Is Facebook The Most Powerful Thing Ever Invented?

Fast Company titled the interview Why Facebook is Even Bigger than You Think. It starts with this subtitle:

Stanford University professor BJ Fogg explains why the social networking site is the most powerful thing ever invented.

Strong words. In the actual text, Fogg is only slightly less majestic:

Facebook is the precursor of something I’m calling mass interpersonal persuasion. That is a new phenomenon and the most important thing to happen in the world of persuasion since the advent of the radio over 100 years ago. Radio changed the game for persuasion because it allowed a message to be broadcast to thousands and millions of people, which was previously not possible. TV was an extension of that, but I don’t think it was the big leap that radio was.

Facebook takes very strong interpersonal influence dynamics — the way people persuade each other face-to-face in small groups with peer pressure, reciprocity, flattery — and allows those to be used on a mass scale because your social networks are built in. Friends influence friends, who influence friends, and that keeps rippling out. They can reach people very quickly for very little cost and ordinary people can set these in motion. It doesn’t require a big broadcasting company or a big PR campaign. If you get the right message in the right way, you’ll effect millions of people. Facebook has been the best platform for that, but I think in the future it will be commonplace.

Writing about the same interview, Steve King at Small Biz Labs holds back only a bit —

While I think things like the wheel, printing press, steam engine, antibiotics and few other inventions might place just slightly ahead of Facebook on the all time list, online social networking is clearly important.

Steve adds:

The Society for New Communications Research recently released a study showing that consumers are increasingly using social media as described by Fogg.  And while I believe online social media usage is not yet fully mainstream, the era of mass interpersonal persuasion has clearly begun.

Sure, all of this may be a bit exaggerated. But as Bob Dylan said in Ballad of a Thin Man: “Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”


  • BJ Fogg says:

    @ Jamie –

    I would have to disagree and say that Facebook is different. You cannot just replace it with the word "Internet." Facebook is a high trust environment whereas the Internet is not. The Internet is like the wild west. For Facebook, a high trust, high credibility environment sets them apart. The implication being that if they lose their high trust brand, they've lost everything. Establishing high credibility just doesn't happen as easily on the open Internet.

    There is more about this in my paper on mass interpersonal persuasion:

    BJ Fogg
    Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

  • Tim Berry says:

    Jamie: good point.

  • Jamie says:

    I would argue that you could replace every instance of the word 'Facebook' in this post with 'The Internet,' and it would read roughly the same.

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