Throwing the Book at Facebook

I am distraught by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In case I have any readers who don’t pay specific attention to social media news, let me catch you up. Facebook was recently embroiled in a national scandal after it was revealed that it indirectly supplied personal data about 87 million of its users to a political firm called Cambridge Analytica, who then used it to construct psychological profiles during the 2016 Election to try and influence voter opinion. Which is sketchy enough, but the issue is further complicated by the the fact that the data was supplied without the knowledge or consent of any one of those 87 million users. You can read more details about the scandal here.

Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.
Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.

In the wake of it all, Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, debates have been ongoing about whether Facebook should have been more forthcoming about the leak or should perhaps be better regulated, and for perhaps the first time in its digital lifetime, the #DeleteFacebook movement seems to be gaining serious traction. But the real question is: Are we prepared to actually bail on the social media giant? The real answer is: Probably not.

I’ve always had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook myself. I don’t love its sketchy origin story, I don’t particularly like its design, I don’t love that despite years of complaint we still cannot display posts in our feeds in chronological order, and now, I really don’t like that they play it extraordinarily fast and loose with our personal details. But there are a lot of things that I love and couldn’t give up about Facebook. The biggest of them all being that everyone is on Facebook. It’s hard to convert to solely using the Twitter or Google+ or Instagram’s of the world if only a fraction of the people you want to stay in touch with are using them. I mean, I probably even use Facebook’s proprietary Messenger app more than I use the one built into my phone for text messaging. It’s convenient, it’s what people know, and it isn’t likely to change without a good reason for people to change. MySpace eventually collapsed to Facebook because it was better to look at, it felt more exclusive (it was originally just for college students, after all!), it was user-friendly, and nobody had to worry about encountering unexpected Creed or Nickelback songs when they were searching for their friends. Facebook is king for a reason, folks.

But it also scares me. Shortly after the scandal became public knowledge, Facebook informed me that I was one of those 87 million users who had used the “This Is Your Digital Life” app that harvested all the data for Cambridge Analytica. Though I always try to remain open-minded and think for myself, what if I think a certain way because of how events were painted on social media? What if that’s the case for what you believe? What if an organization far more sinister than Cambridge Analytica were given our data? It’s a bit of a chilling thought! I took the opportunity to download all of my Facebook data myself a few weeks ago, and what I found was pretty eye-opening. All of my posts, photos, comments, likes, etc. were present and accounted for, of course. But so was an alarming amount of details that shouldn’t have been, such as the contact information from my phone… which includes contact information for people who don’t even have Facebook accounts! Also, fitting in with the whole purpose of Cambridge Analytica’s leak, I was also surprised to find that I was categorized as “Liberal,” despite the fact that I don’t consider myself loyal to and have never pledged allegiance to any political party on my profile.

The only solution that I’ve been able to come to without outright deleting my Facebook profile is to de-personalize it a bit. It’s still an excellent tool for sharing stuff, publicizing things that I’m into, and most importantly, staying in touch. I don’t think I could give up Messenger or sharing stupid videos at this point if I wanted to. But I’ll probably be scrubbing a lot of personal information off of it soon. I’ll be posting a lot less personal stories on there. I’ve closed the Facebook page for Tigger and Rufus (sorry fans, I know they’re sooo cute!). And I’ll instead be trying to strengthen my digital presence on this blog and on my other social spaces like Twitter and the like. If you aren’t following me, check out the top of the sidebar to your right! I’m on basically all the things!

Maybe it’ll turn out to actually be a good thing for this blog. Instead of blabbing all my stories on Facebook, I’ll actually be able to reserve some of them for this space instead. And I can still use Facebook to promote that I’ve posted. Win-win? Sounds like it to me!

Tell me all your thoughts on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica below!

Author: Joseph Black

According to Wikipedia, I discovered magnesium and carbon dioxide, so that's something.

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