Facebook has been in the news a lot recently, and for good reason – it has been revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, was in possession of millions of Facebook users’ information, intended to influence the results of the United States’ 2016 presidential election. Many argue that the reason Facebook is seemingly always embroiled in controversy is in the nature of its business model.
In Facebook’s business model, users don’t pay in dollars. They pay in their personal information, which Facebook in turn sells to advertisers. To put it bluntly, we are not Facebook’s customers – companies are the customers, and we’re the product. In light of just how egregiously our personal information has been used, the Foghorn asked ourselves: Would we be willing to pay for Facebook if it meant it wouldn’t need to sell our information to turn a profit? We answered an overwhelming yes, with only one staff member disagreeing. We would pay for Facebook if it ensured our personal information wasn’t sold to advertisers.
First of all, Facebook was never intended to be such an information powerhouse. Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook when he was a college student to make it easier for other students to meet each other. Now, Facebook has become such an expansive database that foreign governments use it to gain influence. Many of us believe that Mark Zuckerberg is simply out of his league and that it’s long overdue for changes to be made in the way Facebook operates. A lot of us simply do not trust Facebook anymore and don’t feel safe on the site. Even those of us who are not particularly political feel uncomfortable with a site being able to influence our political leanings. A site having the ability to sell our information is dangerous. The reason we are willing to pay for the site is not because we just feel uncomfortable – it’s out of a feeling of insecurity.
A common argument people make is that if we don’t like Facebook, we should just delete it. Not only is this naive, it’s impractical. Facebook has become a necessity in a way that other social media platforms have not. Which site do you use to talk to your aunt who lives across the country? Which site do you use to find roommates or textbooks? Which site do you use to plan events? Facebook. Facebook has intentionally and strategically become an intrinsic part of so many people’s lives that the idea of people deleting their accounts en masse is unrealistic. We don’t want Facebook to be removed, we want Facebook to be improved.
If you didn’t already know, Facebook tailors its advertisements to each individual user. For example, a 28 year old makeup artist would see different ads than a 50 year old mechanic. These ads are made by companies such as Cambridge Analytica, who use Facebook’s database of user information to influence the site. According to a 2016 Quartz article, each user generates $12 of revenue. The Foghorn staff would be willing to pay that $12 if it meant our data stayed within the confines of Facebook.
The idea of paying for Facebook is less crazy than it sounds. When Facebook was first started, it was almost unfathomable to pay for anything on the internet. People pirated music and movies because it was accessible and easy. However, since then, Spotify and Netflix have taken off and piracy rates have decreased. In other words, people are willing to pay for high-quality interfaces. There are still people who pirate movies and music, but it is a fact that less and less people are pirating. Facebook would have an even easier time because, at this moment, it’s impossible to “pirate” a social networking app. If people are willing to pay for various streaming apps like Hulu and Spotify, why not pay for Facebook?
Facebook’s business model is based on selling our data. It’s not a feature of the business model – it is the business model, and many of us now distrust the site as a result. If fixing it means that we end up having to pay to use Facebook, we are willing to pay that cost.
Featured Photo: Facebook has gone from being a site made for college kids to an information powerhouse. It’s time to treat it as such. PIXABAY