It seems as though Facebook is always making headlines, whether over privacy concerns or alleged unscrupulous business practices. And in late 2018, Facebook came under fire both for its lack of workplace diversity and its handling of personal data.
On November 27, a former Facebook employee publicly published a note accusing the company of having a “black people problem,” despite the company’s claim of inclusivity. “Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionally in its staffing,” the former employee said.
The same day, Facebook’s VP for policy solutions, Richard Allan, answered questions about an alleged personal data breach that could affect 87 million users worldwide. Although founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was invited to the London hearing with the International Grand Committee, he was conspicuously absent.
The CEO’s absence was publicly noted by Canadian representative Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.
“We don’t have Mr. Zuckerberg here today,” Erskine-Smith said. “Which is incredibly unfortunate and I think speaks to a failure to account for the loss of trust certainly across the world.”
Zuckerberg doesn’t bow out of every Facebook-related hearing, however. In April 2018, Zuckerberg sat before the U.S. Senate to defend his company’s handling of personal data. He was also questioned about fake news outlets and how deceitful users and pages are vetted.
Some marketing professionals believe that, during the congressional hearings, Zuckerberg did an inadequate job of explaining the platform’s policies and advertising tactics, leaving lingering questions behind. As for how Facebook handles the spread of disinformation and fake news, myriad questions also exist.
The News-Facebook Connection
According to the Pew Research Center, about 68 percent of Facebook users say they get their news from social media, at least in some capacity. About 20 percent reported that social media is “often” their news source.
Countless news outlets have used that data to their advantage. In fact, many news outlets view Facebook as an “essential tool for independent media,” reports Rolling Stone.
The social media platform is viewed in a similar manner by marketing professionals. Marketing via Facebook means that a company can reach countless individuals from all walks of life in a single post. That’s powerful stuff.
Further, Facebook marketing allows companies to firmly establish a brand and gain new customers. And, on the surface, the platform has no bias towards any product, company, or media outlet.
At least that’s what the majority of Facebook users believed until October 2018’s so-called “purge.”
Purging Hate Speech as Well as Free Speech
On October 11, Facebook announced that it had removed more than 550 pages that they say contained “severe political content” that was allegedly cyber-targeting potential voters. They did the same to 251 user accounts.
The overwhelming majority of affected sites weren’t niche sites or political ramblings from fringe groups. Many were trusted news outlets, including Reverb Press, which had thousands of followers and more than 4 million visitors every month. The site’s founder, James Reader, disputes the alleged “behavior violations” that led to Facebook’s removal of his life’s work.
“This is all about money,” Reader told Rolling Stone. “It’s a giant company trying to monopolize all behavior on the Internet.”
It’s not the first time that Facebook has been accused of monopolizing, or of policing the behavior of its users.
Is Facebook Slowly Losing Relevance?
The “purge” almost echoes Facebook’s page sweep in the aftermath of 2016’s U.S. presidential election, following claims of large-scale misinformation campaigns that were allegedly designed to sway voters. The widespread reports of fake news and hate speech on Facebook in 2016 prompted the removal of numerous pages and users.
Although citizens and lawmakers have given Facebook and Zuckerberg plenty of opportunity to admit accountability for data leaks and correct privacy and content-related errors, the platform has remained as elusive as ever. The company continues to label legitimate news outlets as “disinformation” and hasn’t done its due diligence in protecting user data.
In the wake of Facebook’s continued legal issues and data breaches, many users are abandoning the platform altogether, especially young people. Recent data indicates that Facebook use by people ages 13 through 17 has dropped 20 percent since 2015. Facebook is now the fourth most popular social media platform among that age bracket, behind Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram.
Perhaps it is the continual loss of younger users that will cause Zuckerberg and company to drop their aura of mystery. Users of all ages deserve more transparency regarding Facebook’s privacy policies, and alternative news outlets should be allowed to defend themselves if Facebook flags their site as “fake.”