A lot has happened with Facebook the past several months, so what should be our takeaway from all of this? Whether or not we want to admit it, Facebook is a central part of our society’s social fabric, so before we quit Facebook, let’s think about what happened this past week.
Simply put, the data of 50 million Facebook users was used by a firm called Cambridge Analytica, which consulted the Trump campaign. This happened because of Facebook’s negligence in their policies for third-party applications — not a hacking or breach in systems.
Cambridge Analytica obtained user data from a third-party Facebook app that took advantage of a loophole that allowed apps to collect data from its users’ friends. Therefore, the data of 50 million users was compromised because at least one of their friends technically allowed the app access. Facebook edited their API to prevent this in 2015.
This data availability is a huge disappointment for Facebook, and it is consistent with accusations of negligence on Facebook’s part for failing to realize its platform’s societal importance and responsibility.
The Cambridge Analytica incident, the Russian bots incident, and the spread of fake news on the platform are all examples of this.
These incidents center around perpetrators finding creative ways to exploit the website’s capabilities that could have been prevented had Facebook taken its responsibilities more seriously from the onset.
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem to have recently come to terms with this responsibility after frequently ridiculing the notion of Facebook having the societal impacts as it does.
These incidents with Facebook are alarming, but they are part of the inevitable growing pains as our society moves toward interconnectivity as a result of social media. As much as we would like to deny it, social media is the future and its benefits are what has been and will continue to revolutionize our world. Facebook seems to have denied this too.
The result of Facebook’s denial is the past few months’ PR nightmare and a forced reckoning for the platform. And from what it looks like, it has been effective. Facebook changed its third-party app policy some time ago, but has committed to review all apps with access to similar types of data in response. Regarding the Russian bots and fake news, it has recently begun deploying AI agents to identify suspicious users and content.
We shouldn’t give up on social media, become insular, and back away from the future. Any new technology has growing pains and, unfortunately, people will try to exploit any new technology that is important. We’re in an inevitable stage of learning and fine tuning. Demanding regulation and responsibility is part of this process.