Facebook (FB) is no doubt one of the most popular tech stocks out there. The market cap of Facebook as of this writing is 368 B - it's nearly the size of Amazon.
But what does Facebook really do? This question has been asked of tech stocks since the .com bubble. But many tech stocks, for example Amazon (AMZN) perform a number of useful, tech services. In the case of Amazon they have hundreds of niche services many haven't even heard of, such as Amazon Web Services (which is cloud computing, hosting, and related services), publication services for authors including a full life cycle publishing solution through Kindle, Shipping storing fulfillment and logistics services for small businesses; the list goes on and on and on.
This opinion about Facebook isn't rare - there's actually a huge movement of users who have deleted their profiles and refuse to ever use the service again. Here's one power user, a Forbes contributor, who dumped Facebook, and explains reasons why:
It's official. I'm off the Facebook FB -0.02% grid. Nobody offended me. I didn't have a bad experience. While I'm not thrilled about the idea of Big Brother watching my every move, I'm not particularly paranoid about social media sharing. Therefore, I'm sharing why I'm dumping Facebook and committing to Twitter and Instagram. 1) Facebook sucks time from my life, and unlike money, time is a zero sum game 2) Most of my Facebook friends aren't (actually friends).3) There are other (better) options for photo sharing.4) Facebook brings out the worst in people.5) I learn more on Twitter. 6) The presence of ads on Facebook is getting ridiculous. 7) Less is more. Goodbye, Facebook. Follow me on Twitter: @TimMaurer.
This is just one example. There's actually a flood of people fleeing the platform, they've even created names for Facebook to describe their feelings, like "Fake Book" and others.
What is the straw that broke the camel's back? It was the recent election news cycle. "Fake News" was blamed as having a part in shaping an online discussion about political issues. Sites that broadcast this alleged "Fake News" like Facebook (FB) are being investigated, and users are questioning their use of the sites:
For weeks, Facebook has been questioned about its role in spreading fake news. Now the company has mounted its most concerted effort to combat the problem.
Since the election drama, there's all sorts of accusations both internally and from users as well:
Facebook has been in the eye of a postelection storm for the last few days, embroiled in accusations that it helped spread misinformation and fake news stories that influenced how the American electorate voted. The online conversation among Facebook's executives on Tuesday, which was one of several private message threads that began among the company's top ranks, showed that the social network was internally questioning what its responsibilities might be.
Even as Facebook has outwardly defended itself as a nonpartisan information source - Mark. Zuckerberg, chairman and chief executive, said at a conference on Thursday that Facebook affecting the election was "a pretty crazy idea" - many company executives and employees have been asking one another if, or how, they shaped the minds, opinions and votes of Americans.
We need to take a step back and understand the origins of Facebook as have been revealed in the last years. Facebook isn't just a startup, it has some interesting backers and partners. It was revealed recently that Facebook was part of a broad program to collect user information they publicly volunteered on social media platforms on behalf of the intelligence community. PRISM is just one program but the most bright example of how social media was used to collect intelligence - you can read more about PRISM here. Not only was the NSA and CIA seed stage investors in Facebook under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) they were active customers. This data they extracted didn't come free - they would pay for it, both with cash and favors. Favors that helped Facebook become the 368 B market cap behemoth that it has become.
All of this however, can potentially crumble. Not only is Facebook under investigation about manipulating public opinion with their 'news algorithm' - it's under scrutiny from potentially one of the most powerful people in the world, president-elect Trump.
How Trump's reported plans to restructure the intelligence agencies figure into this plan remains to be seen. This week, he selected former senator Dan Coats as his Director of National Intelligence, a position he reportedly considered abolishing earlier.
But case in point; Trump is in a quagmire due to his extensive international business units that can all pose a potential conflict of interest when he's in office. As a President first and business owner second, he's dealing with it. But from that perspective, would he perceive that it's a conflict of interest for the intelligence community to directly invest, control, and partner with US tech companies on US soil - especially those such as the CIA that according to their mandate, only operate internationally? According to the CIA's own website:
By law, the CIA is specifically prohibited from collecting foreign intelligence concerning the domestic activities of US citizens. Its mission is to collect information related to foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence. By direction of the president in Executive Order 12333 of 1981 and in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General, the CIA is restricted in the collection of intelligence information directed against US citizens. Collection is allowed only for an authorized intelligence purpose; for example, if there is a reason to believe that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. The CIA's procedures require senior approval for any such collection that is allowed, and, depending on the collection technique employed, the sanction of the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General may be required. These restrictions on the CIA have been in effect since the 1970s.
That's probably why InQTel makes their host clients sign NDAs! If Facebook can't disclose them as an investor, it can never be proven they are involved in domestic intelligence even if indirectly, as the evidence could be thrown out of court due legal technicalities of how it entered the process of discovery (against the NDA). The author is not a lawyer to elaborate on how the NSA and CIA protect themselves from classified disclosures and lawsuits or worse, but they do have the best lawyers in America and even their own special court, called the FISA court, which is like a secret, classified court.
So if the NSA/CIA is 'restructured' - would they look at InQTel and their affiliates? Is it a potential conflict of interest that the NSA/CIA has a vested interest in a company like Facebook that has been accused of shaping the election domestically? It's unusual for the NSA/CIA to get involved in domestic politics. They have a history for fixing foreign elections, there are more than 100 countries where the NSA/CIA has either fixed the elections, or tried to, or tried to manipulate the local politics. But they've never done it domestically, at least to this extent. If they are investigated and restructured, and 'de-politicized' - it can also lead to an investigation or restructuring in the least, of their public tech assets, companies like Facebook . This may sound like a big roundabout way to make a case; but consider that the NSA/CIA's connection to Facebook is 1) not often talked about and 2) widely misinterpreted. In fact, they are a large part of the success of Facebook because well, they have really good connections!
Readers should note that, the CIA takes direction from the NSC, which is led by the President.
Facebook itself doesn't develop technology or offer a 'product' as does a company like IBM (IBM) or even Apple (AAPL). Facebook 's entire model is based on advertising, and now they have been buying companies that actually build and develop technology. But the core of Facebook is essentially, a house of cards built on the egos of its users and the illusionary world they allow people to create for themselves. This is not a stable business!
None of this is going to be reflected in the numbers, it's hard to quantify. Even with a huge collapse Facebook is going to be around probably forever, but shareholders should take note of these major demographic trends that can cause a severe decline in the stock price as well as en-masse abandonment of the platform, at least from it's US users. In foreign markets, it's not clear if Facebook can be the dominating platform, as countries have their own platforms specific to their own culture, the best example being Russia's VK which penetrates 99% of the market. Other countries have their own respective VK's - so it's not clear if Facebook could make up for the US issue with non-US business.
Finally, Facebook is littered with spam and fake accounts. Facebook claims to be aware of this issue, but it continues to be an ongoing problem. Local Police are even creating fake accounts for the purpose of monitoring local activity:
Police departments around the nation have taken predictive crime prevention to a new level by building fake user accounts, as well as posing as genuine people to gather information about local events, Tech.Mic reports.
Local agents put on a "digital mask" and pose as "members of the community," allowing them to gather personal information about suspects they consider a high risk of being involved in a future crime or have existing charges.
In a social media guide for law enforcement officialspublished by the Justice Department, the document details, officers create fraudulent profiles even though Facebook officially bans the practice.
That's right - the Police have a guide on the creation of fake accounts in order to participate in the growing field of 'pre-crime' published by the Department of Justice. You can download and read this manual by clicking here. From the introduction:
Police departments also have begun to explore the use of social media to obtain information, especially for tactical purposes, such as gathering information about threats of mob violence, riots, or isolated criminal activity during otherwiselawful mass demonstrations.
There's even guides on how to create a fake account on sites like lifehacker.com - that's not considering the companies that have made a business out of facebook-spam including but not limited to the US Military, via their Ntrepid software:
The U.S. Military is about to get into the business of lurking on forums and hanging around social media sites in a big way. Central Command (Centcom) is teaming up with a company called Ntrepid on software that will allow military users to create and manage multiple fake-but-convincing social media accounts, "replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent."
The military says these sockpuppet accounts will support "classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
So here we have several cases of PUBLIC NOTIFICATIONS where organizations have stated PUBLICLY that they are creating fake accounts EN MASSE. That doesn't consider the thousands or perhaps millions of companies that do this privately, as a business. Here's just one example of a site that simply sells Facebook (FB) accounts, buyaccs.com and why not, they have a 'bulk' discount for lazy spammers that don't want to go through the trouble of creating their own army of fake accounts like the US military says they will do. Here's an image of the site in case it gets taken down - you can see price per account, and how many accounts available per provider. If these are all 'real' accounts - who would 'sell' their Facebook account? And how would they possibly have so many in such large quantities?
Facebook and supporters of Facebook is in denial about how spammy Facebook has become. They are further blinded by the fact that ad-dollars have continued to roll into Facebook's ad platform, which has put the issue of fake accounts on the back burner.
As an aside, Google (GOOG) has always had a problem with click fraud, but they developed highly sophisticated algorithms to detect click fraud, it's not 100% accurate but works really well, according to advertisers and publishers. Legitimate publishers and advertisers both don't want fraudulent clicks even if it's as simple as a publisher clicking on his own ad (this is filtered by a simple IP algorithm). Google protects advertisers by finding invalid clicks (not genuine) and refunding the fees generated and in extreme cases, banning the publisher involved. It's unknown how much Google invested in the development of this system, but it works.
Not only has Facebook not attempted to do something like this, they don't even go after companies who have made a business out of hacking and spamming Facebook - they encourage it! They have changed their 'real name policies' but that's superficial, robots that create fake accounts have always used real names or names that sound real, i.e. Archimbaldo Ultsright, James Terefin, Haggo de Blazio, Horatio de Pulpa, if you aren't creative here's a fake name generator, similar to what all the robots use.
All of this information is of course, from the technical perspective of Facebook it says nothing about the earnings, the actual revenue Facebook has received and so on. Detractors of this Fakebook theory will claim this is all being dealt with. What they are failing to realize is how fragile the Facebook model is. Take a look at another example - many think Apple is overpriced. But Apple can't be replicated in one weekend with a few million dollars - Facebook can, and has. There are thousands of competition social network sites that many have started using instead of Facebook . As isn't sitting on a really unique technology / patent portfolio, the only thing keeping them at the top are their really high end connections, including but not limited to Silicon Valley and associated Billionaires, the NSA/CIA apparatus, and the marketing / advertising industry which has a vested interest to see Facebook be an 'alternative' to the main stream media which is declining in relevance.
So, longs should be concerned about this and at the least, hedge your positions and in the most prudent, get out and find something with real value like Overstock.com (OSTK) as we have mentioned in a previous article. There's hundreds of better tech plays out there that are real deep value plays. Facebook is due for a major face-lift, and the current management is not willing to face the facts: Facebook is Fake.
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