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Is Facebook, Inc. a Blockchain Player or a Poser?

Josh Enomoto

It’s amazing what a little desperation can inspire! Earlier this year, Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) announced that it was going to ban all advertising for cryptocurrencies. The reason? The social media giant stated that blockchain reward tokens are “frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”

Isn’t that called advertising?

I’m only half-joking. At the time, Facebook, Inc. had legitimate concerns that some initial coin offerings, or ICOs, were scams. To avoid any associations with investment-related schemes, management intentionally broadened its draconian scope. Apparently, such moral rigor doesn’t include allowing data miners to overstep privacy rules and, ultimately, help make America great again.

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But prior to the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the message was more #FollowFacebook than #DeleteFacebook. Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) banned cryptocurrency advertisements, followed by a similar announcement from Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR).

Now, Facebook, Inc. wants to reverse direction. On Tuesday, the company made one of its biggest leadership changes in its history. But within this surprising proclamation was a curious development: FB was launching a blockchain division. Not only that, the markets appreciated the news. Facebook stock took a modest step forward, extending gains from its recovery efforts.

It’s unclear what the company intends to do with its newly created blockchain division. Officially, FB concedes that it’s “starting from scratch.” However, the blockchain’s inherent immutability comes to mind.

Although no system is perfect, a blockchain network in the absence of a concerted attack is largely immutable. What this means is that transactions that are validated via consensus can’t be changed or reversed. Of course, this has obvious implications for restoring the public trust.

However, will the company’s change of heart convince investors to buy Facebook stock?

Buy Facebook Stock for the Fundamentals, Not the Blockchain

As a strong proponent of cryptocurrencies, you might assume that I’m bullish on Facebook, Inc. And, indeed, I am, but not necessarily because it’s implementing a blockchain business. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s a very positive step. However, it’s easy to get caught up in blockchain mysticism.

What’s blockchain mysticism, you ask? It’s the misguided idea that this emerging and disruptive technology cures all problems and ailments.

A great example is Overstock.com Inc (NASDAQ:OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne. Last year, Byrne joined forces with economist Hernando de Soto to discuss how the blockchain can resolve world poverty. According to their thesis, property rights (or lack thereof) forms poverty’s basis. By allowing individuals to record their property rights in the immutable blockchain, the poor can lift themselves up.

I marvel at how such smart and distinguished people can come up with something so stupid and patronizing. Property rights are enforced through only one medium: the barrel of a gun. Only violence and the threat of violence can protect property; everything else is a joke.

So long as Mark Zuckerberg and company don’t suffer from absolute insanity, I’m willing to buy Facebook stock. But the thing is, I had this opinion long before their newfound blockchain venture.

I’m not entirely convinced that the blockchain would actually change social media platforms for the better. What people love about social media is total control of their account. They decide what to disclose or how their content is edited.

Technically speaking, the immutability factor prevents content-editing on a blockchain-based platform. Given that we all make mistakes, such permanence is ultimately a liability for Facebook stock.

Facebook, Inc. Can Benefit as a Blockchain Facilitator

With that said, the blockchain news is still a net positive. Digital payments are all the rage these days and cryptocurrencies are at the forefront. Management can easily score points by embracing this new technology, not shunning it.

This starts with reversing its draconian stance on crypto-based advertising. I understand that management wants to protect the public from scams. However, their “nanny state” ethos didn’t do anything to protect the American electorate from Russian trolls and fake news. They’ve also failed horrifically in preventing criminal broadcasts via Facebook Live.

In other words, we opened Pandora’s box a long time ago. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Hopefully, management can use their new division as an educational opportunity. A blockchain project is only as good as the people behind it — that is, not all ICOs are one and the same.

I support Zuckerberg’s apparent sentiment shift, and I wish Facebook stock and its shareholders well. However, I would view this news item against a broader framework. Yes, it’s a positive, but it’s not necessarily a gamechanger.

As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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