Is it time for a mass exodus from Facebook?

The stories continue to unfold around Facebook’s gross mishandling of consumer data. Just today, the New York Times revealed that Facebook once again violated consumer data privacy by providing intrusive access to users’ personal data for major companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Sptify, and Netflix, among others. This is just the latest in a string of problems Facebook has had with consumer data, including Cambridge Analytica collecting user data without consent and a Senate intelligence committee report concluding Russian agents used social media to try to suppress the votes of African-Americans.  

We live in an era where corporate responsibility is top of mind for many consumers. A recent Edelman Brand study found that “almost two-thirds, or 64%, of consumers worldwide now purchase from — or boycott — a brand due to its stances on social or political issues.” Facebook’s behavior—whether it’s complicity or complacency, or some combination of the two—warrants a conversation about how we as consumers plan to hold them responsible. 

I was the first generation to use Facebook. We’ve built entire social and professional networks on the platform. We’ve cultivated and sustained relationships, shared our stories, and seamlessly integrated Facebook into a ritualistic, and quite frankly addictive, part of our lives. Disentangling our everyday lives from this platform which is violating our trust and selling our data is far more emotionally complex than it should be. Our use of the platform is habitual, and woven into the fabric of our personal and professional lives.

To complicate matters, those of us that work in communications and digital marketing know that our clients also rely on Facebook and Instagram for business growth. While my nonprofit clients aren’t looking to make money off of click bait, they most certainly use it as a mechanism for stakeholder engagement. When I develop communications strategies for clients, they include strategies for social media. There aren’t other tools that exist like Facebook to reach a mass audience at any given point. At this point, a professional recommendation for clients to remove themselves from the platform feels harmful to a client’s growth—there are simply too many Facebook users to suggest a client drop Facebook as a tool.

So what do we do when a platform has tentacles in every part of our society’s life. What do we do as responsible consumers? What do we do as communications and digital marketers who encourage social media use for nonprofit and political engagement? How do we grapple with continued use of a platform that is failing it’s consumers. 

I would argue that if we believe in corporate responsibility and accountability, then we need to leave. Our collective continued use is furthering their lack of responsible behavior. I’m not naive enough to believe that a single user deleting their profile will shift the balance of accountability. But a mass exodus by users and businesses may. Unless we hold the company truly accountable for failing to protect data and for violating our trust, then the only viable conclusion is that their behavior is justified. Who’s ready to take the plunge with me?