Almost everyone I know is on Facebook. My friends, my family, the people I used to work with, people I went to school with, other authors I’ve met… In particular, if you’re an author, you’ve been told you simply must have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. presence. And I’ll admit that when I deleted my Facebook page a few months ago, and left pretty much every FB Group I’d been a member of, I saw my sales plummet. But I also so my general life satisfaction and happiness go up, so…
But this isn’t a book about how Facebook and other social media impacts your happiness; there are plenty of other books and studies that do that. Zucked is about how Facebook (and Google, and Twitter, etc.) undermines democracy and is generally dangerous to the population.
That’s right. Dangerous.
To be clear, though I deleted my author page on Facebook, I do still have a personal account. This is because I live far from where I grew up, far from family, and my friends are spread across the globe. It’s also because all my kids’ schools lean on Facebook to disseminate information. See, Facebook has made itself practically indispensable. And there’s no other platform like it because Facebook squashes or absorbs all competition. Unregulated, Facebook is pretty much a monopoly.
And while we all think it’s great that Facebook allows us to keep in touch with people—people who otherwise would never email, so you’d pretty much never hear from them again—and/or snoop on old friends and flames, we need to remember that it’s a business not a charity. Facebook connects people at a price. It’s free to join, but you pay with your personal information, which Facebook sells to anyone willing to make them rich for it.
At this point, I’m sorely tempted to delete my Facebook account, but the damage is done. I exist in their system, and my profile has surely been sold many times over. That data, once sent out, can’t ever be called back. Who knows how many copies of it exist?
But here’s the thing: I absolutely won’t let me kids sign up for Facebook. Or any other major social media platform. For their own safety (cyberbullying being a real issue) and so that they can hold on to their information until the day we have legislation and regulation to protect them.
If any enterprising startup would like to make an ethical site that connects people, or if such a thing exists, I’d love to hear about it. I’d much rather pay a monthly or annual fee to protect my data than sign up for a free site that sells me as their product.
Oh, but what about the book? This was one of the clearest explanations of how these platforms do business and how bad actors (like the Russians) are able to use those business models to their advantage. Points deducted for the “History of Silicon Valley” chapter, which gave me flashbacks to my college days when I had to take a bunch of history of media classes. That bit was mind-numbing, and I don’t think it contributed much to the overall case against these platforms. It was meant to give context, but… meh. I ended up skimming that bit.
Still, anyone who has Facebook, anyone who uses Google or Instagram or other major platforms, should read this book. McNamee has decades of experience and lays things out neatly. An enlightening read.