Any existing anxieties and depression associated with being a Facebook user are surely going to increase in the immediate future. Protecting yourself starts with your response.
“Actually, I’m not sure we shouldn’t be regulated” may qualify as the most tortured understatement of the year, though the year is young. I’m no diagnostician, but to judge from his canned CNN interview on March 21, Mark Zuckerberg is currently suffering from Facebook-related anxiety and depression.
Breaking a five-day silence during which he was incommunicado with the press (among others), the multibillionaire CEO added, “If you look at how much regulation there is around advertising on TV, in print, you know, it's just not clear why there should be less on the internet.”
To his credit, the 33-year-old Internet mogul—who also said, during the interview, "I started this when I was so young and inexperienced"—allowed, "I made technical errors and business errors. I hired the wrong people. I trusted the wrong people. I've probably launched more products that have failed than most people will in their lifetime."
And he did not hesitate with his ringing, unambiguous apology: “I’m really sorry that this happened.” And he copped to the company’s many “mistakes,” particularly, in the words of CNN, with Facebook’s “policies to make sure user data is protected.” Back to Zuckerberg: "That ... is probably the biggest mistake that we made here." And: “This was a major breach of trust.”
"If [Facebook] can't protect user information," ... “then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Zuckerberg did not shy from saying, in particular, that taking the data firm Cambridge Analytica “at its word” “was clearly a mistake.”
In what is only the largest of the legal crises into which Facebook has waded since allowing third parties access to its user data, the firm, which played a major role in the election that made Donald J. Trump President of the United States—and whose primary interface with the campaign during the campaign was Jared Kushner (unless it was Steve Bannon; the boys fight)—accessed and used data from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or permission.
The story isn’t even known in full, and even what is already in the news is too big for a blog post. But we feel we’d be in breach of our readers' trust if we didn’t point out a few things that have appeared only here and there:
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What many original Facebook users may not know
It’s common knowledge that Facebook has, or until recently had, some 2 billion users—roughly a third of the world’s population. What’s less known to users in the countries in which Facebook got its start is the degree to which it dominates the Internet in less developed parts of the world.
In Southeast Asia, from where I write, many governments make their official communications with their citizens on Facebook--because that's where those citizens reliably are. For a myriad of reasons, for countless millions Facebook “is the Internet,” in the recent words of a reporter from Agence France Presse.
Looking just one country west, Facebook has been recognized as one of the main platforms for spreading hate and prejudice against the Rohingya and other non-Buddhist religious minorities in Burma. Earlier this month Reuters reported that the UN has recognized Facebooks as the platform driving Burma’s militant Buddhists. Time magazine wrote that Facebook had a “determining” role in violence against the Rohingya.
In short, Facebook’s influence goes far beyond elections and their outcomes. And no one, including Zuckerberg in his interviews for CNN and the Times, sees a clear way for Facebook to back out of the unregulated use of its data, if only because of its size and reach.
The concern here
We’ve reported in previous blog posts about anxiety and depression related to the use of social media, particularly Facebook, and particularly among adolescents. To listen to legions of “the kids,” Facebook is passé, but no other social-media app has touched it in outreach.
In a special section of Sources/Reading at the end of this post, we’ll list links to articles that investigate at depth, and statistically, about Facebook-related anxiety and depression. The list is by no means complete or conclusive.
Longstanding as controversies about Facebook are, very recent developments indicate that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Facebook has announced huge increases in its security staff and is promising to investigate all apps that could make use of Facebook user data in ways comparable to Cambridge Analytica’s. It—and Zuckerberg himself—has promised it will notify users whose data was or may have been “compromised.”
In his interview with the New York Times, Zuckerberg said, “We’re going to tell anyone whose data may have been shared.” And Facebook, and he, have acknowledged that to provide security and notifications completely is impossible.
What bothered us as much as anything in the very recent reporting was a sidebar in the Washington Post, about the many difficulties of getting off Facebook—beginning with users' ambivalence about deleting their accounts. Surely anxiety about their data as well as outrage over its being used without their consent is sure to build and mean many more deletions of Facebook accounts. The Post’s article begins with a guide to actually performing the deletion.
All we’re saying for the moment is that the issues of anxiety and depression associated with Facebook are only going to increase incrementally in the immediate future. Concerns will go far beyond investors’ stock investments. They perhaps have the best ideas of how to proceed to protect themselves.
For everyone else, we’re saying, Do what you gotta do.
Facebook-specific anxiety and depression articles: