Trust Facebook? Or Will You Sign Off?

Facebook is no stranger to crisis, having faced – and apologized for – privacy concerns at least three times in the past (2006, 2007, 2011). The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data of 87 million Facebook users was improperly harvested and sold to third parties, has rocked the company, leading to an extraordinary hearing: One CEO talking to an entire congressional committee.

Using information derived unethically from private profiles without permission, Cambridge Analytica has demonstrated the immense power of social media – and what happens when that power is unregulated and able to be abused. The data firm has been tied to multiple political campaigns including Brexit Leave and Donald Trump’s 2016 political campaign.

Message microtargeting

It’s hard to understand the full effect of the political message microtargeting and how it differs from standard advertising, but Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie describes it well: “Instead of standing in the public square and saying what you think, and then letting people come and listen to you, and have that shared experience as what your narrative is, you are whispering into the ear of each and every voter. And you may be whispering one thing to this voter and another thing to another voter.”

He goes on to emphasize “We risk fragmenting society in a way where we don’t have any more shared experiences and we don’t have any more shared understanding. If we don’t have any more shared understanding, how can we be a functioning society?”

Will this latest privacy and politically-tied crisis incite Facebook users to leave?

Probably not. Billions of people will remain loyal to Facebook, knowing it’s still the best social media tool to help keep them connected in ways they can’t imagine now being without. Stockholders don’t seem worried, either. The social networks stock closed at a 4.5% gain, their largest since April 2016.

But that doesn’t mean Facebook loyalists expect the status quo from Mr. Zuckerberg and his team. On the contrary. Just as Facebook led the way for people to connect with each other and tout their goods or services, Facebook must find a way to be a leader for privacy concerns – and to take a hard look at how it targets its voters. Um, we mean, users.

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