To say it’s been a rough couple of weeks for Facebook would be an understatement. Well actually, it’s more like a rough couple of years. The company’s tenure in the hot seat began in 2016 when it came under fire for its role in election meddling. Then, in 2020, Netflix released a documentary titled “The Social Dilemma” that got people thinking about social media and how it negatively impacts our lives. Most recenlty, former employee Frances Haugen came forward with some incredibly damning accusations that the networking giant not only knows about the harm they are imposing…but also that they don’t really care. Finally, the cherry on top of a series of unfortunate events was Monday’s six hour outage for Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Facebook’s goal has always been to get people talking and that is exactly what we’re doing – the problem is now, we are talking about them. Some are starting to suggest that Facebook is more than just a social networking site, but instead a giant monopoly with global economic control. It’s roots in our everyday lives run deep. For some people the six hour outage on Monday was a nuisance, maybe even a bit refreshing, but for many small businesses it was a crisis. Who knows how many missed opportunities there were because companies were unable to connect with their customers or potential customers via their business pages. Doug Madory is the Director of Internet Analysis for BOCA client Kentik, a leader in network operations. Madory referred to Monday’s blackout as “epic” and noted that Facebook IS the internet for so many people. The idea that one or two websites hold that much weight is indeed a bit alarming. A much bigger story playing out in the media, yet not ready to go there, is the role of Big Tech within our daily lives and how much control Big Tech has within our lives both personally and professionally.
An even scarier reality is the one playing out in many young people’s heads as they scroll through social media posts and internalize the digital feedback. The other day, my 7 year old asked me to post a video of him and his friends doing a dance to Facebook. A few hours later, he asked me to check and see how many likes it had received. When did this become a thing for a 2nd grader?! This is a kid who has zero access to social media on his own but still somehow knows what ‘likes’ are and is hungry for them. That is terrifying.
The Facebook whistleblower’s claims that Facebook and Instagram are hurting both our democracy and our children raises the million dollar question that many have been asking for years – should social media websites be regulated and if so how much? At what point do we need and want these companies to have oversight and accountability? On one hand, our freedom of self expression is everything and cuts to the core of who we are as Americans. On the other hand, when does it become criminal to allow major corporations to use data irresponsibly and turn a blind eye to information that they know is harmful to their users.
It is interesting that all of this is coming to a head during the month of October, which also happens to be Cyber Security Awareness month. Is Facebook a safe place for us? For our children? For our businesses? The answer is complicated and multilayered for sure, but it’s definitely one worth exploring as we continue to evolve into a technology dependent society.