It’s been a rough year for Facebook and culminated in the social giant becoming dead.
Ad Age takes a look at the key developments in the world’s largest social media company in 2021.
The problems began early in the new year when the company, which has 3.6 billion monthly users across all of its apps, took some of the blame for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Critics have argued that the rampant disinformation on Facebook fueled the public outrage that led to the attack.
This paved the way for a year in which Facebook grappled with a range of public safety issues that ultimately led the company to take unprecedented steps to prove to advertisers that it was tackling brand safety issues head-on.
Meanwhile, Facebook also met with one of its most aggressive critics to date in whistleblower Frances Hogan, who leaked documents about the company’s inner workings, raising questions about Facebook’s community safety problems and Instagram’s potential harmful effects on teens.
The year also brought change at the top, with a high-profile departure that included Carolyn Iverson, longtime head of Facebook’s global business group, who departed for Instacart. Facebook also conducted a massive audit from a media agency of its billion-dollar marketing business.
Furthermore, Apple’s data and privacy changes have affected how marketers run campaigns on Facebook; There was a push to shopping and e-commerce on Facebook and Instagram; And a widespread outage brought darkness to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in October. Then there was the biggest change on Facebook, which was the rebranding to Meta.
Here’s a look at Facebook’s journey to becoming a Meta in 2021.
See all of the 2021 Ad Age marketers here.
January 6: Facebook is in heat for not doing enough to prevent disinformation, such as the “Stop the Steal” movement that helped energize participants in the January 6 rebellion in the US Capitol. This is a pivotal day for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as they have had to grapple with what to do about then-President Donald Trump, who used their platforms to connect with his supporters. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube made the crucial decision to remove posts from the president that day, eventually banning him entirely.
January 11: Facebook hires Roy L. Austin, Jr. as a vice president for civil rights. This is the key position Facebook promised to fill after civil rights groups organized a boycott of the platform’s brand in July 2020. Organizations involved in the boycott, such as the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, have warned of the possibility. Violence seen six months later on 6 January.
25 January: Ad Age is considering a persuasive antitrust case against Google and Facebook, which at the end of 2020 was accused of “collusion” to fix advertising technology prices. The case touches on the nebulous topic of vertical bidding, a practice well known in advertising technology circles that trade in online digital advertising. States accuse Google and Facebook of engaging in a deal to stifle innovation in key bids.
January 29: Facebook is making a major course correction it has been avoiding for years, promising top brands that it will figure out a way to control where ads appear in their News Feed. Advertisers have been pushing the platform for “brand safety” tools, which can prevent their ads from appearing next to the types of posts that could contribute to political polarization and other harmful content.
1 February: Facebook is preparing for another blow to its business: Apple. The iPhone maker is preparing to implement an App Tracking Transparency Framework, which will change how all apps collect data about their users. This raises concerns in the advertising industry about how consumers’ refusal to be tracked will affect digital marketing. Facebook posts an in-app message encouraging consumers to allow tracking in order to keep ads personalized. Facebook never mentioned how many users clicked “allow” when asked, but there are indications that as many as 85% or more of people choose to opt out on most apps.
February 25: Facebook has launched a new commercial, its first major marketing push under Chief Marketing Officer Alex Schultz, who joined in 2020. The ad features audio commentary from legend Grace Jones, extolling the virtues of personalized advertising. Facebook is trying to show the public that personalized advertising helps small businesses serve consumers’ interests.