OPINION: ‘Delete Facebook’ protest on the rise after privacy breach

Matthew Frank

Editor

A reckoning may be coming for Facebook.

The social media website is up against a snowballing scandal over the leak of users’ private data to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The data was supposedly used to help President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. Now two democratic U.S. senators, Virginia’s Mark R. Warner and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before congress to testify to the matters at hand.

Its understandable politicians should be worried about the possible damages inflicted upon social media users by the data breach and Facebook policies (or their relative laxness in enforcing them). This could lead to government regulations that police what is now a largely ungoverned area.

After all, this isn’t the first case of the social media website harvesting data for sinister purposes. The company came under fire before in 2010 when Facebook confirmed that one of its most popular applications of the time, Farmville,  transmitted identifying personal information.

The data breach may be embarrassing for politicians, like Donald Trump (if he is capable of being embarrassed), who has been outed before for using meddling tactics to secure his presidential win, but it’s an insult to regular people.

If legislators can persuade the elusive Zuckerberg to come to a congressional committee, it’s important they not only address the data breach but that they take the opportunity to question him about Facebook’s global role as a tool for propagating false information, hate speech and violence.

That last accusation may seem like a stretch. But Facebook has gotten themselves into hot water before when concerns had been raised the social media’s live video problem is only getting worse. In April 2017, a murder was streamed in Cleveland, Ohio, and in late February 2018, a North Carolina man live streamed his own murder.

The overwhelming popularity of the social media network has almost made it a vehicle for the express purpose of using and abusing information, which may be a part of human nature. It may only be concerning considering Facebook claims to have the democratic purpose of building communities, and bringing the world closer together, as it outlines in its mission statement, rather than dividing people.

Zuckerberg has finally acknowledged some of the problems this past Wednesday, five days after the news of the data breach broke and said Facebook needs to tackle the problem head-on, and give users more control over the content they can manage. But it may be too late for the company to practice better moral standards as a delivery vehicle for speech, destructive or otherwise.

Facebook, after all, has divided the community a little too much over the years, and their latest data leak constitutes a breach of trust that has users reacting with “delete Facebook” protests. It’s nice to see the protests getting the attention they deserve, but at the same time they are bittersweet and ironic considering they are being conducted online. Online protests prove either people have not learned a thing, or that people might know more about the issue than meets the eye. People have, seemingly, stuck with Facebook before through thick and thin.

Facebook’s numbers, after all, didn’t shrink between 2010 and 2017; they grew at an exponential rate to 2.2 billion with 1.7 billion daily active users from 350 million users. So, if someone is using Facebook, they need to know if their personal data will be shared each and every time it asks you to agree to certain terms or not, although users likely don’t take notice.  This is in no way to make light of these online protests because the issue is indeed, troubling.  Perhaps what was most troubling of all is Facebook has not alerted users whose data was leaked.  Many of these users were not even using the third-party apps that are responsible for the data breach but were affected by friends that used the apps.

Social media companies can’t afford to sit idly by amid growing public anger about their perceived reluctance to address the growing number of abuses. Here it’s the people who ultimately have absolute power over the company, and perhaps all it takes to social media listen is the magic words: I’m looking at Google Plus.

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