Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to the STEM program of the high school I attended as a youth. In gauging the audience of students in attendance, about 45 total, I asked them which social media platforms they use by a show of hands. When I got to Facebook, only two students raised their hands. We’ve all been teens at some point, and no one wants to be on the same social media system that mom and dad use, but a 4% positive response? That’s outpacing some of the more recent estimates by industry analysts, and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Titanic that Facebook now appears to be.
2018 has been virtually non-stop Facebook news stories on their privacy policies, culture issues, fake news proliferation, opponent attack methods, leadership woes, international government outcries on all of the above plus Facebook’s de facto support of a possible genocide by simply not policing their site fully for threats against others. While Facebook has announced that they are combating some of this, it appears that their multifaceted problem is continuing to grow in scope as investigations by multiple countries continue. So let’s review each of the five proverbial nails in Facebook’s coffin to see if they can survive the onslaught.
Nail #1: Facebook Has Lost the Confidence of its Users
While there are several articles discussing Facebook issues in January and February of 2018, March is when the bomb dropped. The Cambridge Analytica scandal broke and let the world knew that while Facebook user data was being abused, Facebook did nothing significant to curb the situation.
Later in March, Mark Zuckerberg finally addressed the issue stating:
“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago…” “…But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
The icing on the cake for the issue that sunk polls ever lower came in May when it was uncovered that Cambridge Analytica had run voter suppression campaigns as well.
Facebook’s troubles, though, don’t begin and end with particular scandal. Further erosion occurred throughout 2018 with discovering that Facebook wasn’t cleaning out items a user deleted. Similarly, Facebook’s free VPN service app Onavo was designed to analyze what users are doing with other apps on their device as well as a slew of articles later on in the year on how Facebook is still abusing user privacy and using facial recognition in their Amazon Echo smart home device competitor to track you. Throw in an additional data breach in September and an expose on how misinformation and fake news continues to spread on Facebook, and it’s easy to see where their future is heading.
Add to this yet another data breach that exposed 6.8 million users in December, and then just before Christmas, it came to light that they killed a feature that would expose its users to a wider variety of political opinions on the fear that many would interpret this as bias. Finally, the world ended 2018 learning that Facebook gave major tech companies like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon such deep access to user information that the companies could actually read and modify private messages! It’s no wonder the public confidence in the brand is at an all-time low.
Nail #2: The Businesses That Use Facebook Ads Are Being Hindered
Facebook may be used by billions daily for free to share their lives but what drives Facebook is ad revenue. They need businesses to buy ad campaigns for their Facebook pages and boost posts to the Facebook population in order to continue to thrive. This is what makes Facebook’s actions in 2018 so very puzzling.
In January, they changed how a user’s newsfeed operates to prioritize friend posts over brands and publisher posts which angered many advertisers, and less than a month later a major site that used Facebook to spread its publications, Little Things, went under and put one hundred employees out of work. The response of Facebook to this major change, though not directed at Little Things, was to basically tell publishers to suck it up and take or leave it.
On top of all of this one of the largest advertisers, Unilever, threatened to pull all ads from Facebook (and Google) if they didn’t address the problem that their platform was being used for hate speech and failed to protect children. Not a good omen at all.
Nail #3: The Investors Are Leery and Doubt A Bright Future
This one is relatively straightforward. As of this writing, Facebook’s stock price is around its value from 2017, having dropped deeply due to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s value dropped $58 billion in March and by July, Mark Zuckerberg had lost $16 billion in personal wealth.
An investor analysis in October was titled “Congratulations, Facebook, Nobody Trusts You Much Anymore” which pretty much sums up this nail in the coffin rather nicely and included a rather damning survey for Facebook.
Nail #4: Governments Worldwide Are Realizing Serious Problems With Facebook
In March, it was confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission had launched an investigation into Facebook’s data privacy practices. On the heels of this was a hearing by the US Congress that Mark Zuckerberg willingly attended to answer questions for ten hours that can only be described as softball questions; most members of Congress had a very little foundational concept of how Facebook operates. Mark Zuckerberg walked out of the hearing almost $3 billion richer if that’s any indication.
In May, members of the US House Intelligence Committee released roughly 3,500 “fake news” ads posted to Facebook during the 2016 presidential election by Russian cutout group Internet Research Agency, signaling that the investigations into Facebook’s lack of security controls were moving forward.
In June, US lawmakers slammed Facebook over a new report that the company had shared personal user data with multiple device makers, including device makers based in China with ties to the Beijing government, leading one member of Congress to suggest that Mr. Zuckerberg lied under oath in April. This lead to a report in July that Facebook was facing an expanded federal investigation into it sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica and other organizations. Also in July, Facebook revealed that it has uncovered yet another disinformation campaign targeting the 2018 US midterm election with fake news and ads via multiple fake accounts. The world then learned that Facebook was actually facing investigations from at least four US federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC).
In August, Facebook apparently ran afoul of the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing discrimination for its employees, which added yet another federal agency investigating the company.
The world soon took notice and in November a nine-nation coalition calling themselves “The Grand Committee” requested Mark Zuckerberg to attend their hearing in London to explain all the troubles each nation had been experiencing with issues like user privacy, fake news, and more.
Zuckerberg ignored the request indicating either disinterest from the CEO or battening down of the hatches at Facebook for legal purposes given all the political hits they had been taking for months.
Nail #5: Facebook’s Leadership Has an Almost No-Confidence Vote From Everyone
Facebook also hasn’t been immune from internal issues as well. From the regular users to governments, it seems that the world has taken serious exception to the company’s standards and practices. But one of the most damning categories to lose confidence from is the employees, both current and former, and that is exactly what has been happening in 2018.
In February, an organization composed of former Facebook and Google employees, calling themselves the Center for Humane Technology, sounded an alarm over what they say are the ill effects of Facebook (and Google) on the general population, including depression and addiction to devices. On top of this, in September, the founders of Instagram (purchased by Facebook in 2012) decided to resign their positions in Facebook after clashes with Mark Zuckerberg.
In November, a Facebook post by former employee Mark Luckie went viral and was picked up by major news organizations. USA Today offered in-depth coverage writing:
“A few black employees said they were dissuaded by managers from becoming involved in internal groups for black employees or doing “black stuff.”
Prior studies had shown that Facebook, along with other Silicon Valley corporations, had serious deficiencies in its hiring practices of minorities and women, which speaks directly to the leadership of the organization. And then the bomb dropped on Facebook.
In November the New York Times published an exhaustive research article on Facebook called “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis.” In this extensive article, authors Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jack Nicas dive into all aspects of how Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and the upper echelons of Facebook knew of damning information. Facebook didn’t disclose it to the public in a timely manner, hired a PR firm, Definers, to attack its biggest and most vocal adversaries and more. And if it couldn’t get any worse, on the heels of this reputation-destroying article came the British Parliament, who had seized documents from a major Facebook developer that had rather damning internal messages from Facebook. In this release of information, several things came to light in terms of Facebook’s practices regarding how they handle interactions with their competitors but the most damning item of them all was the fact that it was revealed that the Facebook app on your mobile could reach outside of the app and start collecting data from other apps and system that it had no right to, including text messages and more. Facebook did this without notifying the users of these changes.
That alone should make anyone want to remove the app immediately.
So there you have it. What the world is witnessing is the implosion of a company that was founded on the concept of giving the world a free platform to express its’ thoughts providing it could data mine everything about those who choose to use their services. In the age of a newly heightened awareness of just how far we, as a society, should let a company like this go we are hopefully going to rebound and hold them rightfully accountable for everything they have done.
It’s time to throw a funeral.