Unfriending Facebook

What do Elon Musk and Playboy Magazine have in common?  Aside from Musk actually being the quintessential playboy himself, they both recently announced that they are joining the #deletefacebook movement by suspending their accounts in the wake of the massive Facebook user data leak.  

Actually, calling it a leak is a bit of a misnomer. And what Cambridge Analytica did with the data, while unethical, may not have been entirely illegal. There is a lot of grey area to parse when it comes to online user privacy awareness.  Indeed, using behavioral insights to target users online with specific messaging is hardly something new. In fact, it wouldn’t be controversial to say users have largely become accustomed to seeing advertisements related to their recent searches and online conversations.  What is new, however, is the revelation that the same insights used to target consumers is being used to target and influence voters, and ultimately the power these insights have to sway major elections. A particular sore point in the current zeitgeist – with the looming Russian Interference investigation in America, and polarizing effect Donald Trump has had on the world’s population.  We would be remised not to mention that these insights were employed by previous candidates, including Barrack Obama, and other republican primary contenders leading into the 2016 Election. Donald Trump’s team just happened to use them better this time around.

In response to the controversy, Facebook announced it would be turning off the ad targeting tool used to access third-party consumer analytics. In hopes of reassuring its users that they are taking their privacy concerns seriously, they are also simplifying user privacy settings, creating a more transparent interface consolidated to one page.  Regardless of all the controversy and Facebook’s mad PR dash to right the ship, and as this news cycle wanes, it’s becoming apparent that most users did not #deletefacebook.  

This is good news for both advertising agencies and brands.  No, believe me, it is. One, it shows that Facebook ads actually do have an impact, and two, the removal of third-party analytics will work to even the playing field – giving equal access to user eyes whether you are Pepsi, or Dan’s Local Shoe Shine and Repair (budget dependent, of course).  Ad Agency expertise will increase in value, as the ethics of this kind of mass data-mining and machine-learning come to forefront of conversation. Hopefully, it also means that the consumers we advertise to will have greater confidence in the tool through which we spread our messages. Advertising should be transparent, after all, whether it’s politically motivated or not.  As marketers, we should endeavor to influence, not manipulate. With great power comes great responsibility, and these third-party analytical tools were bordering on the insidious. We need to admit that and move on.

Subsequently, in an effort to rebrand themselves, Facebook is now touting their ability to reach mass audiences vs. micro-targeting individuals or segments making them an advertising platform similar to that of traditional broadcast television or radio.  And since Google, Snapchat, and Twitter all continue to use third-party targeting tools in the vein of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook can now claim the moral high ground, and can actually use their increased user privacy as a USP. It’s a long-term survival tactic in a social media landscape that has already witnessed the demise of other social platforms that failed to either take hold or adapt.  Nobody wants to be the next MySpace.

What this whole movement has taught us is that people continue to value their privacy, even in a world where sharing every minute detail is the norm, and especially when the consequence of having their personal data mined leads to the election of someone they might despise. Depending, of course, on which political spectrum you fall under.