The Cambridge Analytica scandal is still reverberating in the media, garnering almost as much daily coverage as when the story broke in The New York Times on March 17. Facebook’s mishandling of user data has catalyzed a collective public reaction of disgust and indignation, and perhaps the most prominent public manifestation of this is the #DeleteFacebook movement. This vocal campaign is urging us to do exactly what it says: To vote with our feet. To boycott. To not just deactivate our Facebook accounts, but to eliminate them entirely.
However, in spite of #DeleteFacebook and the vitriol still surrounding this social media silverback, it seems that users are actually pretty reluctant to get rid of it. Evidently, they don’t want to be too hasty in cutting themselves off from what has become a key method of communication, and a source of entertainment.
Indeed, monthly user figures and this Google Trends chart show that after the initial wave of fury subsided we began to lose interest in the battle at hand, and slowly started tip-toeing away from having to put our money where our mouth is.
We won’t #DeleteFacebook. We can’t #DeleteFacebook. But why? We lived for such a long time without it!
Here are three speculative answers:
- We have nowhere else to go
Sad but true. And rumor has it that this reality is keeping morale sufficiently high over at Hacker Way. Will we all decamp to Snapchat or Twitter? The truth is, they simply don’t serve the same purpose, and can’t furnish us with the features we’ve become accustomed to. Perhaps you were thinking that to beat the Facebook stranglehold you’d simply switch your photographs to Instagram and messaging to What’s App? Nice idea, but you should know that they both lie within Mr. Zuckerberg’s dominion.
You would #DeleteFacebook, but you wouldn’t punish them if that is your objective.
It’s worth noting that there are actually some reasonable (and socially conscious) alternatives — like Disapora or the increasingly popular Vero, or any of the other social networks highlighted here — but without the critical mass of our family and friends, who exactly will we be networking with?
2. We are invested
Which brings me to my second point. Many of us (myself included) have been on Facebook for upwards of ten years. We’re invested in it. And this long relationship means that we care about Facebook as an infrastructure and we’re committed to its very particular way of structuring our relationships. Although, re-communing with distant friends and family at weddings and funerals is still an activity, we now fully expect to fill the void between such events with updates, reactions, birthday courtesies and a multitude of other micro-interactions.
And then there are those valued relationships that are sustained by Facebook in their entirety. They wouldn’t — and didn’t — exist without it. As Nancy Kaffer describes:
Now, instead of social circles, I have social networks full of subtle social gradations — an extended web of friends and acquaintances and work friends and friends of friends and people I had that great conversation with that one time at that one party and folks whose witty rejoinders I appreciate when they pop up on someone else’s page and that guy who had my back in that argument about top sheets versus duvet covers….And yet the dozens of people I encounter primarily on social media add value to my life, sometimes precisely because they’re from outside my immediate social circle, race or class.
This is how we now live, and we have been collectively working on its brilliant nuances for quite some time.
3. It’s a technological Swiss Army knife
Of late, many parties have expressed their concerns about social media’s grip on our attention (apparently we touch our phones nearly 3,000 times each day), and much of this is related to updating statuses and loading feeds. But it is important to point out that not all activity on Facebook is aimless. In fact, just thinking about jumping ship brings into sharp focus the many useful tasks it artfully assists us with.
One platform allows me to message my sister, invite my friends for a brunch, speak to my elderly parents overseas, check the news and the weather, upload and share my vacation photographs with everyone I’d like to share them with, respond to a full range of happenings in the lives of others (births, weddings, deaths, etc.), sell things, buy things, seek recommendations, announce my well-being during a national emergency — and a great deal of other things that I can’t recall or may not use (just take a look)
In short, it isn’t just a platform. It’s a portal that enables many many different kinds of interaction with my fellow humans. Humans that I have handpicked to communicate with. And who can choose to hear me or choose not to. It is unique in this sense.
4. We kinda knew…
Not to excuse Facebook’s mishandling of user data, but it seems fair to say that one of the reasons we’re reluctant to leave is because our outrage is actually a little hollow? Perhaps we didn’t know precisely how our data was being repurposed, but most of us are rightfully suspicious when something is completely free. And for a long time now there has been a rumbling discourse about what types of information Facebook has its mitts on and how they’re using it to make money.
So, although we (justifiably) don’t like that our data has been used to fuel some pretty shady sounding manipulation techniques, it seems disingenuous to insist we didn’t know the extent to which it was being harvested and used by marketers. We just never thought of it as a threat until now, and many of us are probably secretly looking forward to carrying on as usual once corrective measures are in place…
To be clear, I’m not seeking to provide a flat jacket for Facebook. I’m attempting to understand the relationship 2.2 billion people have formed with it. And why, in spite of this shameful scandal, most of us aren’t ready to let go.
It seems to me that social media has become a truly integral part of life in technologically enabled societies. It is now a part of how we live in the world — like the motor car and the television. Facebook might be set for one hell of a dressing down, but the smart money says there’s no retreating to a pre-Facebook era.