Facebook’s management of its users’ personal data has been a recurring, heated debate ever since the platform started to take off. The debate is reaching a climax with the #DeleteFacebook movement, which took a spectacular turn whenElon Musk decided to delete SpaceX and Tesla’s Facebook pages last Friday. What does this mean for brands? Are we going to see a mass exile from the platform?
It is not the first time people express concerns over data privacy on Facebook. Some of us remember a younger Mark Zuckerberg dismissing privacy issues in 2010: « People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. » At the time, this statement caused some controversy, but until recently it seemed that the course of events was ruling in Zuckerberg’s favor. What is new with the Cambridge Analytica case is that people could actually see what happens when personal data falls into the wrong hands. But let’s be honest: should Facebook really take all the blame?
True, the amount of data collected by Facebook is mind-boggling. This article from TechCrunch shows the extent to which Facebook (including Messenger and its other apps) collect enough data to know more about you than your closest relatives. But in the case of third-party apps, like the ones used by Cambridge Analytica, Facebook lets users know that they’re about to share their personal information with an external organization. We can’t say we didn’t know…
Is privacy the real issue?
It is too early to say if #DeleteFacebook is going to be a real movement where we’ll see people leaving the social network in droves, or if it will just remain a popular hashtag. It is worth noting that people who are most concerned with the privacy of their personal data usually aren’t active on Facebook for that very reason. I personally don’t care that Facebook knows when I last called my sister or that I shared a dubious video with a friend on Messenger (just like Google knows everything about my Gmail conversations). I’m 1 out of a billion users, and no one at Facebook will choose to publish my personal data for everyone to see, or it would soon be the end of the platform and probably warrant some jail time for the trouble-makers .
The real issue is elsewhere. As more and more studies reveal that spending too much time on social media or using it improperly will make you depressed, people are starting to wonder why they should give away all their personal information to a company that doesn’t even contribute to their happiness. Are political rants, cat videos, overly indulgent doughnuts, ripped gym rats and depressing news really worth it? Not for a growing number of users, who are already spending less time and less time on Facebook – which is an alternative to actually deleting your account.
Is it time to fire your social media manager?
What does this mean for brands? Elon Musk’s decision to delete his companies’ social media pages was questionable. It seems that he did it more as part of a personal feud with Mark Zuckerberg and a ‘you won’t do it?’ challenge on Twitter rather than a conscious decision. But SpaceX and Tesla are two companies that are changing the world for the better, and they both have a following of dedicated fans that genuinely love them. There is nothing cool about an impulsive decision to take away brands from their adoring fans.
But not every brand is SpaceX or Tesla. Some products and services will never receive the same amount of love as these two, and that’s OK. What brands should do is always strive to understand their customers needs and struggles and use social media to offer a positive contribution. Having worked on brands’ social media strategy for years, I have witnessed the joy they can bring to customers when engaging in meaningful conversations, as opposed to dumping pre-scheduled branded content.
So, should brands #DeleteFacebook? If they are not committing to using social media for positive change, then maybe. I believe brands (and the media) should collectively regulate their social activity. Brands should engage in a global conversation to establish standards and rules they will agree to follow; and commit to using the platform for good. And as users on these platforms, we should encourage this behavior in those whom we choose to follow and engage with online. To encourage that movement, I’ll modestly start by giving advice to Facebook users. Have a look at the pages you follow, unsubscribe from stress-inducing ones, and subscribe to the ones you find enriching. To get started, here are a few of my personal favorites: Wikipedia, Harvard Business Review, StreetArtGlobe, Patagonia, Good News Shared.
– by Eliott Maidenberg