When a company like Facebook posts five job openings looking for blockchain-related talent, it seems like a rather large step toward the adoption of the growing technology. Now, it's probably an understatement to say Facebook has its issues (some of which ETHNews has covered), but with a reported 2.27 billion monthly active users worldwide for 2018, it would be hard to deny that Facebook's implementation of blockchain technology could bring the tool to a gigantic audience.
Facebook launched its blockchain team in May 2018, bringing over David Marcus – the previous president of PayPal and Facebook's vice president of its Messenger app division – to lead the project. What Facebook will be developing blockchain-wise wasn't revealed in the recent job postings. Most of what can be gleaned is basic job description jargon, searching for those who "share a passion for tackling complexity" and reaching out to people who want to "[explore] the opportunity the blockchain will bring."
Facebook's privacy problems seem like the most obvious starting point for blockchain technology to tackle, but until the company tells us what they're planning, it's anyone's guess what it'll do. A look at what Facebook is currently trying to do to improve its platform, however, could give some insight into how it will be implementing blockchain usage, and who, for that matter, might even want it.
Facebook, Journalism, and Blockchains
Late-stage internet usage is a strange beast, especially when it comes to how one consumes news. Generally, nothing really needs to be sought out – information can just, sort of, be stumbled upon. It's so utterly convenient, and Facebook is a big part of how people in the US stumble upon information. According to a Pew Research Center study from September 2018, 43 percent of American adults still get news from Facebook, despite the fact that they "expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate."
In January 2017, Facebook launched its "Facebook Journalism Project," which, among other things, seeks to "establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry" by collaborating with news organizations to improve news literacy and Facebook's own efforts to curb news hoaxes.
This article isn't a deep dive into fake news, improperly sourced news, and Facebook's role in how it delineates/delineated what 43 percent of Americans see, but if the company is already looking into promoting news literacy and weeding out hoaxes, blockchain might be a useful tool. In theory, a network of public, cryptographically signed, identical blocks of data would allow news organizations to authenticate the content that is being seen on Facebook, something the company tried to let its users do in December 2017, but didn't necessarily make the grade.
Again, all of this is just grasping at straws, and the overall idea of Facebook working on blockchain technology requires a major suspension of reality: that Facebook would give up owning its users' information. If one of the main statutes of blockchain tech is giving individuals ownership of their data, then it seems counterintuitive to what lets Facebook be Facebook – giving information to advertisers, creating targeted ads, and showing us only what we want (or what it thinks we want) to see.
It just feels naïve to see it beginning to work with a transformative technology and think that this is the moment Facebook will take into consideration how its users are affected day-to-day by its platform – and how that platform is set up to specifically target its individual users (especially knowing that the project involves Marcus, who oversaw the Messenger app's push into advertising).
If nothing ever comes of it, maybe all Facebook's blockchain project means is that in four or five years' time, we'll get another Aaron Sorkin romp with a Jesse Eisenberg-type walking-and-talking down a long hallway, speaking rapidly about a social network on the blockchain to distract us for an hour-and-a-half. I'm thinking something like "The Social Network 2: Social Network Harder."