It may not come to a surprise to anyone, but now on the list of possible threats to Western democracy, along with Russia, North Korea and the possible future where Sarah Palin runs for office again, is Facebook. According to a March 17 report by the New York Times, Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, a group founded by former White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon and hired by the Trump campaign back in 2016, to access the data of close to 87 million people.
#MarkZuckerburg be like:
“Yup that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.. pic.twitter.com/nT4cbJYCTy
— Jess (@Jessica_Radic) April 11, 2018
Cambridge Analytica studied people without their knowledge, psychoanalyzed people based on answers to an app-based quiz taken on Facebook and identified potential voters. Facebook, either willfully ignorant or complicit, then allowed the company to access data on users such as their timeline feeds and private messages. In response to an understandable level of outrage by the public, Facebook confirmed that Cambridge Analytica did have access to private information but claimed that it was lawful because people signed the app’s Terms of Service.
Though upsetting, the realization that Facebook could be used to invade privacy and change public discourse is anything but shocking. Over the years, the social media company has had issues with the accumulation of user data through internet tools like cookies, as well as the selling of this important data for a profit. They even went so far as performing an experiment on users through mood manipulation, all without informing the user-base.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has been crucial in elections because former President Obama used social media as an integral aspect of his campaign, and many experts attribute his win partially to his use of the internet as a tool to win over younger voters. Instead of Obama, however, Facebook was used more successfully by Trump, a man who is somehow both the most impressive and most incompetent social media user in the U.S. government.
How Facebook let politicians, companies and others target you https://t.co/QJK8cGaZQ3
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 12, 2018
Part of the issue with Facebook is that oversight is challenging because the internet is so ubiquitous, and there are large incentives to track the most information possible. Adding to these difficulties is an aging Congress that struggles to coherently question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s actions, let alone pass meaningful legislation. Because of this lack of real oversight, Facebook has been able to track browser activity despite logging off the site, leading to critics like Edward Snowden calling the company “criminal.”
Facebook’s biggest issue is that they have become too important and powerful in the lives of the average person, but they have not really acted in any way that may reflect the responsibility they hold. Mark Zuckerberg, a guy who runs a multi-billion-dollar tech company, still acts and dresses like a college kid who maybe spends a little too much time lingering in the shower at night. And now, much like Fortnite and all-you-can-eat buffets, Facebook has evolved from something fun and exciting to an upsetting, possibly detrimental aspect of society.
This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Jonathan is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]