Facebook has problems. But #DeleteFacebook isn’t one of them.
With a quarterly earnings announcement only days away, Facebook has weathered a slew of negative news mostly related to the company’s failure to respect the personal data of its 2.2 billion monthly users around the world. The Congressional appearance of CEO Mark Zuckerberg April 11–12 received mixed reviews. His prepared testimony, which laid out steps Facebook is taking to better protect user data, will probably not be compelling enough to prevent governmental regulation.
Adding to Facebook’s woes, Nielsen recently issued a report that Facebook users are spending less time on the platform, which, to be fair to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had predicted would happen earlier this year. Along with declining numbers, of course, is the rise of the #DeleteFacebook movement. According to a study by Tech.pinions, as many as 9 percent of Americans surveyed say they deleted their Facebook accounts, joining high-profile people such as Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak.
But I don’t think #DeleteFacebook is a threat to Facebook. Here’s why:
- Most importantly: we need our Facebook friends. I already know of friends who said they were going to delete Facebook and even did so — but returned because they couldn’t bear being away from their network of Facebook friends. I know of users who were tempted to leave but ended up simply changing their privacy settings. The Facebook community (myself included) views Facebook from two different lenses: Facebook the business (viewed suspiciously) and Facebook the community — in other words, our friends and groups, where we share, listen, and connect, true to the company’s mission.
- Deleting Facebook is difficult and not just because we’re attached to our Facebook friends. It’s literally difficult to untangle Facebook from all apps and sites we either log into with Facebook or give permission to interact with our data. Frankly, Facebook is too much of a utility for living our lives beyond the platform.
In a compelling April 14 column for the New York Times, “I Can’t Jump Ship from Facebook Yet,” Kathleen O’Brien, the parent of a 7-year-old with autism, summed up why Facebook has such a strong hold on its users. “[Facebook] has become a convenient tool to stave off a bit of the isolation that can come with the special-needs parent territory,” she wrote. She explained her position in more detail:
For me, user-created Facebook groups for special-needs parents function like a very convenient support group you can check in with as your time-crunched life permits. People share recommendations and advice. They vent about schools, health insurance and daily life. I am not even that active in these groups, but it’s reassuring to hear from other parents, even just online.
I asked some parents in a couple of my Facebook groups for their thoughts about what the social network means to them, particularly with the latest news and the calls to delete it. Here’s some of what I heard:
“This group makes me feel less alone.”
“I felt rescued by a connection made here.”
“I did delete Facebook and found myself sort of unraveling. I feel so alone without it. I’m actually tearing up as I type this.”
She then asked the question that confronts any Facebook user, regardless of their background: “What should we all do?”
Indeed, what are the alternatives for a free, easily accessible platform that connects people to share and learn from each other? No digital platform is without problems. Twitter is infested with bots. Google has a problem with Android apps improperly tracking data from kids. YouTube continues to experience problems policing its content even after hiring more people to oversee its content posting — and the site has been accused of improperly tracking data from children.
I’ve read that Facebook’s privacy debacle is lost on most Americans. As Jefferson Graham of USA Today put it, “The average person doesn’t care about the privacy brouhaha and despite high profile celebrities like Cher and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak calling to delete Facebook, most won’t. They love it and have continued to use it everyday.”
I suspect Jefferson Graham is right — to a point. I think the average American cares about privacy to a degree, but our behavior so far demonstrates that we are willing to share personal data with brands so long as we get a better experience in return.
In addition, it’s not always easy to manage our privacy settings where we store our data. Recently, Facebook announced it is making it easier for everyday people to make privacy settings easier to find. In coming months, it will be interesting to see how many people change our privacy settings. I had long ago adjusted mine — not because of Facebook sharing my data but because I simply wanted my posts to become less public. I certainly have no plans to delete Facebook. I want to keep access to the insights I get from friends who I otherwise don’t get to talk with personally, and I am part of too many groups that rely on Facebook as a gathering place.
Facebook delivers on its mission to connect the world. And I’m too connected to give up on Facebook.