Cambridge Analytica row: What’s wrong with Facebook and can Mark Zuckerberg fix it?

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New Delhi | Published: March 22, 2018 3:47:13 PM

Cambridge Analytica row: Mark Zuckerberg should be the first person to address any of such issues where the reputation of his company is in question.

Mark Zuckerberg vowed to ‘step up’ to evaluate and fix whatever is wrong with the social media platform. (Source: Reuters)

Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday finally opened up to address the data misuse scandal that kickstarted a major outrage across the world. Over the last week, a whistleblower report alleged that the data of over 50 million Facebook users was illicitly collected by Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based firm that helped the Donald Trump Presidential election campaign in 2016. While Facebook’s data safety debacle has led to an exodus of users under the reignited #DeleteFacebook campaign, the long silence of Facebook CEO only intensified the issue. However, Zuckerberg broke his silence over the matter in a Facebook post where he has thoroughly explained and presented his side.

In the Facebook post, Zuckerberg vowed to ‘step up’ to evaluate and fix whatever is wrong with the social media platform. “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” he said over the data harvesting case involving Cambridge Analytica that had Donald Trump election campaigners as one of its clients. Zuckerberg emphasised on how he plans to reinforce that no data is leaked to outside platforms by any means, thereby giving more control to the users who are the rightful owner of the content they share on the social media platform.

Read more: Facebook Cambridge Analytica row: How to delete your Facebook account and protect your data

The backlash

The bigger picture here is the handling of the user data by Facebook, which now claims to have 2.2 billion users worldwide. The mismanagement of the data agitated umpteen Facebook users who actively joined the #DeleteFacebook campaign – asking everyone to uninstall the Facebook app, along with the deletion of any other instances of private data from the platform. The backlash against the social media platform escalated further when prominent people joined in. WhatsApp co-founder Brian Actron sounded off the same expression on Twitter where he asked his followers to delete Facebook – “It is time. #deletefacebook”, he wrote.

The outrage quickly turned into a worldwide political storm where many nations including India began questioning Facebook if it ever tried to rig elections in their respective countries. India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad jumped the gun and warned Facebook of making any attempts akin to the recently uncovered Cambridge Analytica scandal. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, maintained an eery silence on the matter all through the past week. Many media reports, as well as users, criticised him for staying quiet this whole time while his company’s reputation was being lit on fire.

Zuckerberg finally spoke and apologised to everyone – “I’m really sorry this happened” he said in an interview to CNN. Apart from CNN, Zuckerberg gave multiple interviews to other media outlets including WIRED, The New York Times, and Recode among others. Taking cue, Facebook also posted on its blog that it has severed all the ties with Cambridge Analytica, however, it was too late. The data harvested by Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have helped Donald Trump win the Presidential Elections held in 2016.

How Cambridge Analytica got hold of data from Facebook

To answer this question, we need to step back to the year 2014, when over 270,000 users decided to take a part in a survey where they were asked to use the apps that gained access to their friends’ data, according to a report by The New York Times. The results of this survey were allegedly used by Cambridge Analytica to prepare an insight for its clients including the Donald Trump election campaigners. The Donald Trump election manifesto holders have so far denied any involvement in a statement to The Associated Press. However, a CBS report points out that the data insight was used for primaries in the US by Donald Trump and his election campaign.

This is not the first time when Facebook has faced flak over the issue of data safety. Back in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected as the US President, Facebook came under the scanner for influencing the electoral process by showing people advertisements about Donald Trump. The main source to the Facebook advertisements comprised of Russians who reportedly had a major say in the Donald Trump’s election campaign. Facebook has been trying to shed off the castigation it faced from regulators over this issue. This incident was slowly dying as Facebook made major changes to its advertisement policies, however, little did it know that one of the advertisers could one day become the most severe headache.

‘We got it wrong’

In his interview, Zuckerberg told CNN that it took him so long to address this issue because Facebook ‘got that wrong’. “That’s definitely something that, looking back on this, I regret that we didn’t do at the time,” he told CNN. This answer has an emotional backdrop attached to it that Zuckerberg thinks can save him from the backlash, but at the same time it sounds extremely superficial as an answer coming from a company that holds the data of over 2 billion users.

Moreover, on being asked if Facebook needs to come under the purview of regulators, Zuckerberg dismissed the question by raising another question. “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated. I think in general technology is an increasingly important trend in the world. I think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than ‘yes or no should we be regulated?”, Zuckerberg said. Meanwhile, many of Facebook’s data sharing policies, including the infamous WhatsApp data exchange plans with the parent company, have already been brought in top courts in many countries, which also includes India.

What lies ahead

So, what lies ahead of this fiasco that Facebook will have a hard time recovering from? Mark Zuckerberg should be the first person to address any of such issues where the reputation of his company is in question. Facebook distanced itself from being a news website when the Presidential Election scandal sparked off that accused the social media platform of curating news related just to the elections. Zuckerberg back then came out in public to address this, however, the damage was already done.

It will take more than needed efforts by Facebook to bring itself back to normalcy while knowing that the #DeleteFacebook has enormously grown on Twitter and elsewhere. People have been adamantly deleting Facebook, just to rekindle the idea of boycotting the social media platform that started a few years ago by some people who weren’t really a fan of Facebook and its policies. Zuckerberg, however, succumbed to this hurdle with an unexpected answer in his interview. “With a community of 2 billion people, I can’t promise we’re going to find everything,” he told CNN.

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