It has been a tough year for Facebook that culminated in the social behemoth becoming Meta.
Ad Age is taking a look back at the major developments at the world’s largest social media company in 2021.
Trouble started early in the new year when the company, which boasts 3.6 billion monthly users across all its apps, took a portion of the blame for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Critics argued that rampant disinformation on Facebook stoked public rage that led to the attack.
This set the stage for a year in which Facebook dealt with a host of public safety issues that ultimately led to the company taking unprecedented steps to prove to advertisers that it was tackling brand safety issues head-on.
Meanwhile, Facebook also met one of its most aggressive detractors yet in whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked documents about the company's internal workings, raising questions about Facebook's community safety problems and the potentially harmful effects of Instagram on teens.
The year also brought a shakeup at the top, with high-profile departures that included Carolyn Everson, the longtime head of Facebook’s global business group, who left for Instacart. Facebook also held a massive media agency review for its estimated $1 billion marketing business.
On top of that, Apple’s data and privacy changes affected how marketers run campaigns on Facebook; there was a push into shopping and e-commerce on Facebook and Instagram; and a widespread outage led to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp going dark in October. Then there was Facebook’s biggest change, a rebrand to Meta.
Here is a look at Facebook's journey to become Meta in 2021.
Jan. 6: Facebook takes heat for not doing enough to prevent disinformation, like the “Stop the Steal” movement that helped energize participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. This is a pivotal day for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as they had to contend with what to do about then-President Donald Trump, who used their platforms to communicate with his supporters. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made the crucial decision to remove posts from the president that day, and ultimately ban him outright.
Jan. 11: Facebook hires Roy L. Austin Jr. as a civil rights VP. This is a key position that Facebook promised to fill after civil rights groups organized a brand boycott of the platform in July 2020. The organizations involved in the boycott, like the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, had warned about the possibility of the type of violence that was seen six months later on Jan. 6.
Jan. 25: Ad Age looks into a compelling anti-trust case brewing against Google and Facebook, which had been accused at the end of 2020 of “colluding” to fix ad tech prices. The case touches on the obscure topic of header bidding, a practice well known in ad tech circles that trade in digital ads online. Google and Facebook are accused by states of entering into a deal to stifle innovation in header bidding.
Jan. 29: Facebook makes a major course correction that it had been avoiding for years, promising top brands that it would figure out a way to control where ads appear in News Feed. Advertisers had been pressuring the platform for “brand safety” tools, which could prevent their ads from appearing adjacent to the types of posts that could contribute to political polarization and other harmful content.
Feb. 1: Facebook prepares for another blow to its business: Apple. The iPhone maker prepares to implement its App Tracking Transparency framework, which will change how all apps collect data on their users. This ignites concerns in the ad industry about how consumers opting out of tracking would impact digital marketing. Facebook rolls out an in-app message encouraging consumers to allow tracking in order to keep ads personalized. Facebook has never said how many users have clicked “allow” when asked, but there are indications that as much as 85% or more of people opt out from tracking on most apps.
Feb. 25: Facebook launches a new commercial, the first big marketing push under Chief Marketing Officer Alex Schultz, who joined in 2020. The ad features a voiceover from the legendary Grace Jones, and it extols the virtues of personalized advertising. Facebook is trying to show the public that personalized ads help small business serve consumers’ interests.