Is It Time We All Quit Facebook?

Facebook has been outed as untrustworthy. The social media company has flouted laws, used its consumers as data pawns and been key to one of the world’s most notable privacy breaches, but why do we stay?

It's Time, We All Need To Quit Facebook?

by Lucy Morris |

In light of Cambridge Analytica’s exploits, which played a key role in paving the way for Trump’s Presidency, the heat is being turned up on Facebook. The provocative company mined the social media platform for access to 50 million of its user's personal data - including private messages, intel on what they liked, shared and commented on - all the while Marc Zuckerberg’s company did nothing. Since whistleblower Christopher Wylie outed Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s part in hijacking the private information of so many, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook has started trending. But, what will it really take for its 2.13 billion active users to call time on the increasingly problematic website?

What Cambridge Analytica did wasn’t a ‘true hack’, in fact, they had permission (of sorts) from Facebook, which IMHO makes this matter worse. Using the guise of a personality quiz, they gained permission from users to obtain their private information. The small print revealed that they weren’t only consenting to their information being shared, but that of every single one of their friend’s too. Technically speaking, users gave their consent and Facebook are adamant that this means its out of their hands.

Privacy breaches may date back to the inception of the company, but it's by no means their only problem. In 2007 BBC’s Watchdog program decried that it was a very easy way to gather enough information for identity theft. The following year the New York Times revealed there is no way of permanently deleting a user’s account. It’s been reported that 25% of real life stalking cases begin with instant messaging, like that found on Facebook chat.

In part due to Cambridge Analytica’s work, the social platform has become a cottage industry of fake news and it’s done very little to stop this. In an interview, CEO Zuckerberg said fabricated stories ‘surely had no impact’, in a further blog post he wrote: ‘Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.’ He offered no proof of how he calculated this figure.

The website’s algorithm is warped to favour clicked on and disseminated media (whether real or full of lies), it is an illusion to think that Facebook is neutral and not disruptive. If Facebook loath to take responsibility in its part of the manufacture of false media (and the taking of ad sales money from it) it only seeks to be seen in an ugly light.

If you drill down, the problems go far and beyond fake news, Facebook silently rolled out a facial recognition feature that let the company create a biometric face-print database of its users. If you’re frowning, the company knows, if you’re smiling while looking at a picture of your best friend, the company knows. Similarly, a rumour (that Facebook vehemently denies) persists that the company are listening to its users and seeding them adds based on their conversations. This might explain why in an image of Zuckerberg by his computer showed the CEO had his webcam and microphone taped over.

And, lest we forget that Facebook’s tax avoidance is enough of a reason to question their moral impurity. The company managed to pay a mere £5.1 million in UK corporation tax in the UK last year despite having a headquarters based in England and nearly quadrupling its advertising revenue to £842.4 million.

Facebook harbours some of the ugliest aspects of the global community and does little to censor it. From pro-anorexia groups, to live steaming murders to glorifying violence, its stance on censoring its users is fragile at best. While the company took no time to suspended Christopher Wylie’s profile, it hasn’t always been fast to act. Last May, Zuckerberg announced that the business would be hiring 4,500 people to spot crimes and problematic content. He wrote: ‘These reviewers will also help us get better at removing things we don't allow on Facebook like hate speech and child exploitation. And we'll keep working with local community groups and law enforcement who are in the best position to help someone if they need it -- either because they're about to harm themselves, or because they're in danger from someone else.’

But, was this too little too late? By this point, gang murders and suicides had already been live streamed, as well as harmful hate speech and other questionable content.

Studies have found social media channels - like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - have a damaging effect on users mental wellbeing. While the platforms can create communities and boost self-affirmation, they’ve also been shown to be harmful to young people’s mental health, increase social vulnerability and cause depression. ‘On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,’ said U-M social psychologist Ethan Kross. ‘But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result—it undermines it.’ This was echoed by a Facebook executive who admitted that, '[t]he short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.’ In turn, Facebook itself looked into the effects it was having on the health of its users and admitted that people were left ‘feeling worse' after ‘passively consuming information’.

'Facebook is free to use. The tradeoff is that you are allowing them access to your information.' Explains psycholgist Dr Pamela Rutledge, 'Most people are willing to make this trade. Greater media literacy helps people to understand the “cost” in terms of their own information. Greater transparency helps us to see how the data is being used. In terms of the political profiling, this is not new news. What is new is that a company violated Facebook’s guidelines. These events will occur as this is a whole new world in terms of information and access. Each perceived breach should be used to become more aware of the potential problems and risk and, from a consumer perspective, make demands on improved safety, not spend all our time looking for someone to blame.'

Though deleting your account isn’t enough to actually quit Facebook, now is surely the time to consider being one less active user to be marketed too and be sold as a pawn. Like Tumblr and MySpace before it, Facebook may seem like a dominant digital player right now, but the fewer users it has the less advertising sales it will keep and its decline won’t be conceptual but actual #DeleteFacebook.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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