It’s been a rough couple of years for Mark Zuckerberg. From bots running amok to carefully assembled fake news to Cambridge Analytica acquiring the personal data troves of Facebook users, the platform is being regarded as the evil empire in a whole new way.
In less than two weeks, Facebook saw its stock drop $90 billion – almost 20 percent of its value. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company, and Zuckerberg has been summoned by lawmakers in the US and Britain to respond to allegations that Facebook shared user data without permission.
You must admit that all this is at least mildly unsettling. Those friends of yours who stayed away from social media due to what seemed like borderline paranoia suddenly don’t look so unreasonable.
It’s a fact – if we’re on the internet we’re being tracked, by multiple tech companies that may share user information. That was clear long before the Facebook scandals unfolded. And as many of us at least consider the question if continued participation on Facebook is worth it, I’d like to say that I believe it is; that young Mr. Zuckerberg and his associates run an enterprise that may require some reigning-in but ultimately operates with significant public benefit in addition to obscene profits (It’s now believed to be the sixth most valuable property in the world).
If you’re reading this chances are you know that I’m somewhat active on Facebook. I found it immediately suitable for my personality – limited attention span, easier to write than talk about what I think. The page offers something for everyone. If you would rather lurk than post, well, there is plenty of opportunity for that.
Very simply, Facebook connects people. While some say it plays on our insecurities and narcissism–and they may have a point–the platform is helpful in numerous ways. It enriches the lives of those who embrace it for that purpose.
If you have a special interest or hobby, there is probably a Facebook page for it. I follow pages regarding music I like, important healthcare topics, Dodger baseball, old album covers, former employers, and schools I have attended, among many other subjects. I have met (at least virtually) hundreds of people I might not otherwise know, and the fact that we haven’t encountered each other face-to-face doesn’t mean I don’t care about them and–hopefully–vice-versa. And when it comes to the people I have encountered, whether meeting them for the first time or not, I have found a warmth and familiarity that might have taken awhile to achieve otherwise. This has turned out to be especially true at school reunions. The platform provides opportunities to join virtual communities, and we’re generally better for it.
However, we may now feel that our trust has been violated, and one reason why is that it seems Zuckerberg promised nine years ago not to sell the data of his users.
Facebook could be approaching a crossroads. Its current business model depends on selling the data it collects from our activities on the platform, despite Zuckerberg’s 2009 remarks. That’s a major reason why it’s free. Going forward, the company may be more transparent about that upfront, because a lot of people have been surprised by it, although they probably shouldn’t have been. But then again, there’s that video. Maybe we’ll see the model evolve to a place where users have a choice – pay a subscription fee or agree to have their data sold. I think I’d choose a fee, within reason.
In the meantime, I’m staying, and hoping that smarter people than me can put their heads together and fix what ails Facebook.