For all the waffling we've all done about maybe one day jumping ship from the world's most invasive social media platform, this week it really seems to be happening for a lot of people.
#DeleteFacebook. It's trending.
But why? And will you?
Well the big news is not really NEWS so much as it is specific detail about something people have suspected all along: The monumental loads of data Facebook is collecting on its users has fallen into the wrong hands and been weaponized. To be more precise: A pro-Trump company called Cambridge Analytica illegally obtained 50 million Facebook users' data and then used it to help swing the election for Donald Trump. This comes according to reports filed by the New York Times and the Observer, and has created quite a situation for the social media platform.
Now Facebook is in hot water in the UK, with Parliament calling on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify, and here in the US, with the FTC investigating whether the company violated data privacy laws. And this means tough stuff for Facebook's bottom line, with the company losing $50 billion in market value as of Wednesday afternoon in the wake of this data news.
Users under 25 have been turning away from Facebook for some time now, with market analysts expecting the company to see anywhere from 5 percent to 9 percent decline in users in 2018 already. This news is only going to hasten their exit, and is likely to turn even more off of the brand. The combination of data insecurity and the appearance of an unsympathetic executive team is something the brand is going to have to address, and fast.
Now Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he'll address the crisis today. But no matter how Facebook maneuvers out of this, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted a fundamental problem for the company: No matter how you pour it, at Facebook, data exploitation is in the sauce. Using the data the company mines on you for profit is sort of its whole business model. And people are just now really seeing the nefarious side of what that means.
And while all this obviously has huge implications for Facebook itself and for our electoral democracy, even closer to home, it has huge ramifications for your online life.
Let's back up a sec. How did all of this happen?
Well, it goes like this: A UK professor made a personality-quiz app (called myPersonality), which 270,000 Americans downloaded and used, and by clicking the download button, agreed not only to give over their data (like history, etc.), but also that of all their friends. And just like that, 50 million users' data was in the hands of this professor, who then violated Facebook's terms of service by selling it to Cambridge Analytica.
So why is everyone so upset with Facebook over this?
Well, for one, the service has known about this illicit sale of its users' data since 2016 and did nothing to notify those users. Rather than bring attention to this faux pas, they allowed Cambridge Analytica to exploit the data to help swing the election for Trump by selling a vision of division in America to those users most susceptible to it.
Another reason Facebook is getting a PR black-eye over this is that they don't seem sorry — at least not yet. While there's still no word from the big execs like Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's own blog post and a tweet from its executive suggest that they aren't seeing this as any sort of breach, and that they did nothing wrong.
And sure, maybe there was no technical breach of data because all the data was harvested through legit means, then sold off to Cambridge Analytica. However, that's damning in itself. Think of it this way: If this isn't a breach and just thew ay Facebook does business, harvesting data and then exploiting it, all without any informed consent, then we can expect more things like Presidential elections being swung by weaponized personal data.
But are people talking about deleting Facebook?
If you couldn't tell from every word of this article up until this point, the reasons people are citing for deleting Facebook are many: Folks don't want their data being bought and sold and then used against them; they don't want to support a company that doesn't seem apologetic about the ways in which its contributed to a lack of trust in online information and dialogue; they just don't feel like living their life through the prism of social media. And all of this has nothing to say about all the ways in which Facebook is killing content creators' livelihood left and right by encouraging creators to publish their content directly on the site while algorithmically suppressing outbound links (so people don't visit other homepages) and while also not compensating publishers for putting their content on Facebook. In other words, Facebook hasn't been great for the content creating economy. This Splitsider article on it is a pretty incredible read.
Meanwhile the reasons people are citing for not wanting to #DeleteFacebook are what you'd think: They'll lose touch with friends, it sounds like a hassle, they don't know what will fill the gaping void that exists at the root of modern life (not many people are copping to that last one, but come on, you know it's true).
Let's say I wanted to delete Facebook. Where would I even begin?
If you're interested in deleting, make sure first to download all of your data so you have it — you'll be surprised by just how much you've voluntarily given over to Zuckerberg and crew over the years. Next, you'll want to walk through the steps of deleting and deactivating. AS you can imagine, completely scrubbing yourself from Facebook's clutches is not exactly easy, so here are a few guides to help get you through it: here's one by Verge, and another by CNET, and one more by Recode.
But if entirely deleting is just a bridge too far, you can at least take precautionary measures to lock down some of your data. Check this piece at CNN on how to protect your Facebook data and do some digital spring cleaning.
And remember, if you're deleting, Facebook owns Instagram and What's App, so you'll need to delete those, too. If that's aleeady got you feeling isolated, maybe this is a good time to start calling and texting your friends again. The world is in a crazy place.