Is It Time To Break-Up With Facebook?

Updated: Elon Musk deleted the Facebook Pages for Tesla and SpaceX; Sonos pulled their Facebook Ads.

Whew. What a week for Facebook!

TechCrunch calling for Mark Zuckerberg’s resignation. (They claim they didn’t — but look at that headline!)

People deleting their Facebook accounts in anger.

Congress may hold special hearings, the FTC is launching a full scale investigation, and Facebook stock is taking a nose dive.

So what does all of this mean for the future of nonprofits on Facebook?

In several nonprofit discussion forums, I’ve heard the same question again and again:

In light of what we know (and what we don’t), it is ethical for nonprofits to continue to be on Facebook?

I say yes, and I have several thoughts on the subject.

While you’re here, grab my free Nonprofit Facebook Events Checklist — everything you need to create a fabulous event on your nonprofit Facebook Page!

What the heck is happening with Facebook?

On Sunday, it was officially announced that the right-wing political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, founded by Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. Yikes.

This firm was harvesting that data under the fraudulent guise of an academic study, and was also able to scrape data from people’s friends without them knowing.

It gets even more diabolical.

The Trump campaign used this data to employ “psychographic” advertising. What is that?

It starts with millions of unsuspecting Facebook users take a in-depth personality quiz (much longer and more comprehensive than those Which Game Of Thrones Character Are You? quizzes), under the fraudulent guise of an academic study.

Then, the Trump campaign took this data and ranked individual Facebook users on certain features.

For example, for an ad targeted to pro-gun voters: If a Facebook user ranks high on the “neuroticism” spectrum, the ad could feature storm clouds, ominous figures, language saying “The Democrats are going to take our guns!”

If a pro-gun voter is deemed “agreeable” and “introverted” by the quiz, they would be shown a softer ad, one emphasizing tradition and community values, a father and son hunting together.

Gross, right?? But powerful and effective.

What was Facebook’s response?

Tepid and lukewarm at best, defensive and standoffish at best.

They failed to acknowledge that this was happening despite multiple reports about this behavior and this firm, dating back to 2015.

Their executives got into tweet-wars over semantics, claiming that while it was deplorable it was not technically a “data breach”.

They sued the London Observer to prevent them from printing news about the “data breach” because they claim it was not a breach.

Finally, Facebook announced last Friday that they would be suspending Cambridge Analytica and looking into other data firms that harvest Facebook user data.

Yes, it certainly sounds like a real mess.

So what does all of this mean for nonprofits using Facebook for marketing and fundraising?

Is this the final nail in the coffin for Facebook?

Facebook has already received so much bad press for the following, just to name a few top headlines:

The alleged use of Facebook by those seeking to spread Russian propaganda and fake news.

Recent changes to the News Feed have led publishers to close their doors and lay off employees.

Page administrations are growing even more frustrated with Facebook’s algorithm because public posts are seeing much less reach.

And then there are research studies linking increased social media use to depression and anxiety.

The main questions remain: What exactly did Facebook know and when did they know it?

Also, how are they going to prevent this — CAN they prevent this — from happening again?

Are people really leaving Facebook?

There have been quite a few news stories proclaiming that everyone is leaving Facebook.

We know how that goes.

The data says otherwise.

Pew Internet just released their Social Media Report 2018, admittedly before this latest scandal, but it shows that roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis.

Facebook remains a powerhouse in our daily lives.

Should you delete your account?

In her fabulous book, Algorithms of Oppression, How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, Safiya Umoja Noble stresses, “deleting individual Facebook accounts will not solve the total datafication of our lives”.

Deleting our Facebook accounts will have “little impact on finding real solutions to the way data is being collected, sold, and used against the public. This issue isn’t just about one platform like Facebook, and the issues of surveillance and experimentation on the public, it’s about the many companies that are tracking and profiling us, and the abuses of power that come from having vast troves of information about us, available for exploitation.”

If you want to delete your account, here is some advice.

If you want to do an audit to see which apps are connected to Facebook, here is a good primer.

What can nonprofits do in light of all of this news?

As always, I recommend staying the course, and continuing to be that trusted, go-to resource for your followers and supporters.

Continue to share unique, interesting helpful, valuable information.

Continue to function as the hub of trusted information around your cause.

Continue to share your stories and connect and build community with your donors.

If you are fundraising on Facebook, renew your commitment to maintain the integrity and safety of your donors information. Explain the pros and cons of taking payments via Facebook payments.

Hold a Facebook Live on your Page, letting your fans and followers know that you are aware of the data breach, that you have a commitment to keeping their data secure, but that you can’t control what Facebook is doing.

Encourage your Facebook fans to join you on a platform that you own and that you control, like your email list!

Most of all, continue to be transparent, be accessible, and be eager to help.

If you aren’t in the private nonprofit Facebook Group, head over there to continue this discussion, or leave your thoughts in the comments here.


The Daily Podcast

Charity fundraising after Facebook’s data breach: risks but little choice

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions

Here’s how to find out which apps have access to your Facebook data



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Julia C. Campbell

Nonprofit digital do-gooder. Social media evangelist. International speaker. Author. Get my Digital Storytelling Workbook: