than previously known, especially on Instagram, and involved targeting African-Americans in voter-suppression efforts. Civil rights groups react with outrage, calling for Zuckerberg and Sandberg to step down from the company's board, amid other changes.
- 18th: The New York Times publishes another explosive report on Facebook's privacy practices. This one exposes how the company gave certain companies far more access to user data than it said publicly, sometimes without users' consent.
- 19th: Washington DC announces it is taking legal action against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its alleged failures to protect users' data. The company's stock drops 7% after the news.
Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.
Also from Business Insider South Africa: