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What Does Facebook's User-Data Scandal Mean for Your Social Media Strategy?

Smartphone with Facebook log-in on screen

Image by William Iven via Unsplash

As the story of Facebook's mishandling of its users' personal data continues to unfold, one has to wonder how businesses' social media marketing strategies will be affected. Is it time for us to leave Facebook in the past?

The company is facing mounting criticism after Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed the London-based political consulting firm obtained users' personal data and used it in attempt to influence the 2016 United States elections. This news brought to light what, for many, was the first understanding of just how much of our personal information Facebook collects. Such data can include messages and photos we share privately within the social network, and even our cellphone contacts and data on communications that take place outside of Facebook.

As a result, the #DeleteFacebook movement has taken hold online, with many former users encouraging others to pull the plug on the social network. Major brands, including Elon Musk's Tesla and SpaceX, Pep Boys and Playboy, have followed suit.

A recent poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos on March 21-23—the height of the controversy—corroborates the idea that people have lost trust in Facebook. Only 41 percent of American adults trust the company to "obey laws that protect your personal information." Facebook's percentage has sunk below those of tech-industry peers like Amazon (66 percent), Google (62 percent), Microsoft (60 percent), Apple (53 percent) and Yahoo (48 percent).

Reuters social media correspondent David Ingram said the following of the poll. "This poll is a big warning sign to the company that users are beginning to understand that there may be not something quite right with Facebook and its, either business model, or its handling of data in the case of this consulting firm Cambridge Analytics."

Despite the the lagging confidence in regard to Facebook, after digging deeper into the poll's findings, Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus wrote he believes the social network will remain popular.

Oremus points out that—even after the scandal—51 percent of respondents said they check Facebook "continuously throughout the day." Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they check at least once a week. And when asked why they don't use Facebook more often (or at all), poll respondents cited a general disinterest over privacy concerns. "While privacy is a factor in people's decisions about using Facebook, it's a relatively small one," wrote Oremus.

Oremus also points out that Facebook has endured past controversies about its handling of users' personal data. "It's not like the social network had a sterling reputation for protecting users' privacy at any point in its history," he wrote. "The majority of Americans clearly made peace with that long ago."

Facebook's first controversy took place in 2007, when the company came under fire for its Beacon ad program. Beacon was designed to track users' online shopping habits so that they could be served targeted ads in their Facebook news feeds. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized in a statement for the program ultimately because it opted-in users automatically, sometimes without them understanding what was happening.

And then in 2011, Zuckerberg received more negative press regarding his company's privacy policies. This negative attention came when Zuckerberg danced around questions about its policies during the Wall Street Journal's annual All Things Digital conference.

But, in the opinion of BuzzFeed news reporter Charlie Warzel, after more than a decade of questionable practices surrounding user-privacy, things are different for Facebook this time around. "This scandal is shaping up to be the event that forces the scales to fall from our eyes. We’ve lost control. And we’re fed up," He wrote. "Every revolution needs to be ignited. Cambridge Analytica feels a lot like a spark."

Ultimately, only time will tell if Facebook will survive its latest controversy. But if your business' current social media strategy is overly-dependent on the social network, maybe it's time you start expanding your horizons.


Will Facebook persevere its latest privacy controversy? Are you looking elsewhere for your social media marketing? Share your thoughts in the comment box below!

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