Editorial: Facebook at a crossroads

ITS stock is diving, some of its major corporate partners are backing off, and its top executives have been summoned to a US Senate committee hearing on “the future of data privacy and social media” on April 10. That’s just a quick look at the tight spot Facebook now finds itself in, after allegations that a data analytics company that worked for President Donald Trump’s election campaign obtained data from 50 million users without their consent.

Christopher Wylie, who used to work for Cambridge Analytica, has told investigative journalists in The Guardian and The Observer that the firm used that data to create profiles of these users, as well as political ads and messages intended to appeal to their psychological traits and political leanings. Wylie called it “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindf_ck tool.”

It gets worse. Some Android users have learned, after extracting their archived data from Facebook, that the social media network had also collected their call logs, “containing names, phone numbers, and the length of each call made,” CNBC reported. None of this information was illegally obtained; it was all handed over the moment Facebook users “opted in” on using the social network’s apps and features. It’s a wonder that many of us are appalled that a corporation would cash in on all that free information we’ve signed away.

Nearly a third of the world’s population spends part of their days on Facebook, the Associated Press has pointed out. Its various communities may not overlap or connect, but the fact that 2.2 billion individuals have handed over their attention to Facebook makes the social media network irresistible to advertisers “and, it turns out, people who want to do some sketchy things with data and even influence elections.”

This should be of particular interest to us in the Philippines. For the third year in a row, Filipinos spent the most time each day on social media. The agency WeAreSocial reported last month that there were 67 million Facebook accounts in the country, and that Filipinos averaged nearly four hours on social media every day.

Is it time to wean ourselves off Facebook, and not just give it up during Lent? That’s a personal call. But one thing all this suggests is that it’s time we shifted some of our attention and energy from our online worlds to our offline ones: the neighborhood associations, churches, interest groups, and volunteer organizations where our connections can be more meaningful, because we feel a real sense of accountability to them.
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