In the wake of the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations, many have declared on other social networks that they were going to take a break from Facebook or delete it entirely. In fact, #deleteFacebook even became a trending movement for a while. And while Facebook may face its largest exodus ever, it’s unlikely that this incident – or even the next one – will bring the social networking giant down. It is simply too big to fail.
Facebook is a global community with more than two billion active users. Even if say 10 percent of Facebook’s users were to abandon it, there would still be roughly 1.8 billion people using the service. If Facebook hypothetically lost half of its users (very unlikely), it would still have over a billion – well above what most platforms have (or will ever get), and more than enough to remain a thriving space.
Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2017 (in millions)
Easier said than done
It’s harder to leave Facebook than most people realise. Over the years, many of us have tried after becoming disgruntled by some sort of change, whether it’s to do with tweaks to the algorithm, updated privacy policies, or forcing us to download and use Messenger as a separate app. The fact of the matter is that Facebook has become such an entrenched part of our lives that it’s a borderline addiction. It gives us that rewarding dopamine hit when others respond to our updates. It’s faster and easier (than email) to share stuff with those who to us. We’ve set up shop on Facebook – it’s become valuable digital real estate, holding years of our treasured memories.
Where will you go?
Let’s just say you’re adamant about leaving Facebook, and you manage to make the move – where will you go from here? We all know (or know of) someone who has managed to avoid joining Facebook, and it seems so hard to fathom. These people, however, also tend to be the ones that miss out on group conversations or social events simply because they’ve dropped off the radar. It’s the classic ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage.
Over the years, Facebook has acquired a number of other hot properties, most notably Instagram and WhatsApp. It has also evolved its own Messenger app, turning it into a powerful standalone communications utility. Instagram (at the time of writing this) boasts 800 million users, WhatsApp 1.5 billion, and Messenger 1.2 billion – more than enough people on board to make them viable services. But they are all still owned and run by Facebook, albeit the first two are treated as separate entities. This means all your data is still going to Mark Zuckerberg’s digital empire, whether you like it or not.
While some services have been over-optimistically hailed as potential ‘Facebook-killers’, they have struggled to catch on for a simple reason: your friends and family aren’t using them. Digital ghost towns aren’t much fun, and we abandon them pretty quick. Joining new services is as much of a hassle as it is a gamble – it takes a lot to convince others to leave one and sign up for another. The value proposition needs to be more than compelling – simply being a carbon copy that is open source or promises no advertising isn’t enough.
Data breaches happen – how they are handled is what matters
One of the trade-offs we need to understand and accept with a digital world is that our data can fall into the wrong hands. There is no escaping this. At the same time, users need to be given every assurance by the service provider that their information is safe and secure. We are investing trust in exchange for transparency – at least, we hope this is the case. When we’re notified in a timely manner about exactly what’s happened, what we need to do, and what the company is doing to prevent the incident again it’s easier to maintain trust. It goes pear-shaped when nothing is said, and the news breaks from other sources. This is essentially what happened with the latest Facebook incident, and it’s going to cost them one way or another.
Technically, it wasn’t actually Facebook…
The Cambridge Analytica row came down to a rogue third-party app, circulated inside Facebook, that exploited user permissions. Simply put, this app requested access to data it didn’t need. When a user agreed and granted access, it not only scraped their personal information but also that of their connections. It is technically legal but is in no way ethical. This didn’t matter to the developers, however, because the whole intent was to do this in the first place. Facebook was the facilitator, host, and an enabler. It failed to flag the app (and requested permissions) as suspicious and ultimately wore the blame. And so it should.
Too little too late?
Facebook unquestionably handled this whole thing poorly. Zuckerberg even went on CNN to respond to mounting questions and concerns from the general public, something he avoids whenever possible. He shed some light on the measures Facebook is taking to avoid this type of incident happening again:
“First, we will investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity. We will ban any developer from our platform that does not agree to a thorough audit. And if we find developers that misused personally identifiable information, we will ban them and tell everyone affected by those apps. That includes people whose data Kogan misused here as well.
Second, we will restrict developers’ data access even further to prevent other kinds of abuse. For example, we will remove developers’ access to your data if you haven’t used their app in 3 months. We will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in — to only your name, profile photo, and email address. We’ll require developers to not only get approval but also sign a contract in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data. And we’ll have more changes to share in the next few days.
Third, we want to make sure you understand which apps you’ve allowed to access your data. In the next month, we will show everyone a tool at the top of your News Feed with the apps you’ve used and an easy way to revoke those apps’ permissions to your data. We already have a tool to do this in your privacy settings, and now we will put this tool at the top of your News Feed to make sure everyone sees it.”
Most of us don’t really care how it is done, so long as it’s done. What we care about more is that any company – whether a social network, a bank, a cloud storage provider or whatever else – tells us straight up what has happened.
If you want to leave Facebook, it’s your choice. But before you do, there are some questions you should consider:
- Why am I doing this?
- What impact will it have on my connections? E.g. Will my grandma and cousins on the other side of the world miss seeing what’s going on in my life?
- Will my social life suffer as a result? Will I be left out of things?
- What is my long-term game plan? Where will I go next (if anywhere)?
- Will I regret doing this once the Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle subsides?
I personally won’t be deleting Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loathed some of the changes it’s made over the years, but I stay with it because it’s easy and (just about) everyone’s on it.
Content marketer, blogger, author and tech geek.