The past year has been full of the good, the bad and the ugly—with an emphasis on the ugly—for the (arguably) most popular social media platform out there.
Facebook has seen its share of scandals, protests and trending hashtags in the past year. As we enter 2019, let’s reflect on the changes that rocked Facebook in the tumultuous year of 2018—and why you should still tag along on this bumpy ride as a business or marketer.
Changes in Newsfeeds and Targeting Capabilities
Facebook started 2018 with a bang by scaring advertisers and publishers alike when they changed their newsfeed algorithm to prioritize family and friends’ posts over what they called “public content.” While this caused some waves in the media industry, Facebook remained a tested and true platform for advertisers, with spend increasing 33 percent year-over-year in quarter three.
Later in the year, Facebook hit another bump in the road: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) accused the site of discriminatory advertising practices, as businesses could choose to exclude people from seeing housing opportunities based on gender, race, ethnicity and religion. As a result, Facebook reduced its targeting capabilities by 5,000 options—limiting advertisers’ ability to exclude people based on demographic information such as race, ethnicity and religion.
Exclusion = never good.
This doesn’t stop advertisers from targeting niche audiences—you can still narrowly define your audience by including certain characteristics from the still wide range of demographics, interests and behaviors that Facebook offers.
Data Privacy and #DeleteFacebook
If you were too busy doing your best impression of an ostrich burying its head into the sand, the two stories in 2018 that will continue to haunt Facebook into the new year are the Russia scandal and the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
Here’s the TL;DR of both sagas: In February, the Mueller investigation found that several Russian individuals and companies spent more than $100,000 on Facebook ads critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in an attempt to influence the 2016 election. Then, Facebook exposed the personal information of 87 million people to Cambridge Analytica—a data firm unknown to most Americans until this past year—which used it to create a political influencing tool to aid the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
Mark Zuckerberg’s apology rings hollow. Facebook has almost single-handedly destroyed our constitutional right to privacy and helped an American dictator steal an election. We need our democracy back.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) March 21, 2018
Use whatever metaphor you like—opening a can of worms or just the tip of the iceberg if you’re feeling dramatic—but the Cambridge Analytica news story reignited a conversation that has plagued the Internet since its conception: the issue of privacy in our digital world. Some big highlights from 2018:
- Third-party apps are collecting and sharing user data with Facebook more than previously thought or reported. This is not a new practice, but it gained a spotlight in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and the hearings and lawsuits that followed. Think of the type of information that you provide apps like Tinder or Grindr: that information is then passed on to Facebook to create a buyer persona that advertisers can target on the platform. Expect more reports, like these from Buzzfeed and the New York Times, in 2019.
- There are more bugs in the system. Blocked users were temporarily given access to the content of more than 800,000 users; hackers stole the personal data of 30 million users; and developers gained access to 6.8 million users’ photos that were loaded into a Facebook browser but were not uploaded or shared on the app this year. Some users were also unknowingly giving Facebook access to call and text records on their phones, through a mobile Android app.
- It’s not just for spreading of plague of baby photos. Hate speech on Facebook was connected to various hate crimes carried out in Myanmar and India.
- Users are storming out together in protest. Several high-profile names left Facebook, including co-founders of Instagram, in reaction to the data breaches and lack of transparency in Facebook’s data sharing policies. With every new scandal or report, users and former Facebook employees gathered under the call of #DeleteFacebook. The newest protest wave came in December 2018, as the news media make their way through the documents released from the Six4Three lawsuit. NAACP also led a #LogOutFacebook protest in late December, in reaction to more revelations on the Russia scandal.
— Jacob Dean (@SchadenJake) December 16, 2018
Facebook is Still in the Game
In summary, Facebook is sailing in rocky waters right now. But despite all this, I wouldn’t pull your ad money from the platform yet. Marketers aren’t leaving Facebook for a simple reason: it’s still an extremely effective platform to do business.
The most recent Facebook report showed that their user numbers haven’t seen any significant drops, despite an April study reporting that nine percent of Americans had deleted their Facebook account and 35 percent were using Facebook less because of the privacy scandals. In Q3 2018, Facebook still added one million monthly users, reaching 242 million in the North America region, and has held its ground at 185 million daily users here. The reason for this discrepancy?
There are several, but it’s hard to run away from the fact that Facebook is part of our lives—professionally and personally. Whether you are required to have a social presence in your profession or you must know why Brenda from high school is feeling #blessed today, it’s hard to get rid of permanently.
For many, it’s a connection to their communities, and for others, it’s a digital catalog for their life events and memories. There’s also the more logical reason to keep your Facebook account: deleting it can mean deleting other third-party apps as well that require a Facebook login, or at the very least, it could mean having to create new accounts for your apps. Like Google, Facebook is so intertwined with our digital lives that it’s difficult to start untwisting that twine.
So while #DeleteFacebook is a trend to keep your eye on in 2019, we are not abandoning ship. To put it bluntly, users are not going anywhere yet—so neither is Facebook.