While many of us, either personally or professionally, can complain about our experiences in 2018, the major social media platforms, particularly Facebook, had a particularly bad year. Once the seemingly runaway, no goal too high, darling of social media fans of all ages, Facebook’s executives are slinking to the dark corners of their corporate structure to lick their wounds and try to figure out what went wrong and how next to respond to the unabridged, unrelenting criticisms from just about everyone, everywhere. The troubles for the social media king began early in the year when it was discovered that Facebook harvested personal user data from 87 million of its members and sold the personal data to Cambridge-Analytica, who used it for targeted advertising, particularly political advertising. The practice apparently wasn’t exactly new. In fact it had been going on for nearly a decade before the practice came to light for millions of users worldwide.
While not alone in its data sharing policy, Facebook’s favorability rating dropped twice as much as other tech giants. An exclusive poll for Axios by SurveyMonkey found that Facebook’s favorability fell 28 points, compared with 13 for Amazon, 12 for Google, 10 for Apple and seven for Twitter. Facebook’s most recent favorability rating was 48 percent, down from 61 percent in October. According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than half of Facebook users in the U.S. said they’ve changed their privacy settings in the past year and more than four in 10 users have taken a break from the social media platform. Twenty-five percent have gone as far as to delete the Facebook app from their phone. An overwhelming 90 percent of those polled were very concerned about internet privacy. “The bigger you are the harder you fall” mantra is manifesting itself on Facebook and Google as the least trusted companies in America. Talk about a bad year!
Facebook’s initial response did little to appease the public. “Over recent months we have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We’ve also run education campaigns on and off Facebook to help people around the world better understand how to manage their information on Facebook.” The well-intentioned message unfortunately had subtle tones of, “It’s really our users’ fault for not being well enough educated and informed about our data handling policies”. Which unfortunately is more likely true than not.
The public has overtly embraced new technologies, often without questioning the intentions and motives of those who develop and promote the savvy new platforms. Most of us approve the user agreements without even reading and understanding the content before clicking and surfing. Has our realization come too late? Are we too far into the convenience and comfort of technology to take back control of our private information? Are we willing to accept that the loss of privacy is the price for a ticket to the big event?
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has announced that his resolution for 2019 is to “focus on fixing” Facebook’s serious problems. “Facebook has a lot of work to do – whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.” Perhaps all of his social media followers should take heed and resolve to better understand our responsibility to protecting our own privacy in the coming year.