As global citizens, we’ve known for a while that Facebook has emboldened bad actors to a degree, just like any other Internet platform. Intended for communication and dialogue, social media inherently creates a space for dissenting opinions, and sometimes those views can veer into hate speech. In communities around the world, Facebook is reported to have been used as an accessory to genocide, gang violence and mobs.
But it’s doubtful that when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004, he expected the platform to devolve into an echo chamber for hate or an organizing tool for murder. And for years, the site has created a global community that at least some would argue is good, linking users no matter their location on a map.
Facebook has more than 2 billion monthly users, which suggests that at least until now, the site’s positives have outweighed its negatives for consumers. But after a bombshell report by The New York Times exposed the company’s reaction to crisis, it is being criticized yet again by columnists calling to “un-friend Facebook.” This time, the Silicon Valley giant appears to be fully responsible for its actions, and blame cannot easily be thrust onto another party.
So where does that leave users who care about corporate consciousness but also enjoy curating their social media profile?
Caught in the act
Facebook has had a tough few years.
As the Times details, its massive reach attracted Russian hackers and bots during the 2016 election, who created fake accounts and spread disinformation to favor President Donald Trump’s campaign.
And earlier this year, another major report outlined how elections consultancy Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook data for tens of millions of users to benefit Trump.
As Facebook dealt with these major scandals in the public forum, the company went on the offensive, according to the Times.
“Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros,” the Times reported. “It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”
The Times found that Facebook declined to disclose the extent of Russian activity on the social media site during the 2016 election, and that the platform relied on both Republican and Democratic connections on Capitol Hill to ease increasing pressure for corporate accountability.
Facebook released a statement citing “a number of inaccuracies in the story,” and Mark Zuckerberg denied knowing about the company’s connection to opposition research firm Definers.
“I learned about this relationship when I read the New York Times piece yesterday,” Zuckerberg said. “As soon as I read it, I said this isn’t the type of firm we want to be working with and we stopped working with them.”
The Times report was based on interviews with more than 50 people, including Facebook executives and employees, lawmakers, lobbyists and other involved parties.
So where do social media users go now?
Along with YouTube, Facebook easily soars above its competition in terms of social media use. Add in that Facebook owns Instagram — the photo-sharing platform favored by young people — and WhatsApp — a popular chat app — and it becomes even more difficult to cut the company’s holdings out of daily life.
Of course, Facebook has often been compared to Twitter, where users can also share their thoughts (albeit in 280-character blasts). And Snapchat deploys a lot of the same functions as Instagram, though that photo-sharing app hasn’t avoided scandal completely.
But perhaps looking for an alternative isn’t the answer. A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania found that “limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being,” including declines in loneliness and depression.
Though it may be difficult to imagine a life without social media, users could decide it’s time to let go of the platforms we’ve grown to rely on to share every life update. Our most precious memories are being used to create psychological profiles and misinform us about political candidates. For some of us, posting that selfie or relationship status just may not be worth the cost anymore.