In Mark Hurst’s latest post he joins the chorus to get off of Facebook—those also singing this hymn are billionaires Brian Acton who sold What’s App to Facebook as well as tech bad boy Elon Musk. Yet, it’s easier to say “delete” than it is to help guide Facebook to a better solution. The truth is that if everyone deletes Facebook it won’t change much since humans will still crave social media and simply sign up for the next “it” app.
The most shocking thing in all that’s come to light is that people don’t realize they are, essentially, data—and that their data has been sold.
Full stop: how have people, referred to as “users,” missed this point? We’re not even humans!
Some might feel they gave away too much personal information just to see what a high school friend had for dinner. Yet the psychographics that can be pulled from the data are the same ones marketers have been using for decades—only now with more details. Older advertising and marketing folks might remember the days when print content provided customer profiles so as to better improve the ads contained within the magazine or newspaper. Additionally, customer personas in interaction design hark back to the 1990s, an invention that uses real-world, aggregated data to imagine the different types of people who purchase a product or service.
And so Facebook, like its print predecessors, sold us out to advertisers … and to everyone else. Yet this is the same deal all of us have made with all of the tech companies—I bet money on the fact that some of your Amazon purchases and Google search terms are more intimate than your Facebook posts! How do you think that data is packaged and sold?
In this digital age, the goal is to create highly customized experiences for people. Think of retail shopping providing suggestions for cute sweaters or trendy jeans. When it works well, then love is in the air and the dollars flow. Yet when people feel as though they’re pawns in the deep state big data only-for-billionaires conspiracy, well, it sucks.
For the most part, society has enjoyed more than its hated the Faustian bargain of giving away their Likes and personal details in exchange for entertainment, productivity, and connectedness.
Now, am I saying that Facebook should shrug off ownership for what happened in the election or what happened with Cambridge Analytica? No. In fact, since those who work for Facebook engage in the same real-world culture that we do, we need the company to lead the way on what to do with all of this collected data. They need to ensure they do more than turn off the spigot to third-party agencies, since then Facebook could simply provide anonymized and/or aggregate data collection that is sold to the highest bidder.
From anyone I’ve ever met who works at (or has worked at) Facebook, they mostly have positive things to say and feel their mission is benevolent. My viewpoint is that this is an exciting opportunity for Facebook because the issue of data has been coming to a head—Mark Zuckerberg is, simply, the one who has first been caught in the headwind. As everything becomes decentralized, including how the storage of data, who is brave enough to imagine how to tame it and ensure it’s a people-first experience? As Facebook is one of the most people-centric platforms of the era. This is a moment for the company to lead and let the other tech companies learn from and perhaps draft off of the tracks Facebook makes. It will not be easy as the data-tentacles are innumerable. Yet someone has say, “we will change this algorithm not for more ‘screen time,’ but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Some ideas, bring forward more control into the Settings, above and beyond Privacy, so that people decide what they want to see. There should be more options than Top Stories and Most Recent—maybe Favorite Friends, Verified News (I know it didn’t test well, but maybe that’s beside the point)—with the latter requiring manual choice each time one looks at the app. I bring up this latter setting because Most Recent is the easiest way to see the people I disagree with in my feed so that I don’t see the same echo chamber of voices. I want more of that because then there’s an opportunity for conversation instead of division.
Another idea, what about Facebook taking a stand for decency. It’s a moving target and changes with the times, yet on the whole most cultures through the centuries have taken a stand against pedophilia and have morally condemned it. This is why it’s the aberration and not the norm. It’s also why doxing, though I disagree with the method, is effective against white supremacists.
Facebook can help all of us stand together against bullying and for polite decorum. The platform has connected two billion people. I reunited with my long-lost Aunt, Uncle, and cousins thanks to this app. So, Mark Hurst is correct in that a good experience, in fact the best experience, comes from treating people well, yet if we’re all here in the same digital location, why say, “I quit”?
How about we say #fixfacebook?