Facebook Users of the World, Unite!
Let’s channel our collective user power to shape a better Facebook future.
As a collective, let’s log out of our Facebook and Instagram accounts between May 25th and June 1st.
I’m a tech optimist, yet skeptical of social media. My entrepreneurial journey was initiated by a desire for tech that supports real community and true conversation. Tech that enables new forms of play and artistic co-creation. Tech that safeguards the digital well-being of individuals that make up the whole of our digital communities. In other words, the attributes of what Facebook could be.
Kernels of potential exist in Facebook. For example, there are Facebook groups that connect victims of bullying, illness, abuse and trauma, allowing them to share their stories in safe spaces. Facebook is also a place where you can share your personal creations or the artwork of others. And Facebook can be a helpful platform to organize a collective demonstration against hoarders of power, be it demographic, corporate or political.
Yet these offerings are not unique to Facebook but rather to the internet. And while Facebook is a scaled and organized expression of this potential, its negatives have begun to outweigh the positives. Most notably, our data has been used to manipulate vulnerable Facebook members, influence political outcomes and violate our digital safety:
- “Facebook showed advertisers how it has the capacity to identify when teenagers feel ‘insecure’, ‘worthless’ and ‘need a confidence boost.’” (The Guardian)
- “I first noticed bad actors exploiting Facebook in early 2016 and contacted Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg…just before the election. I spent four months trying to convince Facebook that its algorithms and advertising business model were vulnerable to bad actors. They were reluctant to accept my conclusion then and continued to deny and deflect through the end of 2017.” (Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg mentor)
- “…[Cambridge Analytica] harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.” (NY Times)
Sorry, not sorry
Facebook argues that they are doing something new and difficult that is benefiting society, and that this earns them wiggle-room to innovate. Yet many of these innovations now benefit shareholders far more than society. Facebook — already a wildly profitable company — has been directed by Wall Street to focus on further revenue growth, which means attracting more users and making more money per user. And that hunger for more revenue has been at the root of nearly every Facebook “innovation” that has come at society’s expense.
Facebook apologizes for their missteps; and yet each apology is a one-off. There is no recognition of the deeper problem of greed for revenue within Facebook’s culture. And lately those apologies — whether in a Facebook post or in Congressional testimony — are starting to feel as insincere as they are repetitive:
Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, we’re responding. (Mark Zuckerberg, 2010)
“This was a breach of trust, and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time.” (Mark Zuckerberg, 2018)
This is what it looks like when Silicon Valley abuses an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission approach to innovation.
You work with Facebook, not for them
But at least Facebook is free, right? This is a dangerous perspective and a forfeiture of one’s power as a user. The primary fee for using Facebook is our willingness to accept platform ads that are crafted and selected using our own personal data.
Wall Street sees this arrangement as very valuable. When Mark Zuckerberg sold shares in early March, he was doing so at a Facebook market cap of about $535Bln, or a value of $240 per monthly active user. If you actually log in regularly, buy goods online and contribute content, your value to Facebook is many multiples of of $240.
The mutual agreement between Facebook and its users is therefore a financial one rooted in basic trust. And part of that mutual agreement is that Facebook will protect our private information and operate with our best intentions in mind. Not just within the letter of user agreements, but within the spirit of user agreements.
So what can we do as users when Facebook — our partner — is not honoring our agreement? Wall Street has bet on nothing. The business model of Facebook is based on the idea that users will not leave the platform; that the act of deleting an account is too drastic. Indeed, users feel trapped between a rock and a hard place: allow Facebook’s behavior to continue, or lose one’s Facebook history forever. Is there a middle ground where we can assert our collective power?
When unions were created at the turn of the last century, brutal conditions pitted powerful owners against individual workers at the core of the industrial business model. Eventually, these workers united to demand better wages and safety standards. They didn’t want to lose their jobs, but working-life was unacceptable. So they unionized and went on strike. As individuals they were disregarded, but collectively their voice effected change.
As Facebook users we have a relationship with a powerful entity that has not held up their end of the bargain. It is time we unite as a community to show Facebook that we will no longer accept the unfair conditions under which we use their platform.
As a collective, I propose we log out of our Facebook and Instagram accounts between May 25th and June 1st. Facebook may be right (for now) in that deleting our accounts is too drastic. But as a business they simply cannot afford a broadly-exercised and user-advertised Facebook walkout, even for one week.
A one-week strike may not sound long, but it will hit Facebook management where it hurts most: the share price. If even half of frequent users leave the platform from May 25th to June 1st, ad revenues will drop. If we make enough noise about the strike, advertisers could suspend their ads like Pep Boys and Mozilla did in March. More importantly, a general user strike would challenge the business-model assumption that Facebook users are apathetic towards digital health and are addicted to the platform.
This strike is being organized to grab Facebook Management’s attention, and once we have that we can start negotiating the future of our online community. Here’s what that future should include.
First and foremost, regulation. Zuckerberg has spoken of an openness to future regulation, but Facebook’s actions speak louder than his words. Since Zuckerberg’s Senate testimony, Facebook has already moved to significantly reduce exposure to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) going into effect May 25th. Facebook has promised to operate within the “spirit” of the GDPR for users outside of Europe, yet Facebook’s past is littered with an inability to honor the spirit of user agreements. We need an explicit commitment to government-based oversight, starting with a commitment to GDPR for all users.
Second, we need to see a shake-up of Facebook management and its Directors. Facebook spent many years as an engineering problem, and Zuckerberg was the right person for the job at that time. Squeezing revenues out of users may still be an engineering problem, but Facebook’s greatest challenges are now cultural and societal. At a minimum, we need to see new faces among senior leadership that have a track record in fostering safe and healthy communities.
Last, we have yet to hear an apology commensurate with Facebook’s offenses. We need a statement from Facebook that recognizes its collective mistakes as symptomatic of an internal ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission culture that has benefited shareholders over users.
What to do
First, commit to quitting Facebook and Instagram May 25th to June 1st. Log out of your accounts (both desktop and mobile) after replacing your Facebook profile picture with the image at the bottom of this article. Why May 25th? Because that’s the first day of the EU’s GDPR, and more eyes will be watching.
Second, share the message. Our protest will only work if a large number of active users participate and advocate. Share or send this suggested post on social media (including Instagram and Facebook):
Facebook has disrespected our personal data and disregarded the spirit of our user agreements. To demonstrate our collective power as users, log out of Facebook and Instagram May 25 – June 1. #facebreak2018 #newpower bit.ly/facebreak2018
We have a real opportunity to shape the future of Facebook. Indeed, I’m excited for that future. But we must act, and now is the time.