Fixing Facebook

12 Apr 2018

When news of the Cambridge Analytics scandal broke I was all on board the #deletefacebook movement. I deactivated my account and started thinking about what I would do to replace the features I currently use on Facebook. What I discoverd is that it’s not as simple as I might have thought. Facebook is actually pretty useful. I like using my Facebook account as a defacto identity on other sites. I like connecting with friends that I may not see often or who may live far away from me. I enjoy looking at photos of what my friends and family are up to. I like the simplicity of sharing interesting things or small thoughts with my friends. All of these features make Facebook a really compelling product. All of this convienience comes at a high cost though. You really are selling yourself to Facebook and it’s advertisers by giving them a detailed account of your life. Is it worth it? I’m not so sure it is. Can it be fixed? I think it can and here are some ways we can try:

Let me pay for it

As I mentioned, I actually like a lot of the things Facebook offers me. I like it so much that if you told me I could have access to all these tools and all my interactions would remain private AND I was in control of my data I’d absolutely be willing to pay a monthly fee. This is a product that is worth paying for. Seems simple enough right? Provide a premium option with no ads and privacy as a priority. Here’s the problem with this: Facebook’s entire business model is built on selling you not selling to you. For them to completely change this model at this point would be a herculean task. Not to mention the complexities of how you handle privacy between users on different plan tiers. A lot of the most valuable data about you is the people you interact with and how you interact with them. If suddenly there are missing connetions in that data then it becomes much less valuable to potential partners and advertisers.

Let someone else do it

Facebook is so ingrained in their current business model that it may be more feasable for someone else, preferably a non-profit, to come along and re-build it. The platform itself is not really all that complicated from an implemtation standpoint. The hardest part is scalability but even this is a problem that’s been solved multiple times. A company like Wikimedia who already runs an incredibly high-traffic website could easily rebuild the core functionality of Facebook and architect it to be equally as scalable. A donation model works for Wikipedia I don’t see why it couldn’t work for a new Facebook. Of course, one of the biggest issues with this is that of any new social media platform. Namely, you need people. If I log on and can’t find a single one of my friends chances are I’m leaving and never coming back. This is probably what is holding back geek darling Mastodon from putting a dent in Twitter’s dominance even though it offers all the benefits of Twitter while being decentralized. You’re talking to a mostly empty room.

Stop using it altogether (#deletefacebook)

If you’re impatient or you just don’t trust Facebook at all you can go ahead and delete it entirely. It’s a bit difficult to replace all that convienience but it’s not impossible and the funny thing is that you can do it with technology that’s been around for years. Group discussion? Try sending a good ol’ email to the group. Direct messaging? Again, email or straight-up text messages work great. Posting stuff to the world? Try creating your own site (much like this one). It’s really simple these days and you get the added benefit of owning all of your content. When you add an interesting post or photo to your site you’re adding value to your own platform and not simply helping to line the pockets of some large corporation. What about following friends, news etc.? Well, there’s this old technology called RSS that solved that problem years ago. Facebook didn’t invent these technologies, they just consolodated them to make it easier. Remember that old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? It holds true here as well. By putting all of your online activity essentially in one place you are providing a wealth of valuable data to them that can be used to manipulate you without you even realizing it. With RSS I build my own feed directly from the sources without having to worry about what the algorithm is showing me or hiding from me. If you’re looking for curated content consider subscribing to some email newsletters. They have been making a comeback of late and althought I was skeptical at first I’ve come to really look forward to my daily and weekly newsletter deliveries. Humans do a much better job of finding quality content than algorithms do. I consistently find great articles and interesting tidbits in my newsletters each week.

Give them a chance to fix it themselves

Maybe they’ll learn some hard lessons with this whole Cambridge Analytics mess. They could tighten privacy and give us all the tools we need to make sure our data isn’t being used without our permission. This would mean that data sharing would almost certainly have to be opt-in which would decimate their current business model so this idea seems unlikely but hey, let’s see what happens.