It's rare these days to see so many people enthusiastically discussing Facebook, but that's what's happening following the revelations about Cambridge Analytica. The company created a 'personality test' to gather user data from some 50 million Facebook users, which as we now know was used illegally to help with Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign and the 'Leave' campaign for Brexit.
The hashtag #DeleteFacebook has been trending this week, with users passionately arguing for and against the merits of deleting their accounts from the platform, and how-to guides for extricating yourself from the social media site being widely circulated online. This morning, WhatsApp founder Brian Acton announced he would be abandoning the social network. (WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for $19bn/£11.4bn in 2014.)
Facebook is no stranger to scandal and uproar, of course. The social media behemoth has been blamed for the perpetuation of fake news, failing to crack down on racism, sexism and violence on its platform, secretly trying to control users' emotions, and more besides. Its out-of-touch reputation has led to it becoming a byword for "uncool" among teens and young people who prefer Snapchat and (the Facebook-owned) Instagram.
But the current backlash feels more intense, with the company's shares dropping 7%, taking $36bn (£25.7bn) off its valuation – its worst decline in four years – and users (and former users) seemingly more vocal than before about their disdain. Countless public figures have gone public with their decision to leave Facebook in recent days, including DJ and presenter Annie Mac, TV and radio presenter Niki Bedi, author Emma Kennedy and many more.
We wanted to know what the feeling was among our readers, so we carried out two 24-hour polls via Twitter and Instagram, asking whether you would consider deleting your account in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. On both platforms, 'no' was the most popular option, with 62% of the 580 people who voted on Instagram saying they were going to keep their account, and 59% on Twitter saying they were sticking with Facebook.
But there are women who have deleted Facebook in light of the scandal.
Andrea, 37, who works in external affairs, deleted her account in direct response to the Cambridge Analytica revelations and the company's poor track record in dealing with other controversies only made her decision easier. "Every time a social concern about the use of Facebook has arisen, I've noticed how belatedly they respond and how little actual action they take – before this there were already several privacy issues that arose, and I really sat up when their horrific enabling of violent sexist content – rape 'jokes', pictures of battered wives, etcetera – became more widely known."
She urges others considering a post-Facebook life to take the plunge. "Your self-esteem will be miles better and you'll have more time to spend on you. You won't miss it. When I was 20 I gave up women's magazines and it was a similar thing – I very quickly felt more confident and assured."
Others are deleting the app from their phone and only using it to log on for work reasons, or temporarily deactivating their accounts. Kiki Schirr, 28, founder of livestreaming company WeKiki, removed Facebook Messenger (and WhatsApp) from her phone within the last 24 hours and hasn't had the Facebook app on her phone since transitioning to Android.
"I'm in tech and a few years ago I was on a team that developed a native Facebook app and was shocked at how much information you could pull about a user who had used your app," she told Refinery29, adding that she was "highly uncomfortable using [her] real information" and began adding blatantly false details to her 'About Me' section.
Using Facebook is too much of a liability
"I've also run ads through Facebook, and I find the targeting ability to be so specific, so narrow, that I can see how people can do damage even without hacking the system," she told us. "I've long thought I should find an alternative, but after this Cambridge Analytica debacle, I can't wait for a good alternative. Using Facebook is too much of a liability."
For many women, however, Facebook is a necessary tool for their careers, whether that be for finding job opportunities or promoting their own work (or "personal brand"), or to actually do their job – such as journalists, marketing professionals, campaigners (although Facebook's recent algorithm change means it's less useful for this reason nowadays than it used to be).
Replying to Refinery29's Instagram poll, @thedianaeastman said that "until there's something to replace [my professional community based on Facebook], I can't just give up those resources." Similarly, Katie Byford, 22, a freelance poet, screenwriter, filmmaker and more, said it was a privilege to be able to delete your Facebook account.
"Almost all of my work at the moment is possible through joining Facebook groups and looking out for job adverts there. I’m part of about 15 [groups] at the moment. To give you an idea, I only know about the project I’m working on at the moment through an event I heard about on Facebook; I’m on a job tomorrow I got through Facebook, and possibly another on the weekend – my week is completely transformed by it."
Meanwhile, others said it was their go-to platform for hearing about events, and friends' birthdays and life updates. Some also said they wouldn't or couldn't remove themselves from the platform for political reasons, with the platform proving a vital way of connecting with others to discuss feminism, racism, homophobia and other social justice issues.
Writer and prominent feminist Rebecca Solnit pointed out in a Facebook post that sharing information is crucial in global times like this. "We are in a constitutional crisis/slo-mo coup (in part thanks to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica), and in responding it we will need to share information. FB is how I stay in touch with a lot of people (including many I am in touch with no other way), send out news, analysis and occasional calls to action, follow activists and find news stories. Shutting down that capacity now would reduce my range and access to information and allies..." she wrote.
Many, including journalist Paul Mason, have also suggested that rather than deleting Facebook, it would be more effective to lobby for Facebook to be broken up into smaller, less powerful businesses or even nationalised.
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