Should we delete our Facebook accounts? What’re the alternatives?

The Cambridge Analytica scandal’s been in the tech industry news for the past several weeks. Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic has managed to summarize what happened:

In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.

Cambridge also has ties to ad buying for the Brexit “Leave” campaign, among other conservative causes. As for Facebook, their policies regarding privacy, etc. have always been notoriously questionable, given their business model relies on advertisers having access to lots of information about users.

For other articles about this situation, see this New York Times article, as well as a cartoon on The Nib.

What can Facebook users do?

Woman of color on a laptop and phone
Photo by WOCinTech (Flickr / CC BY)

The backlash against Facebook’s exploded online, with everyone chiming in about users’ options. Here’s the major options I can think of for users, plus their pros and cons.

Delete your Facebook account

This one’s gotten the most attention, as it’s the most dramatic and clearest way to cut Facebook out of one’s life. The hashtag “#deletefacebook” has even become a thing.

That said, it’s clear that despite everything that’s happening, it’ll take more than this to start a mass exodus from Facebook. Too many people treat it as their main stop online. For many, it’s where their family and friends congregate online, and thus trying to delete Facebook might be impossible.

Adjust your privacy settings (and be more careful)

Facebook’s infamous for downplaying or constantly messing with its privacy settings. However, adjusting these as much as possible might be a way to guard against some of the worst aspects of the social network.

Switch to other social media options/use Facebook less

Some might consider switching to another social network. I’ve written about alternatives to Facebook for promoting a website.

Of course, there’s the downside that other social networks either don’t offer the exact same features Facebook does, or (again) family and friends might not be on those services. For example, Google+ makes for a nice Facebook replacement, but given it didn’t gain traction with users, one’s family/friends likely aren’t on it. The same goes for the various efforts to launch newer social networks—anyone remember Ello?

Of course, you can also just keep Facebook, but use other social networks more. The less of your information on Facebook, the better?

Ultimately, it’ll probably take a new social media service that makes Facebook look like, well, MySpace to get a sizable number of people to switch. And even then, Facebook would probably linger on like AOL has done.

My suggestions

Ultimately, what one should do will depend on personal tastes, tolerances, needs, and even technical skills. But to summarize my suggestions for those who don’t want to delete Facebook outright:

  • Adjust your Facebook privacy settings.
  • Be careful what you post on Facebook.
  • Consider not answering Facebook quizzes, given the aforementioned Cambridge Anaytica incident.
  • Avoid using Facebook to log into online services and apps. Instead, use a password manager (like LastPass) and create unique passwords instead.
  • Try to use other social networks more often, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Also consider other messaging apps besides Facebook Messenger/WhatsApp, such as the popular and encrypted messaging service Signal. And, of course, there’s always email.
  • For those using Facebook to promote a website or business, see my earlier post on Facebook alternatives.

Are you planning to make any changes to your Facebook usage?

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