The 4th of February 2024 marked 20 years of the social networking social media platform that we’ve all come to know as Facebook. Originally named The Facebook, the social networking service was then renamed in August 2005. The site was founded by Mark Zuckerberg as well as his Harvard College roommates, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes. The initial idea was to use TheFacebook to connect Harvard students only, but later expanded to other universities in the vicinity, then across the United States and Canada, and then in 2006, the site became public to anyone who had a valid email address and was over the age of 13.

Facebook has had its fair share of controversies since its inception. The first came only six days after the site was launched. Zuckerberg was accused by three other senior students of ‘stealing their idea’ in order to build out a ‘competing’ site, as they had originally enlisted Zuckerberg’s help to build out an internal social network called HarvardConnection.com. Instead, Zuckerberg built out TheFacebook. When TheFacebook was first launched, it had around 1200 to 1500 users from Harvard University, by the time it went public in 2006, it had almost six million monthly users. By 2024, Facebook now has approximately 3.049 billion monthly users. While Facebook certainly wasn’t the first social network so to speak as MySpace had already been on the scene for some time, it was the fastest growing at the time and overtook MySpace in just four years.

In South Africa, almost half of the population still uses Facebook, with 30.7 million users recorded in May 2023. 28% of SA’s Facebook users are between the ages of 18 – 24, with the largest percentile of users sitting squarely in the millennial age group of 25 – 34. Globally however, Facebook has become less popular with younger generations – these tend to favour platforms that support short-term video content more. Facebook has played a crucial role in politics globally too, especially with regards to the US elections. Donald Trump definitely used Facebook’s targeted advertising as part of his 2020 election campaign. It has also brought to light how our personal information is used, highlighted the fact that we really need to read terms and conditions before signing up for anything, and also showcased the fact that data collection can have devastating consequences. The Cambridge Analytica scandal resulted in Facebook having to fork out $725 million to settle.

Facebook’s success set the foundation for Meta, which became Facebook’s parent company and also allowed Zuckerberg to expand his social empire to include the likes of Instagram and WhatsApp too. It will be interesting to see how far Zuckerberg takes it and what the next 20 years of Facebook bring.