Facebook’s veritable shitshow over the revelations that British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica accessed information from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge has made for shocking (but highly entertaining) news over the past week. I’ve gobbled up news articles, watched CEO Mark Zuckerberg make a non-apology apology to CNN’s Laurie Segall and was amused by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s overly-scripted overly-rehearsed responses offloaded to CNBC’s Julia Boorstin.
This crisis has prompted many people to ditch the social media platform, with the hashtag #deletefacebook trending on Twitter. One of the most high-profile individuals to quit Facebook Elon Musk, publicly announced his decision to remove his company’s Facebook pages, SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla, on Twitter. The speed with which these pages came down left me feeling truly inspired.
I didn’t realize there was one. Will do.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2018
Definitely. Looks lame anyway.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 23, 2018
As a long-time critic of Facebook’s surveillance and monetisation antics, I am overjoyed that this company – which is the economic size of actual countries – is facing tougher regulations.
But this scandal has also prompted me to think long and hard about whether I too should delete Facebook.
My love-hate relationship with Facebook
I started my Facebook account because of peer pressure. I was one of the last of my circle of “xennial” friends to get on the bandwagon. I refused to start a MySpace account years prior and wasn’t all that keen on getting Facebook, but succumbed when my friends told me it was easier to keep in touch this way. I’m a sucker for efficiency. One of my good friends was moving interstate and some had caught the travel bug and were backpacking overseas and being on Facebook made sense. So I decided to bite the bullet and get a Facebook account.
I’ve been on Facebook for over a decade now and truthfully, the relationship with the platform isn’t all bad. It has helped me keep in touch with family and close friends. It allows me to share my thoughts and viewpoints, upload memorable photos and tag my friends on nights out, reminds me to wish people happy birthday and provides me opportunities to be a part of and participate in groups with other like-minded people. It’s why Facebook is so successful – it helps us satisfy our human desire for connectivity.
But I’ve also paid a huge price for using Facebook.
I’ve wasted valuable time checking notifications and procrastinating when I should have been working, sleeping, or spending time doing things that mattered or being with the people who mattered. I started compulsively checking in like a drug addict seeking out my daily fix of crack. But the worst part is that I’ve forfeited my right to privacy, allowing Facebook free access to my data: every single action, like, comment, share, message, search, click, upload, post update, status change, has now been tracked, recorded, stored, used and available to be sold, manipulated, harvested and extracted for profit or power.
Worse still, I can’t even delete my personal Facebook account because it’s tied to the EWP Facebook page and there’s no way you can have a business page without it being attached to a personal account. I only care to use the page as I rarely use Facebook personally but now I’m stuck with it even when I don’t want it.
Reflecting on all of the above, is the price I’ve paid for ‘connection’ too big a price to pay?
Welcome to Surveillance Capitalism
There’s a saying in the digital business world that goes like this: “If you can’t see the product, you are the product.”
Platforms such as Facebook are free to use, but in order to make the money it needs to cover its operational expenses and make profits for its shareholders, they must sell our data to advertisers.
Your data is the price you pay for using FB for ‘free’. Nothing is free. There’s always a cost. You just have to work out the TRUE COST. In the case of Cambridge Analytica, it’s democracy & privacy. You just have to work out how important these things are to you #deletefacebook
— Eco Warrior Princess (@EcoWarrPrincess) March 24, 2018
“The terabytes of data we generate in our interactions on these platforms allows companies to “datafy”, quantify, track, monitor, profile us and sell target adverts to haunt us. This is an economic system that has been dubbed “surveillance capitalism”, writes Yuwei Lin, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Stirling.
Some people don’t care about their data being tracked or used in this way. “My data isn’t worth a thing,” someone writes on Twitter. “All they’ll find on my wall are memes, memes and more memes,” writes another. My partner Ben shares these same feelings and I quote:
I don’t care, let them track all the funny videos I share.”
For someone who cares deeply about liberty, freedom and democracy, I find this sort of apathy rather odd. When Edward Snowden revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) were arbitrarily accessing phone logs, emails and internet use of citizens, I was outraged. When our personal and collective data are being tracked and collated to determine patterns, trends, to forecast and influence how we will act, vote, shop – there is no way we can call this a democracy. Data surveillance erodes our trust in institutions and the democratic process, and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by businesses and governments.
I also feel a great sense of unease when I perform searches outside of the Facebook platform only to have these brands and products freakishly appear on ads inside of Facebook. This is so intrusive it always leaves me wondering: Is this kind of stalking even ethical?
Related Post: The Rise of Fake News: What It Is and How It Goes Viral
#DeleteFacebook: Good in theory, almost impossible in practice
Deleting Facebook might satisfy our thirst for action, helping to quell our outrage and the seeming injustice of it all, but it doesn’t actually solve the problems associated with surveillance capitalism. For starters, Facebook still owns Instagram and WhatsApp so even if you’ve deleted Facebook but haven’t deleted these apps, your data will still be tracked on there.
Now as a small, independent media brand, we also have Facebook to thank for helping fans and followers discover our content. Through our Facebook page, we’ve been able to promote our articles, contests and our free eco lifestyle guide, and reach new people. This sentiment is shared by some of our fans, who, on our recent #DeleteFacebook post, left comments admitting that they would never have discovered Eco Warrior Princess if not for Zuckerberg’s company.
Furthermore, Facebook allows us to pursue our mission to promote media that matters to counterbalance all the junk media and negative news. If we deleted the page, there’s one less resource advocating for a better world. One of our Facebook fans, Con, writes this:
So all the good people with a conscience delete their accounts which upsets the balance of opinions, opposing views and positive ideas. It’ll end up like Twitter.”
Even though I question how democratic Facebook is since its algorithm is responsible for creating echo chambers and determine so much of what we see and don’t see, Con still raises a valid point. Facebook does provide a useful platform for people to share, advocate, educate, connect, discuss and debate.
And it’s for this reason particularly, that I won’t be deleting our Facebook page. We work hard to create our content and we want to get it to the hands of as many people as possible – it’s the only way to accelerate sustainable change. Facebook allows us to disseminate important information quickly and effectively.
So what to do if you’re still pissed off with Facebook, want to hold them accountable, but don’t want to (or can’t) delete your pages and personal profiles? You can minimise the amount of data they collect on you by:
- deleting your Facebook app off of your smartphone (I’ve done this)
- deleting Messenger (I’ve done this too)
- turning off your location settings
- removing all third-party apps (check)
- editing your ad preferences (check)
- editing your general privacy (check)
- leaving as little an imprint on Facebook as possible (trying to)
You can find more ideas here.
Now if you really want to f*ck with its algorithm so it can’t find patterns, trends and basically to make it harder for them to manipulate you, you can also ‘like’ things you don’t normally like, share things you don’t normally share and comment on random things. This will work too.
The other thing you can do to protect your data, ensure its security and stop it from ending up in the hands of organisations and individuals who aren’t supposed to have it, is to put pressure on our governments to regulate the platform and all the others.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t a fan of this option of course – most capitalists aren’t; regulation is financially costly, slows down progress and inhibits profit growth – but self-regulation, what they’re advocating for, is completely out of the question. To leave regulation in the hands of the private sector and industry effectively means little to no regulation. Look at all that’s happened with Cambridge Analytica, fake news, erosion of the media and publishing industry as profits move into Facebook coffers. Do we really want another decade of that?
Now over to you: Will you be deleting Facebook? If not, why not. If so, why so? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
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