The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal seems to have given the critics of social network the perfect stick with which to hit THE Social Network. As news of users’ data having been hijacked by third-parties for various purposes (most notably influencing elections) came out, a #DeleteFacebook movement began in full swing. Among the most prominent who used the hashtag was WhatsApp Messenger’s co-founder Brian Acton (Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion). The word was out: what a lot of people had always (always!) suspected was true: Facebook was dangerous and had no place in our lives.
The problem, as it often is with movements that demand the removal of anything (person, regime, app, anything), is that the focus is far too often on getting rid of the perceived problem, rather than providing a solution or an alternative. While by deleting Facebook, one would definitely be making their personal information safer and free from manipulation, one would also be disconnecting oneself from hundreds of people with whom they had built links, thanks to the platform. Yes, Facebook had allowed unscrupulous parties to take users’ data for nefarious purposes, but it had got that data by becoming a part of the lives of millions. If I had a dollar for every person I know who starts the day by checking his or her Facebook account and who pick their phone up every ten minutes to check on “likes, shares and updates,” I would have enough to retire happily and live out the rest of my days in a Himalayan resort.
Love it or hate it, Facebook has become an integral part of many of our lives. It is a massive platform where one keeps in touch with one’s friends, discovers old friends and of course, makes new ones. It is the place which keeps reminding us of birthdays and anniversaries and sometimes even serves up snazzy videos documenting our friendships on the network. Of course, it has its dark side too – false news, stalking and a whole lot more, but what I am trying to point out is this: for all its faults, Facebook does deliver a significant amount of value. Also, rather importantly, as of now, it has no alternative.
Yes, you can go ahead and #DeleteFacebook, but where do you go to for news and updates from the friends you leave behind on Zuckerberg’s network? There is actually no viable alternative. Yes, Google+ does lurk around on our devices, but it is akin to that acclaimed book that we buy, but never actually get down to reading. The likes of WeChat, Snapchat, Instagram (which also belongs to Facebook) and others do a bit of this and that, but none of them have the comprehensive coverage of Facebook – pictures, chats, games, news…everything in one place. And even if they did, you would not only have to delete Facebook but also ensure that everyone you knew there moved to the new social network you have chosen to replace it – and THAT can take some doing.
Yes, Facebook has problems. Serious problems. But it nevertheless remains a formidable social network with a subscriber base that is more than most countries’ populations. That is its strength, and as we are discovering now, its weakness too. There is just too much out there. Too much to be simply dumped and move on for most people – something that the #DeleteFacebook crowd does not seem to realise.
Deleting Facebook would be like shutting down a very crowded road because too many accidents occur on it. The road might be dangerous, but a lot of people still use it. And will continue to use it until there is an alternative path. And that is perhaps what the #DeleteFacebook needs to understand.
Facebook has attained the status it has today because it delivers something that millions of users value. Value enough, it now seems, to even put their personal data at stake out there. And at the time of writing, it has nothing that can remotely be called an alternative, unless we go back to the good old days of using e-mail and chat – and take it from me, that is not easy.
It would make far, far more sense to use Facebook more carefully. To keep an eye on which apps you give permission to access your Facebook information. And yes, perhaps, to start looking at other social networks for sharing information and for interacting. It would also provide the best spur for Facebook itself to clean up its act and become a more secure network – the rise of Snapchat did force it to revamp both Instagram and Messenger, didn’t it?
Do not #DeleteFacebook. Not yet. It might have its frailties, but it is currently like a shark in a sea of social network mediocrity. It is massive and has no real alternatives.