By Verlie Oosthuizen, Head of Social Media Law
Generally, it has been a bit of a tough year for Mark Zuckerberg in terms of popularity stakes. In the last few days #whereszuck has been trending and he has seemingly “gone to ground” avoiding staff briefings and press hounds.
At the beginning of the year he had to tell the world that he would be tweaking the Facebook algorithm in order to make the experience more “meaningful”. This was in response to a study linking the use of Facebook to a rise in depression and the problem of social media “addiction”. Zuckerburg attributed this to users constantly viewing “public content” generated by businesses rather than personal friends and family.
The latest setback is that Facebook has been implicated in disseminating users’ personal information to companies that have used it for propaganda purposes. This has caused a major scandal and wiped millions off their share price.
The story is complicated and there are many players in the game, however at a very simple level, a company named Cambridge Analytica devised a way to trawl the data used by a third party application offered by Facebook. They then used that data in order to anticipate peoples’ political preferences and plant “possibly untruthful” news stories which would shape public discourse. The fact that Facebook has been selling personal data to companies in order to sell things for years and years seems to have been forgotten!
The fact is that Facebook is voluntary and people consent to all sorts of outrageous privacy infringements willingly in order to get the service. Maybe the Cambridge Analytica scandal will be the tipping point where people realise how far this invasion of privacy has gone and the amount of their personal data that is being used to manipulate them.
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