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It’s Way Past Time for the World to #DeleteFacebook, But Is It That Easy?

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We always at least kind of knew that Facebook was a terrible thing, right? Maybe we made half-jokes about Big Brother watching us, or we talked about the dangers of the insular bubbles it puts us in. Maybe we took that idea more seriously after the 2016 election, as we started to learn more about the very real role Facebook played, and not in a positive, socially conscious, uniting the world sort of way. No, this is more the foreign influence in a “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” sort of way.

We already knew that there were companies like Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm founded by Steve Bannon and billionaire GOP & Brexit donor Robert Mercer (a man who believes cats have more value than welfare recipients), that were using what their own employees have called “psychological warfare” to win elections by manipulating voters.

This weekend, though, a whistleblower revealed to the New York Times that Cambridge Analytica used the private information of more than 50 million people without permission from either the users or Facebook itself. They used that information to create profiles to target voters with specific information. (Think racial profiling, fake news stories, and all other forms of manipulation we now know played a role in the 2016 election.)

Cambridge reportedly paid an outside researcher to acquire the information under the guise of academic research. So you may have filled out a survey, while the researcher was actually interested in mining all the information in your Facebook account. Not just your posts and interests, but those of everyone in your network. For example, if you pressed like on an article a friend posted, and that friend participated in this research gathering, this company now has a profile on you. (And, on average, about 300 other people for every one person who participates directly.)

This type of data mining isn’t at all unusual for Facebook, but in this case, it was secretly paid for by a company whose purpose is using your info to “fight a culture war.”

According to Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who also helped found the company, “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.” He told the NYT that the company was well aware of the illegality of the data breach, but “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.” (Another investigation also revealed that the firm says they use bribery and blackmail involving hired sex workers to win elections so yeah, I believe they don’t give one single shit about rules.)

Making all of these even worse is Facebook’s reaction to the whole thing. They lied about the numbers, saying only about 270,000 people were affected, they threatened to sue the NYT and the Observer if they ran their exposés, and they suspended the account of Wylie, the whistleblower.

Twitter (which obviously has its own bundle of serious issues) is full of people declaring their intent or their already-executed decision to delete their Facebook accounts.

But is it that easy?

I know we all want to think of ourselves as totally autonomous beings, who would never rely so heavily on a major corporation for access to our own personal relationships, we may as well be honest here. For many, the decision to delete Facebook would have as big an impact on our lives as deleting our email or changing our phone number without forwarding contact info.

Like it or not, for many of us, Facebook has inserted itself into our lives as a highly effective mode of communication. With little effort, we all suddenly have the ability to be in constant contact with everyone from our immediate family to those elementary school classmates you would surely have otherwise forgotten. Major life changes like engagements and pregnancies are now public knowledge, and while there are certainly many downsides to that fact, the benefits of such easily maintained relationships are undeniable. (As someone who has made two major moves in the last decade, I can sure say that as many problems as I have with Facebook, the lifeline it has provided to many, many friendships is a priceless resource.)

And then are the small businesses and independent artists for whom Facebook is an essential part of promoting their work and connecting with customers.

None of this even gets into the way Mark Zuckerberg and his brand of “new colonialism” has worked to make Facebook the internet gatekeeper in developing countries.

And on top of all of that, Facebook has made it known that even if you delete your account, even if you’ve never had an account, they still have ways of tracking and targeting you.

Did we give Facebook too much power in our lives? Yeah, it sure sounds like it. So deleting Facebook, if that’s an option for you, might well be a smart, healthy move. But this seems to demand action that isn’t just limited to this one site. American and British lawmakers are demanding answers from Zuckerberg and calling for an investigation into the Cambridge Analytica breach and ideally, there would be oversight to protect consumers from this sort of predatory behavior from any company.

What do you all think? Is the convenience of social media worth the invasions of privacy? If you haven’t already, is this breach pushing you to #DeleteFacebook?

(image: Pexels)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.