It’s a situation that firmly belongs in the “this sounded like a good idea at the time” department.
When the Facebook social media service was launched more than 10 years ago, it was hailed as a simple, safe, cheap way for people to connect, re-connect and stay connected online with friends and family no matter where they lived. The only requirement was having a computer and Internet provider, and the rest was up to the consumers — or so it seemed.
People took full advantage of the opportunity to post pictures and information on their activities, share viewpoints and, of course, spread millions of memes — those humorous images, videos, bits of texts or what-not which are copied and distributed by Internet users.
Facebook also was embraced by businesses, police/fire departments and other entities to inform the public or obtain useful feedback.
But as is often the case, a good thing became spoiled and the public has been subjected to the ravages of unintended consequences.
For many people today, Facebook is more than a simple networking tool.
They have become psychologically dependent on Facebook and actually let it be a guiding force in their lives. I’m sure you all know someone who fits this mold — folks who feel compelled to list everything they do all day long, the intimate details of their lives, as a means of gaining attention, sympathy or moral support from “friends.”
More recently, revelations about Facebook have entered even darker dimensions.
Chief among those are the well-documented cases in which terrorist organizations such as ISIS have used the network to recruit new members.
Then there’s the fact that Facebook has been giving away massive amounts of the personal data supplied by consumers to third parties for years without the users’ permission.
Last month it was revealed that a sleazy enterprise called Cambridge Analytica had collected such information from Facebook users as a basis for crafting political campaigns for whoever bought its services. This means Facebook, through the wealth of personal data it controls — not to mention its dissemination of fake news stories — is playing a questionable role in influencing the electoral process, one of the foundations of freedom.
As if all that were not enough, there also have been charges of censorship by Facebook in which its liberal-leaning leaders are removing content of those espousing conservative philosophies. One high-profile example of this involves two harmless African-American sisters from North Carolina, known as “Diamond and Silk,” who are popular supporters of President Trump and “vloggers” (video bloggers).
Diamond and Silk have accused Facebook of censoring their views, which indicates that not only is it abusing consumers as a whole but especially those with right-wing leanings. So much for being an open forum that serves as a universal platform for all opinions — just another example of how some applaud the freedom of speech, so long as it is the “right” kind of speech (in this case left).
This week, Congress got into the act by hauling Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg onto Capitol Hill to answer for these and other abuses.
Now as I see it, this was mostly political theater on the lawmakers’ part, full of real or feigned outrage along with some degree of ignorance. And while their line of questioning to Zuckerberg highlighted many of the problems surrounding Facebook, I don’t think we should expect any groundbreaking solutions from Congress.
Just as with many other things, the ultimate power to reign in Facebook lies with each and every one of us — the clout everyone collectively wields in the marketplace.
We the People often don’t realize that each television show on the air, every movie produced, every political campaign launched is all aimed at gaining our appreciation and support.
Consumers can strike back at Facebook by simply not using it, which is the case with Susan Sarandon and Will Ferrell, who have joined other celebrities in a growing movement called #DeleteFacebook.
Even if individual users don’t want to go so far as pulling the plug on Facebook altogether, by now they should be extremely wary about posting any of their personal information on its pages.
Or they have learned the value of entering false information about birth dates or places of residence, as some do, which surely will stymie those trying to steal someone’s identity or otherwise misuse such details.
The point is that Facebook — while a rich, major corporation — should be reminded at every turn that it must exist for our betterment rather than the other way around.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.