If you have yet to watch The Great Hack on Netflix, this documentary perfectly exemplifies the media-cum-technology-cum-political monster that Facebook has become. It narrates the story of Cambridge Analytica’s unethical data mining exercise for political gain in the US general election, and in many other national democracies. Following the outbreak of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began doing the rounds on Twitter in March 2018.
Two weeks ago, #DeleteFacebook trended again, with 54,000 tweets mentioning the tag as of Monday 14 October. It seems that Zuckerberg and his inner circle have learned very little, if anything, from the first round of deletions, after which 74 per cent of Facebook users took some steps to protect their privacy on the site.
Instead, Zuckerberg and his posse dove straight into the belly of the beast, having a ‘secret dinner’ with conservative politicians. Reported by Politico, the dinner was said to have agenda items that included free expression, ‘unfair treatment’ of conservatives, and potential partnerships. The discussion about free expression seems to be in direct contradiction to Facebook’s mini army of contracted content moderators, whose very job, like it or not, is to limit speech that is a little too free.
When questioned on his choice of dinner buddies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Zuckerberg stated, “I have dinner with lots of people across the spectrum […] hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!” Not only does this flippancy entirely miss Facebook’s awkward history with right-wing propaganda, but by this logic, Zuckerberg should also be inviting the Dems for cocktails after legal proceedings. I can’t imagine there would be great warmth towards a guest who points out the specific “conflict of interest between Facebook’s bottom line and immediately addressing political disinformation,” as the letter sent by the committee’s Democrats to Facebook said.
To that, Facebook’s mighty leader has retorted that he, too, “worries deeply about an erosion of truth.” It’s not long before he adds that it is simply “something we have to live with.” This casual dismissal of the call for Facebook to begin fact-checking political—and other—communications only serves to prove that Zuckerberg isn’t quite in line with the power of the beast he has created.
Facebook is neither a media platform nor a news aggregator. It is neither a communication tool nor a market researcher. It is all of the above and more, rolled into one, and that alone means that Facebook needs to hold more accountability for the content disseminated on the platform. Why fact-checking in marketing communications is not yet commonplace is beyond me—a moment of silence for Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bus—but when one organisation is in control of audience segmentation, communications methods, media planning, and even the performance analytics, we must also, as consumers, remain aware of what this means for democratic media.
During the congressional testimony last Wednesday, where Zuckerberg was due to discuss Libra, he also faced a range of questions from congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about Facebook’s ties to white supremacist groups. “Could I pay to target predominantly black zip codes and pay to advertise to them the incorrect election date?” she asked, proving her point by underlining that Facebook doesn’t fact check ads.
We already knew about the various privacy issues associated with Facebook. That, in isolation, has clearly not been enough for people to want to #DeleteFacebook. It certainly wasn’t for me, after I found the right settings to toggle with. But that was, and still is, very much the problem we know. The territory we are edging into now is that of the problems we don’t know; of Facebook shaping our collective subconscious through subliminal and targeted messaging, while at the same time blurring facts with fiction for business and, potentially, political gain.
This is why it might finally be time to #DeleteFacebook. Simply deactivating your account will not do, as the data remains stored and ready for you to log back in whenever you are in need of a quick meme fix. Deletion needs to be requested, would you believe, with a 90-day lead time before all data is completely wiped from Facebook’s servers. You must also remember to either delete or change the login credentials for any applications you may have linked to your account through Facebook Connect, for easy, single-sign-on login.
It is surprisingly difficult to delete Facebook, both from a process perspective and, somewhat, from a personal perspective. Every time I try to do it, I realise just how many Facebook tendrils are spread far and wide throughout my digital footprint, and how much I rely on it for research, information, and communications. “It’s not just a social media platform,” says Ifeoma Ajunwa, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cornell University, “but also almost like a meeting square.”
John Biggs of TechCrunch continues the ironic, historical-political analogy: “In the absence of a Town Square, we talk to ourselves. In the absence of love and understanding, we join the slow riot of online indifference.” It is this very indifference that will, most likely, keep Facebook afloat.
Facebook’s strained attempt to launch Libra, a globalised cryptocurrency, is evidence of cracks in its facade. Prominent brands in the payments industry, such as Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal have already backed out of supporting Libra, essentially rendering the currency defunct until Zuckerberg is able to outline some of the security implications of having consumers’ finances and marketing preferences under one roof. Does he plan to split the businesses, as Senator Elizabeth Warren has suggested? Or do we have a multi-industry, cross-sector monopoly on our hands? I’m not sure I want to keep to my Facebook profile until we know for sure. Are you?
No offence to Mark Zuckerberg, but he is probably the last person I would go to if I wanted to find love. Last week, Facebook officially launched Facebook Dating in the U.S., a new product by the social media giant that would serve as a dating app and the first step the company has taken towards meddling in our love lives. The question is, do we really need Facebook to jump on the bandwagon of dating apps?
When it comes to authenticity, it is no secret that the company has a history of stealing ideas from others. Remember when Facebook tried to buy Snapchat, Snapchat refused and as a result both Facebook and Instagram (also owned by Facebook) introduced a story feature? Instagram stories are now significantly more popular than Snapchat ones, and Snapchat is losing users by the day—I don’t actually remember the last time I opened the app, yet Instagram makes over 35 percent of my weekly screen time (please don’t judge me). That said, it is no surprise that Facebook is now trying to capitalise on love and the digital hook-up culture, a market worth billions, with Tinder making $120 million in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2019 alone. But will Facebook be successful?
There are, of course, various concerns that this feature won’t really take off. Few people use Facebook the same way we did ten years ago, when the network was at its prime. Gone are the days of cringe status updates. Both Twitter and Instagram have replaced the space for us to constantly share updates of our daily lives through pictures or tweets (among gen Z and millenials at the very least. I don’t know about you, but my granddad shares his opinions on Facebook like there is no tomorrow). The social network has also been decreasing in overall popularity, as it is evident that less and less people use it, with many of us only keeping our profiles as a means of communication with family, people from high school or as a place to absorb our news intake.
In addition to this, there are already many successful and popular dating apps we already know and love, from Feeld and Hinge to Bumble and Tinder. It’s no secret, then, that Facebook is coming to this party a little late. It’s not a particularly ‘cool’ social media network, nor does it have a good reputation when it comes to data privacy. But Facebook isn’t trying to imitate the usual features of dating apps nor participate in the dating culture that these apps have created, or so it says.
Dating apps have changed dating as we know it, creating a culture of ghosting, leading on, and overall uncertainty within our relationships. The constant pursuit of something meaningful (or not) through swiping hundreds of people a day reminds us that there are more options out there, and that choosing to go on dates with strangers we virtually know nothing about is exhausting. Facebook Dating wants to change that. The company has access to information about its users’ location, jobs, education, hobbies, family members and even previous dating history, which would then make it easier to match them algorithmically according to all these factors. Essentially, making it easier to match with somebody you will have things in common with.
Users have the option to opt in or out of matching with their Facebook friend’s friends, and although it wouldn’t match them with their own Facebook friends, there is a feature titled ‘Secret Crush’. This feature allows users to select up to nine of their Facebook friends whom they have a crush on, and if it is reciprocated by them via their selection of secret crushes, Facebook notifies both parties. While it does sound sweet in its own odd and digital way, do we really want to share our crushes with Facebook? The same Facebook that sold our data to Cambridge Analytica?
While you and your secret Facebook crush might be a perfect match, data privacy and Facebook aren’t. Far from it, just last week over 419 million Facebook users’ phone numbers were leaked, as the server was not protected with a password, meaning anyone could access it. The company has been involved in so many scandals over data privacy over the past years, it would be almost gullible to trust the new dating service (after all, it does match you according to your data).
So while you might be able to find love, or whatever it is you are looking for, doing it on Facebook comes with a high cost. So be ready to hand over your personal data. Is your secret crush worth it?