You know it’s been a bad year when social media are pining for a simpler time, when MySpace was king, and when Facebook was nothing more than pet project by a baby-faced Harvard frosh.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. Still there’s no denying that if Mark Zuckerberg had an escape button to reboot Facebook, he would’ve pressed it a long time ago.
This is because Facebook is in an endless cycle of scandals. Intentional or not, they’ve done bad things with our personal information. We know it, and they know we know it.
Which is why their cheery “Facebook’s Year In Review” charade published earlier this month hit only on the positive notes from 2018 and avoided any talk of scandal.
In light of this, here’s my abridged “Worst of Facebook” for 2018:
- Cambridge Analytica. We can sum up Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony on their first of several data sharing and privacy goofs in two words: “my bad.” Actually, Zuckerberg probably would have said “our bad” because he doesn’t really take full blame for Cambridge Analytica gaining access to the data of more than 87 million accounts. Instead, he looked like a deer in the headlights during testimony, unsure of his next move, and oblivious to the 18-wheeler that Congress was careening toward Facebook’s front door.
- Myanmar Genocide. While you’re probably familiar with how Facebook was used to spread misinformation and hate in U.S. elections, you may be less familiar with how it was used to promote ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. According to United Nations investigators, Facebook virtually ignored the use of its platform by ultra-nationalist Buddhists for several years to spread violent propaganda against Rohinga Muslims. Allegedly this led to the execution of thousands of Muslims, and the exile of hundreds-of-thousands more.
In response to what were arguably two of the largest scandals in 2018, Facebook promised greater oversight and more transparency.
There were several other Facebook scandals, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Facebook wants us to know that despite their problems, we still turn to them to celebrate big events (e.g., World Cup, Royal Wedding). We still use Facebook to raise awareness for social issues, and to support causes important to us.
While we reflect on what a spectacularly awful year it was for Facebook, it’s important to remember why their tribulations will benefit us all in 2019, including other social media platforms.
Twitter, Snapchat and other social media are sitting back and taking notes on Facebook’s public flogging so as not to repeat the mistakes of one of their chief rivals.
So, as we close out 2018, it’s time to stop and raise a glass to Facebook’s valiant (albeit recent) attempts to set higher standards for their platform, high standards for other platforms to follow, and data privacy and security lapses to avoid in 2019 and beyond.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.