We Need More Alternatives to Facebook

About 10 years after TVs began to be ubiquitous in American homes, television broadcasting was a staggering financial success. As the head of the Federal Communications Commission observed in a 1961 speech to broadcast executives, the industry’s revenue, more than $1 billion a year, was rising 9 percent annually, even in a recession. The problem, the FCC chairman told the group, was the way the business was making money: not by serving the public interest above all but by airing a lot of dumb shows and “cajoling and offending” commercials. “When television is bad, nothing is worse,” he said.

That speech would become known for the pejorative that the FCC chairman, Newton Minow, used to describe TV: he called it “a vast wasteland.” It’s a great line, but there are other reasons to revisit the speech now, about 10 years after the emergence of another communications service—Facebook—that has become ubiquitous in American homes, a staggering financial success, and a transmitter of a lot of pernicious schlock. What’s striking today is why Minow said the vast-wasteland problem mattered—and what he wanted to do about it.

Personal note: Unfortunately, pop culture is characterized by dumb shows and other meaningless stuff. No exception.

As for why it mattered, Minow told the TV executives:

“Your industry possesses the most powerful voice in America. It has an inescapable duty to make that voice ring with intelligence and with leadership. In a few years, this exciting industry has grown from a novelty to an instrument of overwhelming impact on the American people. It should be making ready for the kind of leadership that newspapers and magazines assumed years ago, to make our people aware of their world.”

 

On that point in particular, Mark Zuckerberg apparently would agree. “Are we building the world we all want?” he wrote in February, in a 5,700-word manifesto that reflected on the sometimes dubious role Facebook has been playing in civic life. Referring to its propensity to turbocharge hoaxes and to the way it tends to make news feel sensational, he wrote that Facebook’s goal “must be to help people see a more complete picture” of the world.

But how to make a mass communication medium better for us? In 1961, Minow had a clear answer: “I believe that most of television’s problems stem from lack of competition.” He said he looked forward to seeing more channels becoming available through new technologies, such as UHF frequencies, pay TV, and international broadcasts. And he said he would look for ways to strengthen local stations that could best serve local communities. “I am deeply concerned with concentration of power in the hands of the networks,” Minow said.

That’s where Mark Zuckerberg would probably get a little uncomfortable. Because Facebook is all about concentrating power in one network—his, which he calls “a global community.” If in reality Facebook tends to promote polarization and tribalism, Zuckerberg seems to believe that can be fixed with a few tweaks. In his February letter he said Facebook would try to reduce sensationalism on the site and take other steps to help make people better informed and more engaged in democracy.

Zuckerberg doubtless means well, but the problem is not that we need a slightly better Facebook. It’s that Facebook—a company worth $400 billion because it vacuums up information about our tastes, our shopping habits, our political beliefs, and just about anything else you might think of—is too powerful in the first place. What we need is to spend less time on Facebook.

Mesmerized

In his February letter, Zuckerberg essentially acknowledged what was obvious to anyone who had a Facebook account during the 2016 election: the social network has not exactly enhanced our democracy. The News Feed, the main scroll of posts that you see when you open Facebook, fueled hoaxes (which were overwhelmingly “tilted in favor” of Donald Trump, according to an analysis by Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow at Stanford), and it overfed people stories and memes that fit preconceived notions. On social media, “resonant messages get amplified many times,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance. At its best, this focuses messages and exposes people to different ideas. At its worst, it oversimplifies important topics and pushes us towards extremes.”

To try to counteract the fake-news problem, Facebook is now flagging hoax stories that are shared on the site with a warning that third-party fact checkers have declared them to be false. And in hopes of promulgating fewer stories that are apparently true but nonetheless uninformative, the company has adjusted the News Feed to give more weight to stories that people share after reading (or at least opening) them, rather than the ones they share after only seeing the headlines. The thinking is that a story shared largely based on the headline alone is less likely to be what Zuckerberg calls “good in-depth content.”

Good for Facebook for trying these strategies. They fit with other civic-minded steps the company has taken in the past, such as encouraging people to vote and urging them to donate to the victims of floods and earthquakes. But the latest efforts probably won’t do much to help create what Zuckerberg calls a more “informed community.” The structure of Facebook works against that.

Facebook is fundamentally not a network of ideas. It’s a network of people. And though it has two billion active users every month, you can’t just start trading insights with all of them. As Facebook advises, your Facebook friends are generally people you already know in real life. That makes it more likely, not less, to stimulate homogeneity of thought. You can encounter strangers if you join groups that interest you, but those people’s posts are not necessarily going to get much airtime in your News Feed. The News Feed is engineered to show you things you probably will want to click on. It exists to keep you happy to be on Facebook and coming back many times a day, which by its nature means it is going to favor emotional and sensational stories.

Why else would Facebook be increasing the prominence of video? In fact, one of its executives has suggested that within a few years the News Feed could be “all video.” Surely some of the videos you’ll see on Facebook will be in-depth documentaries, live feeds from news events, and other substantive material. But in general, showing us much more video from around the Internet does not feel like a way to promote more reasoned discourse.

As Zuckerberg himself noted in his February letter, most of what people come to Facebook for is ultimately social—“friends sharing jokes and families staying in touch across cities,” or people finding support groups for everything from parenting to coping with a disease. For Facebook to be all that as well as a modern-day agora, a place of enlightened civic and political engagement, seems like a mismatch.

If you need a reminder that Facebook’s primary reason for existence is not to enlighten you, consider the fact that the company catalogues a huge amount of information about you.

The behavior is not surprising—Zuckerberg claimed years ago that privacy was no longer a social norm—but the scale still astonishes. Last summer the Washington Post listed 98 of the data points that Facebook captures about its users. For example, by cross-referencing your behavior on Facebook with files maintained by third-party data brokers, the company gathers data on your income, your net worth, your home’s value, your lines of credit, whether you have donated to charity, whether you listen to the radio, and whether you buy over-the-counter allergy medicine. It does this so that it can give companies an unprecedented ability to post ads that are presumably likelier to appeal to you. (I asked Facebook whether anything has changed to make the Post’s report no longer accurate; the company had no comment.)

This system may or may not work for advertisers, but it works very well for Facebook, which chalked up a net income of $10 billion on $28 billion in revenue last year. Does it work well for us? As Sue Halpern wrote in the New York Review of Books, the services that we get from Facebook are requiring us to give up something that is very hard to ever get back:

Many of us have been concerned about digital overreach by our governments, especially after the Snowden revelations. But the consumerist impulse that feeds the promiscuous divulgence of personal information similarly threatens our rights as individuals and our collective welfare. Indeed, it may be more threatening, as we mindlessly trade ninety-eight degrees of freedom for a bunch of stuff we have been mesmerized into thinking costs us nothing.

When you look at Facebook that way, it’s hard to root for the company to find ways to be a platform for more civic engagement. In fact, unless we think people should be required to shoulder whatever privacy costs Facebook decides to impose, it probably should not be the main place we go to find groups that, in Zuckerberg’s words, “support our personal, emotional, and spiritual needs.” Ideally, people would be able to form robust online communities and engage in the public square without letting any single company build a comprehensive dossier on them.

Lots of niches

What if we followed Minow’s reasoning with TV in 1961 and decided that we ought to have many more powerful networks for disseminating ideas and shaping public discussions?

The first step would be to acknowledge that even with the seemingly limitless competition that already exists on the Internet, Facebook has an outsize role in our society. Sixty-eight percent of all American adults use it, according to the Pew Research Center. That compares with 28 percent for Instagram (also owned by Facebook), 26 percent for Pinterest, 25 percent for LinkedIn, and 21 percent for Twitter. And none of these other sites aspire to be as many things to as many people as Facebook does.

One of the interesting things about Minow’s “vast wasteland” speech is that his encouragement of more competition helped inspire the expansion of public broadcasting in the United States. And perhaps it’s time for similar efforts today, to support more varieties of social media.

These noncommercial alternatives would not have to be funded by the government (which is fortunate, given that government funding for public media such as PBS is in doubt these days). Ralph Engelman, a media historian at Long Island University who wrote Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History, points out that the creation of public broadcasting was led by—and partially funded by—prominent nonprofit groups such as the Ford and Carnegie Foundations. In the past few years, several nonprofit journalism outlets such as ProPublica have sprung up; perhaps now their backers and other foundations could do more to ensure the existence of more avenues for such work to be read and shared.

High-minded alternatives to Facebook have been introduced before. A now-defunct discussion site called Gather once got investment from American Public Media, a producer of public-radio programs. Among the platforms that still exist, Diaspora gives people ways to socialize without relinquishing control of their data. Parlio, now owned by Quora, was cofounded by a leading figure from the Arab Spring in Egypt to promote online discussions with “thoughtfulness, civility, and diversity.” But we still could use more options that collectively counteract Facebook’s enormous reach and influence and bring out more of social media’s most constructive qualities—the way it connects us to far-flung people, information, and ideas.

Because noncommercial alternatives would be free of the imperative to capture as much information about your interests as possible, they’d be likelier to experiment with new ways of stimulating interactions between people. Maybe they would do away with the News Feed model that rewards virality more than importance. Perhaps some would be more reliant on algorithms to serve up stories and ideas, while others would rely on human curators to elevate discussion and eliminate abuse by booting trolls or deleting hoaxes.

Competitors to Facebook that harnessed the powers of social media only in an effort to make us wiser would probably be niche services, like National Public Radio and PBS. “Most people aren’t that fussy,” says Jack Mitchell, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin and the author of Listener Supported: The Culture and History of Public Radio. “PBS’s market share is not that high. Public radio is a little higher. It’s a minority taste.”

But having many more niche alternatives to Facebook could be exactly what we need. Even if none stole a significant chunk of Facebook’s users, it might be enough to remind people that even as Facebook becomes more powerful than ever—rolling up massive profits and preparing to beam down Internet access to offline corners of the globe—other options are possible, and vital.

Why are we finally now in what’s often called a golden age of television, with culturally influential, sophisticated shows that don’t insult our intelligence? It’s not because broadcasters stopped airing schlock. It’s because the audience is more fragmented than ever—thanks to the rise of public broadcasting and cable TV and streaming services and many other challenges to big networks. It required a flourishing of choices rather than a reliance on those huge networks to become better versions of themselves. As Zuckerberg wrote in February, “History has had many moments like today.”

 

 

Facebook/M8 bet on AR/VR

每年的 F8 大会是 Facebook 公司全面展示其新技术、新战略和新想法的全球开发者大会,而刚刚过去的 2017 Facebook F8 大会也毫无疑问吸引了全世界开发者们的目光,人们都想从这家科技巨头身上看到他们对未来的展望和设想。

出乎大家意料的是,在今年的 F8 大会上,Facebook 将重头戏放到了 AR 技术上。作为一家以社交网络为主业的互联网公司,很多人都对 Facebook 做出这样的选择很不解,它背后的理念和逻辑是什么?为什么 Facebook 会做出这样的选择?这样的决策对于整个行业有着怎样的影响?

带着这样的问题,我们在美国 San Jose 与百度公司总裁、同时也是这个领域世界级专家的张亚勤先生进行了一场独家对话。通过他的解读,我们一方面能够更好地理解 Facebook F8 大会以及 Facebook 这家公司,同时也能对目前互联网科技领域的发展动向有一个更好的认知。

Facebook 的思路很清晰

对于 Facebook 来说,去年的 F8 大会为外界展示了他们的公司整体规划,尤其是十年的路线图,连通性(Connectivity)、AI、AR/VR 一字排开,构成了这家公司的三大板块。在张亚勤看来,Facebook 因为有了用户、应用和平台这三大基础要素,他们可以根据这些要素让自己的技术有具体的落地场景。「Facebook 很清楚的是,产品、技术是为我产品服务的。」这句话也许是他对 Facebook 这家公司最重要的解读。

张亚勤:去年的 F8 大会我也来了,扎克伯格在去年第一次讲到了 Facebook 这家公司的十年路线图,其实相当清晰。首先是连通性(Connectivity),然后是 AR、VR 作为一种新的交互方式,后面 AI 作为根本性的技术。这个思路很清晰。

Facebook 最大的优势是它拥有十大 APP 里面的四大 APP,这个很厉害,包括了 Messenger、Facebook、Instagram 和 WhatsApp。所以它在连通性上拥有最强的力量。

有了这个之后,它就可以上面加新的功能。因为社交最主要的就是需要有交互的方式,AR/VR 很重要,就是因为它真正增加了人们交互方式,它能让人们的交流方式更加丰富,沟通性更强。这是它的优势。

在技术上,Facebook 也有很强的实力。深度学习领域的大神 Yan LeCun 目前是 Facebook 人工智能实验室的领导者,他最大的发明叫卷积神经网络(CNN),目前主要用在图象识别、人脸识别等方面。Facebook 今天就讲了 R-CNN 和 Mask CNN 等技术,算是在这个上面又突破了一次,在情绪和风格上的理解能力更强了。

而他们的思路也相当清晰,先把目光对准 AR/VR,这里面 AR 更实际一点,而且只用一个 camera 就作为一个平台,不需要有新的东西。但是这里面用的很多是 AI 的东西,比如说你对一个场景的理解、计算,包括深度信息的计算,这些都是从 AI 这边来的。

而 AI 目前的主要问题是场景。但它的 AI 场景也是很清晰的,它的场景是通过我这四大 APP,让这四大 APP 本身在交互上变得更丰富,可以让开发者开发更多东西,而不仅仅是一个通讯工具。

所以它有场景,有应用,有用户,然后再看我有什么样的技术,里面有什么样的平台。

还有 Facebook 做硬件也很厉害,不是说光做 Oculus Rift,Facebook 的数据中心技术也是做的相当牛。它要求很高,所以没办法用现在市面上的,因为它需要特别大的存储量,还包括了时时处理,众多图象的搜索等等,所以它必须自己去建大的数据中心。

因此它有一个项目叫 Open Compute Project,这个在美国也是很有名的,它等于把它的硬件公开,所有的设计,数据中心的设计,所有的这些公开。第二点,他让大家一块儿去设计,公开设计,找最佳方案,然后它全部公开,建的时候自己不建,让 ODM 去建,但是这个架构的设计是他的。

国内其实是向他学习的,叫「天蝎」,这个是百度来建立的。所以百度的数据中心为什么发展的很快,和这个也有关系。

Facebook 对自我的定义和它的转型

而要理解 Facebook 这家公司,你必须搞清楚它做事的根本逻辑和对自我的定义是什么。如果你仅仅是用「微信」这样的国内产品来直接理解它就大错特错了。张亚勤认为 Facebook 有两点让他印象深刻,第一是它对自己的定义,第二就是它在转型过程中的决心和魄力。这些从根本上决定了 Facebook 在这几年所做出的变化和战略部署。

张亚勤:Facebook 这两年有两件事让我印象很深。

第一,它定义了「我是一群人(a group of people),不是一个人这个很不一样。

像百度或者 Google 它的基因是人和信息的交互;亚马逊是人和商品;而 Facebook 完全是人和人之间,它认为我所有的优化都是针对一个群组的商业逻辑,不是一个人;它所有的产品都是优化我们在一起怎么共享,怎么交流,而不是说我一个人会怎么样,它不是点对点的沟通和交流,是群组之间的交流。

所以这个和微信有很大的不同,因为微信是一个对象和另一个对象之间的信息传输,二者在刚开始的基因就不同。Facebook 更社区化,不像微信是从通信(communication)出发的,Facebook 是从分享(sharing)出发的,但它现在也有通信,就是 Messenger 开始的。但是 Facebook 它自己整体是「It’s all about social experience」

第二点我印象很深的是,有一次我和桑德伯格(Sheryl Sandberg)在四年前我还在微软的时候聊天。她说每个公司转型都很难,比如从 PC 转到移动端很难,当然 Google 有 Android。但是 Google 的搜索基本还是 PC+的体验。

但是 Facebook 是转移动最快最坚决的那一个,转的过程中主要就是扎克伯格自己决定的作用。最早在四五年前,他们还是「everything is by H5」,忽然有一天觉得不对了,就表示公司马上要 APP 化。决定了以后,他做项目审查(project review),如果你没有 mobile(移动) 的话,他不会让你做,就是他只做 moblie 部分的项目审查,因为在 Facebook 里面,对扎克伯格做项目审查是他们一个压力非常大的事,而且产品发布都是他要通过的,你要没有 mobile 的东西他是不让你发布的,而且后面很多东西都是「mobile only」

到了后面你看,从 PC+,然后到 mobile first,然后再到 mobile only,我觉得一个公司转型的时候,要有这样的魄力和决心。

手机 AR 的设想比较现实

接下来谈到了这次 F8 大会的具体内容,毫无疑问,AR 技术就是里面的重中之重。去年,尤其是下半年,不管是 AR 还是 VR,它们在中国似乎都进入了一个低潮期。这个在 2015 年风光无限的全新领域因为在技术上还不够成熟而遇冷,也陷入了大热之后的低估。不过 Facebook 却将重点放在了这上面,而张亚勤也认为其中有其合理性。同时,他本人也对这个领域未来的发展做了一些畅想。

张亚勤:就 AR/VR 而言,我觉得这个东西需要一点时间。国内往往是什么东西吹上天,第二年看不到结果就扔到地上,但可能那个时候才慢慢真正起来。

VR 设备需要全新的沉浸式体验,但是 AR 这个东西,它本身就可以用很简单的设备,因为本身是现实的场景,只是在现实场景中加一些增强的体验。增强的度数可以多也可以少,这个就看开发者到底有多少的想象力了。

第二点,它讲的几个事实都很容易体现,你的 camera 有深度信息,还有很清晰的地理信息、地图的信息,相对来讲比较容易入手,而且不需要新的设备,不需要新的任何东西,就像目前的眼镜一样已经可以来使用了,这样一步一步反而会容易一些。

像 Oculus、Hololens,或者 Meta 这个公司做的东西,相对来讲是跳了一步。如果跳到那步也挺好,不过到了那个时候,这个的内容和整个的开发者平台在最后还是可以移过去的。

我觉得 Magic Leap 他们的那种想法还需要很多的时间,因为手机目前还是最成熟的设备。你最后说我把手机的功能全集成到眼镜上面,人戴个眼镜,我觉得很怪,因为任何戴眼镜的这种非自然的方式都是比较奇怪的。Google Glass 其实后面功能也挺强的,为什么大家不愿意戴,其实是有一些障碍存在的。

所以,它这次的方案有几个优势:首先,手机发展很成熟;第二,大家都可以接受;第三,可以有 APP;第四,它可以有很清晰的开发者平台。所以手机这个东西在很长一段时间是消失不掉的。比如手表,像 Apple Watch,功能现在也很强了,还不是这个样子。

我觉得手机可能会作为眼镜的一个连接模块。你说手机为什么不扔掉呢?很奇怪。手机可以代替钱包,可以代替这些东西,但是手机本身,最后你可以把手机里的东西全部变成一个芯片,它就是一个输入和输出的功能,你输出要放在眼镜上面。但是真正的功能还在上面。

如此聚焦于 AR,是因为 Facebook 更想帮你「kill time」

即使 AR 技术很有发展前景,但问题就来了:为什么 Facebook 要将重点放在这上面?作为一家以社交网络为主业的公司,它为什么做出了这样的选择?张亚勤认为道理很简单,相比于提升效率或者生产力,Facebook 就是要用更丰富的手段让你通过社交网络获得乐趣,只不过 AR 技术是目前最合适、也相对成熟的一块。

张亚勤:这个东西(指 AR/VR)已经做了很多年了,在实验室里面已经做了有三十年了。我记得我在 Sarnoff 就做这个东西,专门做 AR/VR 的广告牌。比如一个足球赛,你可以时时地替代这个广告,比如看到了一个可口可乐,你可以替掉它也好,或者了解这些信息也好,这些东西其实已经做了很多年了。所以这也是一个生态系统,就像视频也好,它本身就是一个生态系统。

首先,作为 Facebook 来讲,很有意思的一点是:本来人们分享的东西,它就不是为了生产力,它是为了有趣、好玩儿。当然最终可能可以成为生产力工具,但是现在我先好玩儿。Facebook 它本来就是一个工具,现在使得大家更开心了,更有趣了,然后到哪一天可能就会更用有了。

我觉得先是 kill time,另一个是 save time,save time 是生产力,Google 和微软经常干这个事儿。Facebook 是说我先 kill time,让你更开心。你看微软做什么,它的 HoloLens 还是卖给企业用户。而 Facebook 是让你 kill time,这两种都需要。而且这个世界走走,觉得可能更需要 kill time。

人类现在有几大需求,首先要吃饱,满足最基本的生活,自己的生存。后面是人要竞争,早期的竞争是通过战争,现在则是推动商业。未来可能更多的不是通过商业,商业只有老板在乎,一般人通过游戏,通过比赛。大部分人不能参加体育比赛,比如,我没法自己打橄榄球,但我可以玩游戏,这也是一种人类的竞争,我觉得以后可能越来越是 kill time

还有一个,我们可以看到公司在不同时候的不同形态。美国大部分分两种情况,一种是进化式的,一种是跨越式的。除了几个公司之外,大部分公司一大了之后都不喜欢跨越,能跨越的都是小公司,这也是一种很自然的状态。包括微软那个时候,Windows 做大了,Office 做大了,他也不愿意去颠覆自己。Google 是一个不同的公司,但是你发现它做的那些技术,也没有几个真正成为主流的产品。最终大公司当你有危机的时候,你发现我要做一些不同的事儿,能颠覆自己的公司其实挺少的。

而 Facebook 从 PC 向移动的转换已经算是非常不容易的了,通过自己转型,也通过购买。它买了 Instagram,而且买了 WhatsApp 之后和 Facebook Messenger 还能保持共存,所以我觉得这个还是相当的不容易的。

而且它的技术和 Google 比也不弱,而且相当清晰,就是在图像里,就是 LeCun 带的团队,他的人也不是很多,但是十分厉害。

百度的 AI 思路也同样清晰

事实上,所有的大公司都对自己的未来有着清晰的整体战略部署。在讲完了 Facebook 之后,我们也和张亚勤交流了百度公司对未来的看法和自身的整体战略规划。就像之前已经透露的信息一样,已经决定「all in」在 AI 上的百度已经有了很清晰的思路和规划,不管是 AI 时代的操作系统还是自己积累很久的搜索功能,都是他们重点发力的方向。

张亚勤:AI 以后可能真的不需要什么界面了,完全是自然的,人到哪里去,你的脸就是一个很自然的东西,你讲话也不需要按个东西,把什么 APP 打开。那个芯片可能会到你的袖口里面,甚至可以嵌入到你的皮肤下面。

这个是长期的东西,要慢慢来。

百度在这一两年的变化很大,现在我们的思路相当清晰,从 PC 互联到移动互联到 AI,这中间不可能一个东西忽然没了,再换一个东西,肯定是一个连续的发展。在这个 AI 时代我们要做三件事儿,第一个是打造一个 AI 实地的操作系统,就像 PC 时代是 Windows,移动时代是安卓和 iOS,那么 AI 也需要一个 OS,我们的度秘其实就是一个 AI 时代的操作系统。这个操作系统上面有我们的应用,也有第三方的应用。

操作系统需要服务两种对象,一个是服务普通用户,一个是服务企业用户。对普通用户,我们就是车和家,比如通过你的扬声器、你的冰箱,或者是无人驾驶车、自动驾驶车;而对企业用户则是通过云,上面有教育,医疗,交通,物流,制造业都可以,它是一个通用的。

所以相当清晰,就是一个横向的东西,加上一个普通用户的车和家,企业用户就是云,当然还有很多第三方的开发应用。

搜索也会是一个全新的搜索,我把它叫 new search,这个搜索也是在 AI 的基础上面。这个 new search 有三个层次,一个就是目前的搜索更加 AI 化,比如语音搜索,图象搜索,人脸搜索,在目前的手机的入口就可以变的更加智能。

第二是场景越来越多,过去可能是在手机上面,现在可能是在家、车,都是你的入口。其实搜索还是一个和信息交互的方式,只不过到了 AI 的时代,它的规模会大很多倍

在目前的进展来看,第一个就是搜索本身,这个增长速度很快,让信息先找人,主要是通过手机,这个是一个增长点;第二就是在云方面,下面的五年可能会打造一个全新的业务,这个增长速度也很快,去年我们刚刚推出来,今年的增长会相当快。

How does Facebook avoid paying tax, and what will the changes mean?

Q | How does Facebook currently avoid its UK taxes?

A | Like most US technology companies, it bases its international operations in Ireland, where corporate tax is 12.5 per cent compared with Britain’s 20 per cent. Until now, money made from sales to advertisers in the UK have been routed through Ireland.

facebook

Q | So it must pay huge taxes in Ireland?

A | Far from it. While making revenues of €4.83bn last year, Facebook Ireland paid only €3.4m in corporate taxes. That is because corporate tax is based on profit, not revenue, and Facebook Ireland makes very little profit.

Q | Why does Facebook Ireland make so little profit on all those billions of euros in sales?

A | Because it makes huge royalty payments for using Facebook’s technology to yet another Irish company called Facebook Holdings Limited. After paying all those royalties, Facebook Ireland is left making very little profit.

Q | So, is the subsidiary selling Facebook Ireland the royalties paying huge taxes?

A | No. While the subsidiary holding the royalties is based in Ireland, its tax domicile is in the Cayman Islands, which is tax-free. This tax trick is known as the “Double Irish”. In some cases, the royalties are technically held by a third holding company in Holland but funded by the Cayman-Irish business. This is known as the “Dutch sandwich” because the Netherlands entity sits between two Irish firms.

Q | What has Facebook agreed under its new  arrangements?

A | Facebook now says it will account for sales made to big advertisers in the UK through its British company rather than funnelling them over to Ireland. That means it will be paying tax on any profits at the UK corporate tax rate of 20 per cent.

Q | So, how much UK tax will it be paying?

A | That’s impossible to say, because Facebook UK may still be making royalty payments offshore. Reports have suggested it will be paying millions of pounds more in UK tax than it was, but we will not know until the relevant UK accounts appear. Given that it is not starting the new system until the 2017 tax year, we will have to wait until 2018 for the accounts. Also, Facebook UK has accrued £21m of tax losses which it is allowed to set against profits in future years. That means it could still be paying no tax for years to come.

Q | What drove it to make the change?

A | Negative publicity is likely to have played a large part, but Facebook may also have been influenced by new UK rules known as the Diverted Profits Tax.  Aimed at big companies using international tax avoidance tricks, this effectively means the taxman can make his own estimate of what their UK profits are based on their sales here. This so-called Google tax is levied at a higher-than-normal rate of 25 per cent and is one of the first examples in the world of tax being calculated on sales rather than profit.

How to create a permanent facebook Page access token

I suggest using the Graph API Explorer for all of these steps except where otherwise stated.

0. Create Facebook App

If you already have an app, skip to step 1.

  1. Go to My Apps.
  2. Click “+ Add a New App”.
  3. Setup a website app.

You don’t need to change its permissions or anything. You just need an app that wont go away before you’re done with your access token.

1. Get User Short-Lived Access Token

  1. Go to the Graph API Explorer.
  2. Select the application you want to get the access token for.
  3. Click “Get Access Token”.
  4. In the pop-up, under the “Extended Permissions” tab, check “manage_pages”.
  5. Click “Get Access Token”.
  6. Grant access from a Facebook account that has access to manage the target page. Note that if this user loses access the final, never-expiring access token will likely stop working.

Token that appears in the “Access Token” field is your short-lived access token.

2. Generate Long-Lived Access Token

Following these instructions from the Facebook docs, make a GET request to

https://graph.facebook.com/v2.2/oauth/access_token?grant_type=fb_exchange_token&client_id={app_id}&client_secret={app_secret}&fb_exchange_token={short_lived_token}

entering in your app’s ID and secret and the short-lived token generated in the previous step.

You cannot use the Graph API Explorer. For some reason it gets stuck on this request. I think it’s because the response isn’t JSON, but a query string. Since it’s a GET request, you can just go to the URL in your browser.

The response should look like this:

access_token=ABC123&expires=5182959

“ABC123” will be your long-lived access token. You can put it into the Access Token Debugger to verify. Under “Expires” it should have something like “2 months”.

4. Get User ID

Using the long-lived access token, make a GET request to

https://graph.facebook.com/v2.2/me?access_token={long_lived_access_token}

The id field is your account ID. You’ll need it for the next step.

5. Get Permanent Page Access Token

Make a GET request to

https://graph.facebook.com/v2.2/{account_id}/accounts?access_token={long_lived_access_token}

The JSON response should have a data field under which is an array of items the user has access to. Find the item for the page you want the permanent access token from. The access_token field should have your permanent access token. Copy it and test it in the Access Token Debugger. Under “Expires” it should say “Never”.

How to get a permanent access token for your facebook Page?

Personal note: I’ve tried this. It seems that if you follow EVERY step, you will be able to get a “never expiring” page access token. However, it doesn’t seem that making a post to the page is possible? Let me take a closer look into this…

Having found that it is possible to generate a Facebook Page Access Token that does not expire (with help from @Igy), here is a clear, step-by-step quide for all those looking to the same:

  1. Make sure you are the admin of the FB page you wish to pull info from
  2. Create a FB App (should be with the same user account that is the page admin)
  3. Head over to the Facebook Graph API Explorer
  4. On the top right, select the FB App you created from the “Application” drop down list
  5. Click “Get Access Token”
  6. Make sure you add the manage_pages permission
  7. Convert this short-lived access token into a long-lived one by making this Graph API call (in a browser): https://graph.facebook.com/oauth/access_token?client_id=<your FB App ID >&client_secret=<your FB App secret>&grant_type=fb_exchange_token&fb_exchange_token=<your short-lived access token>
  8. Grab the new long-lived access token returned back
  9. Make a Graph API call to see your accounts using the new long-lived access token (in a browser): https://graph.facebook.com/me/accounts?access_token=<your long-lived access token>
  10. Grab the access_token for the page you’ll be pulling info from
  11. Lint the token to see that it is set to Expires: Never!

That should do it. You should now have a Facebook Page Access Token that doesn’t expire!