Thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
And that’s great. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the exodus reaches critical mass and I can delete my own account.
Keep in mind, I created my account when I started doing the writing thing. In today’s world of publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself as an author is to promote your books. And the best–the only–way to do that is to go where the people are.
It doesn’t do much good to do promotion on MySpace, LiveJournal, or any place else your potential readers aren’t. Today, that means Facebook. Yes, Twitter to a lesser extent. Much lesser.
At Facebook’s current rate of decline, I should be able to delete my account around the end of 2020. And that’s the best case scenario.
I’m assuming here that Facebook’s claimed two billion users statistic is grossly inflated. I’m also assuming that there are a million account deletions a day, which is, I suspect, also grossly inflated.
‘Cause, as Arwa Mahdawi said in The Guardian, “…there is not really a good replacement for Facebook.” She quotes Safiya Noble, a professor of information studies at USC: “For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know…”
And it’s true. Remember when millions of people thought AOL was the Internet? I think they’ve all moved to Facebook.
They’re not going to delete their accounts. Neither are the millions of people who say “You don’t have anything to be concerned about from surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong.” Ditto for the people who still don’t regret voting for Trump and the ones who say “There are so many cameras watching you all the time anyway, what difference does it make if Facebook is watching too?”
Even if there’s a lot of overlap among those groups, that’s still hundreds of millions of accounts.
(Why isn’t the paranoid fringe–the people who literally wear aluminum foil hats to keep the government from controlling their minds–up in arms about Facebook? Is it only because they’re not “the government”? Or am I just not looking for their denunciations in the right places?)
Facebook isn’t going away any time soon. Not until the “new hot” comes along. If the new hot isn’t just Facebook under another name. Don’t forget that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. They’re watching you the same way the parent company is, and if one of them captures the next generation of Internet users, it’ll be “The king is dead! Hail the new king, same as the old king!”
Unfortunately, stereotypes aside, those people who are staying on Facebook do read. And that means I need to keep my account open, touting my wares in their marketplace.
I’ve seen a number of people saying “If you can’t leave Facebook, at least cut down the amount of information you give them.” Which is good advice, but really tricky to do. Even if you follow all of the instructions for telling Facebook to forget what they already know, there are other things they track. You can tell them to forget what you’ve liked, but you can’t tell them to forget how long you looked at each article. (Yes, they do track that, according to credible reports. The assumption is that their algorithms give you more posts similar to ones you’ve spent a long time on.)
And then there are those apps. Those charming, wonderful apps.
I checked my settings to see how many apps I’d allowed to access my information. There were only eight, which puts me way down at the low end of the curve. It’s down to four now, two of which are necessary to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. And when I killed off two of the four, I got popups reminding me that removing their access to Facebook does not delete any data they’ve already gathered.
Should I be concerned that I didn’t get a warning about the other two?
But let’s assume a miracle. Say, half a billion accounts get closed. The FTC fines Facebook an obscene amount of money*. What happens next?
* They almost have to. How many of those 50,000,000 accounts compromised by CA belong to government officials. Officials who are now very worried about what CA–and thus whoever they’ve shared that data with, starting with the Trump family, the Russian government, and who knows who all else–has inferred about their non-governmental activities, health, sexual orientation, and so on. If the FTC doesn’t hammer Facebook, heads will roll, no matter who has control of Congress after the November elections.
Absolutely nothing. Facebook goes on. They make a show of contrition, talk up new controls they’ve put in place to keep anything of the sort from happening again*. And they keep marketing users’ personal information to anyone who might want to advertise.
* It will. We’ve seen every form of access-control ever invented hacked. The information exists, it’s valuable, therefor someone will steal it.
That’s their whole business model. They can’t change it. The only thing that might–and I emphasize “might”–kill Facebook would be for them to say, “You know, you’re right. It’s unethical for us to make money by selling your private information. We won’t do it any more. Oh, and effective immediately, Facebook will cost you $9.99 a month.”
I was going to share this on Facebook, but I didn’t want to put you under additional scrutiny. Of course, just by typing “Facebook,” might I have?
Chances are I’m already under scrutiny anyway–we all are, really–so share wherever you see fit.
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Perhaps I’m living in a fools paradise- I’m perfectly willing to concede the possibility- but I just don’t feel the sense of alarm about my personal information being harvested that, it seems, I should.
I mean, okay; my various passwords and card numbers- right. That concerns me, but my preferences when it comes to kitchen appliances and brands of canned chili (whichever is the cheapest that week)? Not so much.
My understanding (which may be incomplete), is that shadowy institutions may use my personal information to influence my choices on social media. If so, that’s what FB has been doing for years, and I don’t think they have talked me into a foolish purchase yet.
I think most of us, by this time, have grown a sort of filter with which we seine out all the stuff we don’t care about. FB constantly parades all sorts of offers and opportunities across my screen, most of which I totally ignore- in fact, I’ve stopped seeing them.
So, I’m having a little trouble becoming alarmed about the current kerfuffle. Maybe that’s foolish of me, but, as I said, there are some things I don’t mind being foolish about.
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Most of the people who are up in arms aren’t concerned about the harvesting of information about your likes and dislikes to sell you stuff you don’t need.
It’s what can be done with a sufficiently large aggregated database of those likes and dislikes–especially when combined with things like location information (especially if you’ve used Facebook from a phone), your contacts, and your calendar information. Research shows it doesn’t take much information to make very accurate assumptions about your medical issues, sexual orientation, and political inclinations. And not just yours–your contacts will tend to be somewhat similar to you; by looking at the web of followers/following, someone interested can identify whole blocks of people who might, say, tend to vote the same way.
In the current kerfuffle, CA used FB data to identify people who might be receptive to Trump’s message and pushed them Trump posts. And they picked out probable Democratic voters and pushed pro-Bernie messages at them, possibly siphoning votes away from Hilary. In both cases, apparently, they were able to identify their targets in tightly-contested locations.
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My Instagram account was hijacked by a Russian bot this past weekend. There is no simple fix for when that happens. There’s no complicated fix for it. I’m hijacked and my account is now run by a Russian bot and that’s that. As I thought about it, I realized I’m much madder at Instagram/Facebook than at the Russian bot. But, even though I’m furious at the privacy violations and the Russian meddling and Facebook’s lazy way of saying, “Uh, sorry. We’ll take care of this. Sure we will. Yup, we’ll get right on it.” did I delete Facebook? I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not yet. But, I thought about it. And, that’s a first step, right?
Sorry to hear about the hijacking. I can’t honestly say I’m surprised about their unhelpfulness, though. It’s cheaper for them to blow you off than to do any work, and they figure you’ll create a new account anyway. Because their offering is so wonderful, right?
It could be a first step. But only if you take a second step. Otherwise it’s just a very short line-dance.
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