The recent Facebook debacle has turned a lot of attention to things many folks have been unconcerned with since its inception. As much as Mark Zuckerberg claimed to share the public outrage at learning a data company with whom Facebook had shared all kinds of information had used the data for monetary purposes, he was willfully collecting all that data and sharing it with others.
That sense of commiseration quickly turned to an admonishment as Mark took out a full page ad in all major publications to essentially say, “Well, you users did all agree to this.” Head spinning from the whiplash of I’m on your side to this is as much your fault.
Sure, sure, the terms of service state that intent, and every user that creates a Facebook account agrees to the collection of that data.
But having talked to several folks that work in the tech industry, they’ve all been skeptical that Zuckerberg actually believed this data company when it claimed to have deleted all that data. “When it comes to consumer data,” they’d said, “nothing is ever deleted.”
The next big surprise that hit the public was that various apps, and one in particular that utilized API rules to circumvent the normal data collection safeguards, had collected huge amounts of user data without consent essentially since Facebook even started offering apps. How many accounts were affected? At first the answer seemed to be in the hundreds of thousands, but then the answer became “every account.”
This left a lot of people wondering about the future of Facebook, especially when Elon Musk rather swiftly pulled all his major brand pages from the platform.
But let’s back up a second.
It’s not the first instance of Facebook alienating its user base.
After Facebook’s IPO the company deftly made a series of changes to how the platform worked, particularly for business. Business and brand pages now could reach only a small fraction of their audiences, and without a ton of organic promotion or paid advertising, many businesses began to feel like their efforts spent there were becoming fruitless.
Pair that with the news feed algorithms that tried with wildly varying degrees of success to prioritize only the content a user wants to see. Read: ignoring a lot of content from friends that doesn’t perfectly fit a narrative created by data collected — what could go wrong?
For years posts adorned the internet reminding others how to bypass that news feed or curate it more successfully to actually get the stuff they wanted to see, but it still made engaging with brands those folks had actually chosen to follow difficult.
If you’re a larger company with money to burn, regular promoted posts is no big deal.
But what do you do if you’re the typical small business? The kind of business that was attracted to Facebook in the first place because it was an inexpensive (or free) place to be in front of their customers? Make no mistake: this platform as a marketing platform was built almost entirely on the backs of those businesses.
Business owners are regular users as well, and with what’s already an influx of political rants and echo chamber fueled stressors, when you add business frustration on top of it, it really kills the enthusiasm to use the platform. And when the bulk of paid ads become “make money now” schemes and big companies, it all becomes noise that the average user has less and less use for.
In short, a worse experience for everyone.
Now that it’s clear that those already shamelessly monetized users’ trust was completely abused, is this something Facebook comes back from? Hard to say, but it’s certainly affected our own use of it.