Facebook, friend or foe: A guide for deciding what to do

So… Facebook, we have to talk. I don’t think it’s working out. It’s not you, it’s me…

The old Facebook break-up trope is a tad cliché. But perhaps this time Facebook really has gone too far. Can you still be friends with Facebook or is it over for good?

There’s a ton wrong about how Facebook collects, stores and over-permissively shares data. And even more troubling is what pretty much any third-party application can do with this data accessed through Facebook. I’m not releasing Facebook from the heat they are facing from the media and masses currently. However, does it come as a huge surprise to any digital natives or digital savvies that records exist of all our digital communications? The first rule of our digital lives is that nothing on the internet can ever really be erased. Not even Facebook.

But before it comes to that–and again, it’s not a relationship I’m taking sides on–I’d like to offer a few points to consider, if for nothing else, some piece of mind.

It’s not just Facebook, and the data you think is private may never have been. Spoiler, everything you do in the digital world is tracked. Nearly every click and keystroke you make is monitored. Are you willing to commit to giving up on all your digital activities to prevent some algorithm from predicting you really do want that rug you’ve looked at three times so far on West Elm’s website? (Why won’t they just leave me alone already!) Maybe it’s time to accept that this is how the digital world works, and take those suggestions and nudges with a healthy dose of skepticism and self-control.

Sometimes recognizing likes or patterns comes in handy. Are you annoyed when Apple Music suggests awesome new bands to listen to based on your previous listening history? I’ve found many new favorites I would otherwise never have discovered through this “data manipulation.” Or how about when a podcast-book-new pair of shoes is suggested because if you “liked that, you might like this…?” When friends can instantly pay you back for dinner with the Cash app and all you have to do is tell it your account info, is it a small price to pay? I just learned you can share a WiFi password just by putting your iPhone close to someone else’s – how cool is that! Who knows what kind of information is being shared there, and who cares (well, maybe we should). These are helpful and convenient digital transactions that mirror what a personal interaction would allow. Should we be prepared to abandon all this, too? All of the good for fear of the bad? Also, Headspace just gets me, man…

Facebook is a tool, one source of information but not the whole universe. Perhaps it’s time to modify the way we use the tool, and the expectations we have for its use, to continue to gain value from it. Let’s not take it too seriously… if we’re using Facebook as the only source for new information, maybe we step back and consider a diversity of sources before deciding on the veracity of a piece of new information, and certainly before sharing it on. And let’s not treat it too lightly either…there’s no need to give up more rights to our data than needed to untrusted sources in exchange for finding out what color is our soul (text me, I’ll tell you if you really want to know). But it is still a somewhat useful tool for checking in on what friends are up to, finding out if your favorite restaurant will be at that summer festival, recommending others adopt a dog from the shelter you just had a fantastic experience with, and coordinating meet-ups with neighbors who like drinking rare micro-brews on Wednesdays after a quick 5-mile jaunt.  

So, what would it look like if you stuck it out with Facebook for now? Well, I think you’d need to set a few ground rules for the relationship, centered on being careful, appropriately skeptical and genuinely non-exploitative (this goes for people and organizations). Also:

  • Yes, do the things everyone is saying to do to turn off the data collecting from apps you allowed once permission to all your data (just know this doesn’t necessary delete that data depending on who’s hands it’s now in…oops). Stop doing the quizzes and tests, enough said.
  • Make your privacy settings as private as you prefer, but know that private doesn’t really ever mean private online (again does this come as a surprise when you’re ‘sharing’ on a ‘social’ ‘network’ — the reality of it has been right in front of us all along).
  • Be sure you’re sharing posts with just friends, if that’s your preference, and share only what you know to be true and believe. Check sources before believing anything you’ve not heard elsewhere. Let your inner investigative journalist shine!
  • For brands, continue to share relevant, on-brand, strategy-aligned messages and remember that social media is just another channel for communicating with a broader audience. Keep it simple.
  • Be the change you want to see…could consistent and persistent feedback from Facebook’s friends make a lasting change on the platform over time? Everyday things like adhering to the above is a start, but I encourage us all to think even bigger about what a social media platform could be at its best. #GoCoop

If you decide you’re out, that’s okay, too. Go ahead and #DeleteFacebook. There are other fish in the sea. You’ll find social media happiness again. And perhaps like a prairie fire, a mass exodus could cleanse Facebook, making it less crowded and eventually less desirable for exploitation, making way for a new and better world for those who stay (I can dream). It’s been nice Facebook-knowing you…we’re bound to meet again, reincarnated in another digital world.

Holly Fearing

Holly Fearing

Holly lives and breathes social media; if you can’t find her IRL, try reaching out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, and you’ll likely get her right away. ... Web: www.filene.org Details

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