This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces a congressional grilling to account for his company allowing the misuse of personal data from some 87 million Facebook users. All over social media, users far and wide are sharpening their pitchforks and lighting the torches.
But this whole thing brings up two questions. First, will you, the angry users, actually give up Facebook altogether? And secondly, if you said yes, don’t you think that’s a little hypocritical? Let me explain.
Examining the second question first, about the hypocrisy of being angry at Facebook for mishandling your personal information. First, Facebook is not a medical practice or the IRS or any other government-regulated entity. They can sell your data anytime they want to — and they have, since day one.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, and virtually every other social networking platform, makes money from advertising. They use the data they collect from users as the selling point for that advertising, allowing the buyer to target ads directly at key demographics. Without that level of targeting, the advertising is no more effective than throwing up a billboard next to the highway and hoping you get some business from it.
Targeted advertising is what makes social networks valuable to marketers. It works like this. Let’s say a major athletic wear company wants to sell a new type of running shoe just to single, female executives, with an interest in running, between the ages of 28 and 40. They want to sell them in Los Angeles and New York, so they can get a trend started, and they only want to sell green ones.
The athletic company buys online ads from a social network, like Facebook, for example, which then sorts their user data to target only people who meet the advertiser’s criteria. That way, only those people see the ad, it’ll go right on their personal social media feed. Unlike a TV or newspaper ad, the odds of selling their new shoes increases exponentially because they’re only showing them to people they know to already be interested.
I’m not saying that Facebook is blameless in exposing all that personal information, far from it. But we usually hand over this information willingly when we sign up for these online services. Most people don’t read the terms and conditions or pay attention to privacy notices. It’s only after a third-party does something bad that we suddenly take notice.
Now back to the first question, will you delete Facebook? The hashtag, #deletefacebook, seems to be spreading and there is news they’ve lost major members, such as Elon Musk’s, SpaceX and Tesla. But will you delete it? My guess is no.
First, there aren’t a lot of clear alternatives, though Megga, Inc.’s new, meggalife.com social network is certainly starting to gain ground. Launched in Springfield, Ohio last year, the company has apps similar to Facebook, Twitter, and most of the others, all under one platform. The primary difference is that they pay ad revenue out to users and don’t share personal data with third parties.
But there is the comfort factor to contend with. Facebook’s management is counting on the idea that we’ve grown accustomed to it, and they’d be backing a winning horse, I would bet. People hate change, especially when it took a while to bring them around in the first place.
The thing is, and this answers my second question about hypocrisy, every time a company like Facebook is accused of something like this, everyone is outraged for five minutes. Then they go right back to using it. If you’re going to #deletefacebook, then do it.
Stop handing over personal information and then acting all offended when it’s misused. Some of the responsibility is ours, not Facebook’s.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communication, Ltd. More at geryldeer.com.
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