Who among us doesn’t have a Facebook profile? I know people who have held out, but they are rare. And there are reasons for that, most of which boil down to this: In a fast-paced world, Facebook enables us to stay in touch with people we love, easily and for free.
Wait, did I say for free? No, that’s not right. Facebook is actually very expensive to us as a society. Let’s think about some of the costs.
The biggest cost is that Facebook knows everything about you online, and increasingly offline too.
Who are your friends? Facebook knows that.
What do you like? Facebook knows that too.
What don’t you like, that you ask Facebook to hide from your Newsfeed? Where do you go? Who do you talk to? What do you buy? All part of Facebook’s profile of you.
Are you gay or straight? Catholic or Protestant or Jewish? White or Black or Latino? Liberal or conservative? Facebook knows most of that, and what it doesn’t know, it can guess using computer algorithms with a high level of accuracy.
All this information tells anyone in the world who we are. Facebook has that information—in fact, they own it. And how much did Facebook pay us for it?
Nothing. Not a single nickel. We just gave it to them!
Is this information safe? Do we trust Facebook to protect our privacy? Well, it may seem like Facebook really does protect our privacy—there are over 100 privacy settings that allow you to control what other people can see about you. But let’s think about that. Facebook’s settings allow us to control what friends and strangers see. But not Facebook’s customers. We have ZERO control over what Facebook shows the marketers and other companies that pay it for our information. Because that’s how Facebook makes money. It sells your data to other companies that want to sell stuff to you, or influence you in other ways.
Supposedly, Facebook “anonymizes” your data, so that marketers can’t see details about you personally, only groups that you belong to. Do you trust Facebook to do that—keep you hidden from view?
Now let’s think about something else: The Newsfeed. Facebook delivers more news than any other company in the world. Yet Facebook doesn’t produce any of it, doesn’t pay for any of it, and has zero responsibility for making sure it is accurate. Instead of human editors, Facebook uses computers to decide which news to show you. Are these decisions based on truth? No, they are based on what will allow Facebook to sell the most advertising to you. Meanwhile organizations like ours that produce real news get zero dollars from Facebook. Facebook takes this news, shows it in the Newsfeed, gains readership from this news, sells advertising off this news—and pays nothing for it.
It is time to hold Facebook accountable. And this is something we can do together. We can hold Facebook accountable by asking our elected representatives to change the outdated clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This change will make Facebook responsible and legally liable for the content it displays. Also ask them to regulate Facebook into not sharing your information with anyone or any company without your specific written consent related to a specific sharing actor or event (not some long mumbo-jumbo contract that no one reads).
To help, call Sen. Ron Johnson at 202-224-5323 and Sen. Tammy Baldwin at 202-224-5653. You can reach your House Representative at 202-224-3121. This isn’t something you owe to me, or to anyone else—just to yourself.
Patrick J. Wood, Publisher