I’ve been equivocal about Facebook for a while now, and the news of the last week has me re-considering even my reduced activity on the world’s largest social network.
What’s surprising to me is that a lot of other people apparently are too.
Social networks are notoriously fragile—remember MySpace? Friendster?—but Facebook was thought to be beyond such vulnerabilities. Indeed, it had grown into one of the two digital behemoths looming over Internet advertising (beside Google), with more than $40 billion in revenue in 2017 alone.
But maybe it IS vulnerable if enough people lose faith in it.
And maybe that’s happening, because this is the biggest story on The Verge right now.
And Brian Acton, who sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 (for $19 billion) Tweeted this today.
And my various news feeds are mighty skeptical about Facebook. Many folks I knew were already exhausted by the political proselytizing and in-fighting that have become a persistent feature for the past two years, but this is something different: a feeling of vulnerability among users regarding the platform itself, rather than the people who populate it, as an unsafe space.
I’m not convinced that what Cambridge Analytica did actually moved the election. There’s a good story from Wired that explains how difficult a trick that would be. Given how small the margin between victory and defeat were, though, it’s possible.
My overarching concern is that this case highlights just how little Facebook values the personal in personal data. And while I am not alarmed about my personal data per se, a platform that can take mine and aggregate it with billions of other people’s data concerns me in that there is a possibility to create tremendous vulnerability at a societal level. I worry that another outfit will soon (or might already be able to) pull together the data with a more-perfect model. (There are plenty of other players in this space, and not all may be as reckless as CA, for good or bad, and might cover their tracks more effectively.)
Most importantly, Facebook in its actions appears largely indifferent to what happens to and with all this data after someone pays for it. Their lack of response so far to the crisis, and the upcoming departure of security chief Alex Stamos reportedly after clashes over how to share information from their internal investigations, are all bad signs. It’s also annoying to hear Zuckerberg and Co. deny the efficacy of Facebook ads to impact behavior when that’s the entire premise of the business, which has been phenomenally lucrative over the past decade.
In the short term, I am interrogating my Facebook presence. I went through Facebook’s settings (Buzzfeed has a good article on where to find them) and saw that I had allowed more than 130 apps to see my Facebook data. I removed a lot of those, and more will go when I find some additional time. Also, I was allowing friends’ accounts to access my data. Done—and sorry, friends, for exposing your data this past decade.
So let’s take the creative leap that billions migrate away from Facebook, maybe not wholly, but enough that they need another channel for their online-digital activity. Where do they go next? I don’t think it exists yet.
I don’t think it’s Vero, this year’s creatives’ social network du jour.
I enjoy Twitter, but everyone isn’t there and it’s best use is for commenting on the events of the day, not for dropping a CONGRATS under the photo from my friend’s kid’s graduation party.
Snapchat and Instagram, too, trade in something different—media-heavy platforms for sharing events more than thoughts, and confusing enough that people don’t know how to connect there as easily as on Facebook. They can handle the graduation party, perhaps, maybe even better than Facebook, but I’m not so sure about them for more thoughtful sharing.
I loved Path, but it’s mobile-only and never quite grew up all the way. WeChat, WhatsApp, Telegram, even Apple iMessage … all healthy messaging and social platforms, but it’s hard to see any of them replacing the big blue F.
My thought as of 9:33 pm Tuesday, March 20, is that I’ll leverage my blog, or TinyLetter, and use that to share thoughts, both long and shorter form, then turn to Twitter for the quick hits.
Regardless, I am committed to further limiting my Facebook exposure until I feel I must—either for work (I have worked in digital media for the past two decades) or because something fundamental changes with the platform. I wouldn’t hold my breath. (As of 9:08 a.m. Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg has avoided speaking on the situation.)
If you’re looking for a read to understand what Cambridge Analytica was trying to do, you could do worse than this from Wired.com. It’s written by Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former member of Facebook’s monetization team. If you don’t want to, know that he’s skeptical about the effectiveness of the campaign, and explains why in a clear-eyed way.
Among his observations:
One of the real macro stories about this election and Facebook’s involvement is how many of the direct-response advertising techniques (such as online retargeting) that are commonplace in commercial advertising are now making their way into political advertising. It seems the same products that can sell you soap and shoes can also sell you on a political candidate.
Also here’s the story that started it all this weekend, via the NYTimes.
And the latest, from Politico, on the Trump campaign efforts to distance itself from this garbage fire:
Before you get too nostalgic about Facebook’s demise, Marketwatch points out that this is likely a great opportunity for stock buyers.
Where’s Facebook’s leadership? I like this from Tech Crunch.
Wired, which had a great deep read on Facebook in last month’s issue, offers a lot of insight into what’s been going on behind the scenes as the company maintains a public silence—including how to handle the fact that a psychologist who helped found CA now works at Facebook!
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