The Facebook Masquerade

In recent months there has been quite a buzz about Facebook and why users should delete their accounts. Most of the articles I have read, and the arguments I have seen, follow a similar path of “Facebook can’t be trusted with our data”, but there are other reasons as to why perhaps the time has come for us to log out permanently.

If it isn’t data breaches that cause you to leave, it may be the flood of fake news infecting the site, or the fact that now our kids and/or parents also have accounts and we want something more generationally unique. It may even be because employers are now routinely using Facebook (and other social media sites) to research job applicants forcing us to change our names and hide certain photos and posts, ironically becoming more and more self-censoring on a site that prides itself on sharing. Whatever it may be, and as valid as these issues are, I think they are missing the point somewhat.

The question that these issues relate to is one of use; what should or should not be done with the tool that is Facebook. But I feel that the real question is actually more basic; what tool is Facebook?

Facebook is sold to us as a social media platform. A company that helps us “connect and share with the people in [our] life”. Seemingly created to allow us to stay in touch with our loved ones, strengthen bonds of friendship, and perhaps meet new people that would not have been in our lives otherwise. But I think that this is a lie.

I think that this story is nothing but marketing. I don’t think that Facebook is a social media platform, I think that it’s a brilliantly marketed data collection company. It is a company dedicated to “collecting and sharing”, but it is users’ data which is collected, and users’ profiles which are shared.

At its most basic, businesses exist to sell a product or service, but Facebook is odd in this respect as it doesn’t seem to sell to customers. We do not have to pay for an account, we do not have to pay to add friends, we do not have to pay to share, like, or comment. Seemingly, as users, we get Facebook’s product/service for free.

But this is only the case because the users of Facebook are in fact not the customers at all, the users of Facebook are in fact the product.

The social media tag is a veil pulled over our eyes to encourage us to create profiles of ourselves which can then be sold to other businesses for campaigning or marketing purposes. We are encouraged to add our school, add our work, like pages, join groups, and upload photos, not because it strengthens friendships, but because it creates a deeper and more realistic profile of the user with a wealth of data attached.

The more profiles of potential customers a company holds, the more attractive it is to other businesses looking to sell products.

If Facebook were a village hall with 1,000 generic people inside, a business wanting to sell novelty t-shirts may pay Facebook a small fee in order to gain access to those 1,000 people in the hope that they could secure a handful of sales. If Facebook then increased its capacity and had one million people inside, the same novelty t-shit selling company would justifiably pay a larger fee to gain access to this market and hopefully achieve much higher sales. Now if Facebook was over a billion people in a village hall, and each person provided data on their interests, their age, their gender, their level of income, their level of education, their tastes, their moods, their hobbies, their habits, their dreams, their desires, and their fears the novelty t-shit selling company would pay top dollar for access, because this is a gold mine for any company looking to sell a product.

The novelty t-shirt selling company would soon be joined by fast food companies, film companies, car manufacturers, credit card companies, universities, charities, and tens of thousands of other companies all lining up to pay Facebook for access to this pool of potential customers.

On their website, Facebook says that it “requires everyone to be at least 13-years old before they can create an account.” I don’t think that this rule exists because 12-year olds do not have friends, or because Facebook wants to protect children, instead I think this is because (in the UK at least) marketers and data collection companies cannot legally advertise or collect data from anyone until they are 13-years old.

I have no doubt that if this law were to change, and the age limit dropped, Facebook would immediately change their policy and allow younger children to create profiles. Indeed, as early as 2011, Facebook founder and current CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that he wanted the restrictions to be lifted, saying that it is “a fight to take on at some point.”

Facebook has sold us a lie. Its entire existence and its continued success is built on the fabricated reality of being a social media company when in actual fact it is little more than a data collection firm.

As users of the site, we have voluntarily created true-to-life profiles of ourselves, we have added value to the data company that is Facebook, and we have been marketing ourselves as a product all along.

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