The problem with Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg.
Although I wasn’t able to listen to all of the hearing today, I was able to hear enough sporadically to understand exactly why we are so frustrated with the founder of Facebook. He is still mentally living at Harvard, trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes about what his social network really does. In the end, Facebook is not a social network that is designed to connect people in a digital community. Instead, Facebook is simply the new way that we experience magazines, books, news papers, and opinion driven pieces; Facebook is a publisher. And Mark Zuckerberg is making a killing with it.
Zuckerberg did lay out, several times after various Senators asked what data Facebook sold, how data and advertisers worked on the network. According to him, advertisers request a specific group that they want to target, Facebook builds the algorithm to target those people based on data Facebook has collected through what we decide to share, and then post the ads to our news feed and FB page. He continuously assured Senators, and those watching, that the data was never given over to the advertisers, nor is it sold to the advertisers but rather stays inside Facebook’s servers. But, as one Senator pointed out, Zuckerberg and his massive company still make money off the use of that data.
And that appears to be the lynch pin that sets off the bomb of what Facebook really is doing with the data they collect from those 2 billion users every day. Zuckerberg faced the question of what happens to the data once it is collected from several Senators in various ways, and each time he would not give a complete answer, even partly dodging the question of what actually happens to the data of a deleted Facebook page with a convoluted “there are several systems that are in place and it takes time to get through those systems” – in other words – “we keep it long enough to create a picture of what people are doing so we can adjust the algorithms, then we forget about it and it sits on our servers forever.”
What was clear, for me at least, is that Facebook is entering a new phase in its life cycle, and social media is about to change dramatically. Several Senators brought attention to legislation that addresses privacy concerns, ad control and regulations, and first amendment concerns in the digital space. There was also an overwhelming feeling that Congress has decided what Facebook and the public have not been able to do: Facebook is a media company, and it acts as a publisher in charge of author’s content.
If Congress acts on the idea of regulations, and how far those regulations will go, remains to be seen. Senator Thom Tillis made a plea to not only Zuckerberg, but to Google, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and LinkedIn to get together and come up with an independent agreement between them that would help keep Government handling out of the free platforms that we all use to communicate with. Whether the tech giants will do so, again, remains to be seen.
But in all of the questions of data, privacy, where the information is going, and so on, one thing remained clear (a point that Zuckerberg kept coming back to over and over again): the user ultimately is responsible for what data Facebook gets their hands on.
The reality of this whole mess is that when it comes to what information we have floating out there, we are the ones who put it there. Facebook remains as simply a platform that we use. It does not force us to share anything. We do so at our own risk, and at this point in 2018, we are well aware as a culture as to exactly what social media is and how it works. While Facebook, and all the other sites, have some liability, we are ultimately the ones at fault for what information is presented to the community. The one saving grace with Facebook is the privacy tab where we can determine who sees what, and if we as individuals do not utilize that tab, then we do not have a place to complain. In fact, it is by simply engaging with Facebook that we allow ourselves to be placed in the precarious position of having our identities compromised. Facebook does not make anyone join. Facebook does not force anyone to do anything they do not want. Once you click the “Ok” button to create your account, you have made the choice, not Facebook. It is hard to understand that sometimes as we live by the idea that we are all owed something, yet we do not want to accept the responsibilities of our actions.
The only real problem with all of this is as noted above: the guy we trust is still mentally living in a dorm at Harvard.
And we tend to ignore that simple fact.