Will Cambridge Analytica and #DeleteFacebook Change Social Media?

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The controversy over the use of personal data by Cambridge Analytica has dominated news over the last few days. The influence that an organisation has been able to have access to Facebook data (albeit apparently gained illicitly) was shocking – being able to influence the US Presidential race to such a degree is mind-blowing.

The shock of this has got people thinking about the future of their Facebook accounts – should they go ahead and delete?

Firstly, it should not be much of a shock to Facebook users that the level of data that they are sharing with Facebook is massive.

Facebook users are only able to see a proportion of the posts that they should see (i.e. if they saw every post from every page that they liked), so Facebook prioritises the content that they see. Every time that they like a page, comment on a post, add a like or click on a link they are sending data to Facebook: ‘I have an interest in this content’. This trend can lead to Facebook users seeing more and more similar posts which support a particular viewpoint and of course adds those Facebook users into an audience segmentation group which can be targeted by advertisers.

This is the price of free-to-use digital services. When you don’t pay for a product, you are the product and your data is your subscription fee.

Anyone who has spent some time looking at Facebook Ads Manager’s audience segmentation cannot fail to be impressed (freaked out?) by the detail with which Facebook can define an audience. So from a marketing perspective, this could be an unsettling time: people deleting their Facebook accounts in large numbers would mean that audiences are more difficult to reach. But ‘large numbers’ is a bit of a vague phrase isn’t it?

Let’s imagine that 100 million people (or the entire Facebook membership in the UK and Thailand combined) delete their accounts. Today. This would mean that monthly Facebook monthly active users would still hit the 2 billion mark at the end of April. I think that it would take a large 9-figure account exodus to really get Facebook sweating.

The abuse of personal data is not a new story, but most of the previous stories have been a result of hacking: illegal organisations illegally taking data. But

Cambridge Analytica is different: a legal organisation using individual’s data without their consent.

I hope that the Cambridge Analytica controversy may even have a positive impact in the sense that it forces people to ask themselves about the level of data that they are prepared to share and to question what they see on social media.

But will it have a long-term impact on Facebook? Probably not.

The scale of the #DeleteFacebook movement will have to be phenomenal to have an impact on Facebook. But it does mean that use of data is on people’s minds: marketers should put transparency at the centre of their data strategy or risk a backlash of their own.

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