With Facebook’s recent privacy breach scandal—right on the tail of Snapchat’s redesign fiasco—it can feel like social media is disappointing its users in a new way every week. Big social media platforms present themselves as neutral, democratic spaces. But 2018, it feels like “the big three”—Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat— are anything but neutral: routinely prioritizing corporate interests above their users’ safety and happiness.
No wonder most users have a suspicious attitude of social platforms—even the ones they use daily. In 2018, 7 out of 10 American adults use social media (excluding Youtube), but according to a poll last year only 9% feel confident they “have a lot of control” over their data*.
The result of this disconnect is rising demand for user-focused alternatives to traditional social media. The idea of an online social network is great: a place to hear voices that are normally marginalized, spread knowledge and movements, learn of life-changing—and even world changing—events, and most of all stay connected to the folks who matter. At one point social media may have served these needs. But today is has been overtaken by corporate interests: money first, user experience second.
But are all social platforms that bad? The short answer is yes. Even “straight-laced” networks like Linkedin aren’t safe. Many users are unaware that Microsoft purchased Linkedin for $26 billion in 2016. Since that time, the tech giant has steadily worked to integrate Linkedin’s data into their customer relationship suite Dynamics 365.
That’s bad news if you’re a Linkedin user, as it means businesses can harvest your social data when creating their mailing and messaging lists. If you’ve noticed an uptick in the number of annoying “personalized” sales emails you’re receiving on your business email, it could be because outbound sales departments have access to your profile data.
In platforms’ eyes—even trusted platforms—users equal revenue.
And while other social media companies are catching up, Facebook still remains the leader in ad monetization. In 2017, the social behemoth managed to rake in $9.16 billion in quarterly ad revenue*, a 45% increase from 2016, and far more than the relatively modest amount Facebook needs to keep the lights on. While the numbers are impressive, they come at the cost of user experience and security. Currently, Facebook ads allows marketers to target hyper-niche audiences—think 20-something anime enthusiasts in the greater Portland area— meaning Facebook users’ feeds feature fewer social updates, and more targeted ad blasts.
After their redesign, Snapchat’s feed is not better. Users’ biggest gripe with the new layout is that branded articles are mixed in with friends’ snap stories. This was no accident. Even if users don’t interact with promotional content, they’re still skimming over the headlines—providing media impression that advertisers are glad to pay for. Being blasted with ads is bad enough, but having them mixed in with updates from friends and loved ones is doubly frustrating: something like finding a bunch of flyers in your living room.
Facebook’s recent privacy breach proves that user data can serve political as well as financial ends, which feels even more sinister.
In 2016 UK based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to 50 million users’ personal data —including likes and friend networks—despite the fact that only 270,000 of those users had consented to sharing the information.
Facebook’s most valuable asset is its users; they create the content that keeps the platform running—for free. The Cambridge Analytica incident makes clear that Facebook sells this asset outside, instead of protecting it. Furthermore, the incident flags the social platform’s reductionist view of its users. Every American Facebook account is tagged as either very liberal, liberal, moderate, conservative, or very conservative.
By feeding users news that confirms their worldview, Facebook creates a set of ideological bubbles, and further polarizes America’s political landscape. While these bubbles damage users’ personal growth, they’re helpful to politicians who want to segment and reinforce their voter base.
So, if we agree that social media is broken, how do we fix it?
The platform of the future will cut out ads from users’ feeds, treat users’ data like they treat their own, and focus on the connections between users and users, not users and brands. Users’ feeds will accurately reflect their interests—including their interest in loved ones—and profiles will serve as a meaningful expression of identity, not a data-pool for political and commercial operations.
To learn more about how social media can serve users instead of stakeholders visit: www.milegacy.com