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Facing Facts at Facebook

So what's a little data shared among friends, eh? What could it hurt? With so much recent discussion in the media about fake news, security, and the sanctity of personal user data, it is no wonder that a product used by approximately 2 billion humans (as well as an uncounted number of "bots") is at the forefront of the discussion. And so it goes with Facebook, a company whose ability to change the world has been matched only by its equal inability to consider the myriad ways that this ubiquitous platform could be used for ill.


Indeed privacy concerns have returned once again to join the ever-present security concerns most of us have as well as (more recently)  concerns about "fake news" and the manipulation of American attitudes by hostile entities. In short, we should have lots of concerns about Facebook. All of this happens as an increasing number of people begin to question their decade-long use of social media. Indeed, behavioral tracking by advertisers can look a lot like unauthorized surveillance when consumers really look at what they are giving up to use a "free" service. Data has long been monetized on the Internet, but not to the level we are seeing at present.

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Now we can combine all of this great news with emerging research that indicates Facebook in particular can contribute to unhappiness, obsessive behaviors, and in some cases narcissism, as well as a "confirmation" of existing biases we all have. In other words, Facebook and other social media facilitators have (however unintentionally) become enablers in sowing societal discontent through misinformation and social division. This is not exactly good fodder for a slogan or a mission statement, especially for a company whose still-young founder says with conviction that he wants to "connect the world". Facebook is now known for misusing user data in the name of connecting the world (and maximizing shareholder returns), and not necessarily showing that it cares a whole lot about the side effects.

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But change is in the wind. The media needs a distraction from its obsession with President Trump, regulators are circling the area, non-profit watchdogs are licking their collective chops, and trial lawyers are warming up their vocal chords to help Facebook face these facts if the company continues to drag its feet. After all, many observers see Facebook as the most important "media" company in the world. So regulation might be the least of its worries. With Facebook and Google together accounting for nearly 80% of ad revenue, there might be anti-trust concerns as well.


Discussion: Are you concerned about the developments in the world of social media? Why or why not? Do you think that Facebook and other social media outlets have a social/ethical responsibility to fix things? Explain your answer.