We are all victims of Facebook manipulation

Facebook has taken a battering recently, and what many users have spotted is that there is a massive gap between how the company operates and the PR messages it sends to the world.

Look at some of the messages that Mark Zuckerberg sent out in 2012, the year it acquired Instagram and brought Sheryl Sandberg to its boardroom table:

“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.”

“I am committed to working every day to make Facebook better for you, and hopefully together we will be able to connect the rest of the world too.”

“At Facebook we believe that the need to open up and connect is what makes us human. It’s what brings us together. It’s what brings meaning to our lives.”

It all sounds very warm and worthy. Yet there were other things going on behind the scenes that were not so ethical, as revealed in a collection of internal Facebook emails published online by Damian Collins, a UK Member of Parliament. As Motherboard points out, the content includes exchanges between Zuckerberg and Sandberg discussing the company’s business model and how it leverages our data to make money.

Collins wrote in his summary of the documents, “Facebook knew that the changes to its policies on the Android mobile phone system, which enabled the Facebook app to collect a record of calls and texts sent by the user would be controversial,” adding, “To mitigate any bad PR, Facebook planned to make it as hard of possible for users to know that this was one of the underlying features of the upgrade of their app.”

He then tweeted: “I believe there is considerable public interest in releasing these documents. They raise important questions about how Facebook treats users data, their policies for working with app developers, and how they exercise their dominant position in the social media market.”

Essentially, the internal emails include details on the distribution of Facebook’s various apps. They reveal how the company worked very closely with some app developers to give them access to user data, and how the company specifically incentivizes sharing on the platform in order to feed that data back to advertisers. The emails also include information about how the company tried to hide and downplay the amount of data that it collected from the Android version of the Facebook app.

Needless to say, Facebook has responded by saying that the emails “are only part of the story and are presented in a way that is very misleading without additional context.”

Of course, we can’t blame Facebook for wanting to make a profit, but as Colin Horgan writes, “These emails, however, reveal a core dissonance between the idea Facebook sought to market to its billion-plus users for years, and how those users were leveraged in a business sense.”

Facebook users thought they were part of an idealistic project, when in fact they were being used for much darker purposes, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed. The fact that the UK’s parliament is exposing the media giant on its website indicates the extent of the distaste for how Facebook conducts its affairs.

One thing is for sure, as Facebook users we do not have an equal relationship with the company, as it has promoted; instead it is entirely based on inequality, because, ultimately, Facebook has benefited a lot more than its users have.

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