The 21st-century heroes were thought to save the world, connect everyone, even bring about world peace, and in the glory days, the evilest thing one could think of would be to have your plants die in Farmville. Furthermore, most politicians had no idea how to use Twitter, like prominent labor party official Ed Balls who accidentally tweeted his name while trying to search for information about himself–April 28th was thereafter known as Ed Balls day.
Flash forward to March 2018 and the halo has worn off, the honeymoon is over, and social media isn’t the shiny new service that it once was. Facebook has a huge amount of responsibility with well over 2 billion users, which has grown from 100 million in the last 10 years. Keep in mind that the social network is also banned in China. And since last Friday, the stock has dropped quite a bit given the news of Cambridge Analytical obtaining over 50 million users’ information, which is over 1/7th of the US population.
Users of the social network were not warned that their data might be shared; rather a professor’s app took data from the users who joined it and took data from his/her friends without permission. And it’s not just information you publicly shared on Facebook, but also private information and the networks, which is collected through data mining. They used information as seemingly innocuous as your musical taste to movies to politicians. And this data got put in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, which just happened to be the Trump campaign’s data operations team. Cambridge Analytica is responsible for setting up advertisements and for abusing the platform, which in turn helped Trump to win the 2016 election.
But a key piece to remember here is that Facebook is at the will of its own conscious and user agreement. There is no regulation in the United States in regards to social networks and privacy. Thus with the ongoing talks of interference in our elections and with the light being shined on Facebook specifically about Russian involvement, it begs the question of when enough will be enough.
Jeff Pooley, associate professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College, says that Facebook and its peers need public oversight. “This breach wasn’t a slip-up or one-off error. It’s all about the social network’s core business model: hoovering up data on users to sell them to their real customers, advertisers. Privacy violation is the whole point. Apologies won’t change Facebook’s business model; only strong public regulation will.”
Given that Mark Zuckerberg has given what some would call an apology and stated that he isn’t opposed to regulation, it seems that the honeymoon might be ending. Or at least as Jeff Pooley stated above, the time for oversight is near. Hopefully, in the near future, social media sites will no longer be able to breach the trust of users with merely a slap on the wrist.
Elizabeth Vlattas, contributing editor at NJTechReviews, contributed to this reporting.