Across the world, the internet and every news feed right now, you’re probably seeing the words ‘data’ and ‘breach’ and ‘Facebook’ and the hashtag #DeleteFacebook saturating the landscape in which you scroll.
Data’s not sexy. Not even remotely. And yet, it’s snaking its way into every major news bulletin and across every major news site. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook began trending. Think pieces have sprung from every corner, warnings from every angle. We’re being told we should be angry, we should be wary and we should wise up.
So what in the world is going on?
Over the weekend, The Guardian, The Observer and The New York Times reported that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica used information gleaned from hundreds of millions of Facebook profiles to try and influence how Americans voted in the 2016 US election.
As a sentence, that may not sound overly remarkable. After all, our data is everywhere, and advertising is targetted to us accordingly. This situation, experts say, is very different. There’s a chance it influenced elections, political proceedings and has shaped the world today as we know it.
This is everything you need to know about why people are changing ‘Delete Facebook’ worldwide.
Back up: What’s Cambridge Analytica?
Oooookay. Let’s start here.
Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a political data firm hired by President Trump’s 2016 election campaign. You might not be surprised to learn the former Vice President of the firm was Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Chris Wylie is the pink-haired ex-Cambridge Analytica employee who is blowing the whistle on how they conducted “research” for the election.
He told The Guardian his firm, "exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles … and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons".
After that story first broke, Channel 4 in the UK revealed Cambridge Analytica's CEO boasted to undercover journalists about using misinformation campaigns to influence election campaigns.
CEO Alexander Nix - who has since been suspended - said CA “did all the research, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy” for Trump. He also said their data got Trump in the White House by influencing “40,000 votes in three states”, despite losing the popular vote by three million people.
So, you know, no small claims. Especially when you consider how they got their data, which brings us to...
So, what does this story have to do with me?
Hello, there. This is where you come in. Welcome to the #DeleteFacebook campaign.
The reason this story has blown up like it has is because Facebook, many people argue, have been letting users down.
As Arwa Mahdawi wrote for The Guardian on Wednesday: "Cambridge Analytica may have violated Facebook’s terms of service, but Facebook had no safeguards in place to stop them."
According to Nigel Phair, the Director of UNSW Canberra Cyber, the difference between CA obtaining data for the US election and how, say, advertisers target us everyday comes down to CA using our friends' data, too.
"What Cambridge did was they didn't just glean data from your profile, but they went to your friend's profile and this is where it gets a little bit to the heart of the campaign to #DeleteFacebook.
"You could be a happy user, you could have your privacy settings up to speed, but your activity is being analysed in relation to your friends," he tells Mamamia.
He says we don't yet know if Australians have been affected by the data breach.
"As we stand, the privacy commissioner has sought assurances about what is the impact to Australians because we don’t know this yet," he told Mamamia. We're unsure, therefore, if "anyone in Australia is collateral".
Phair believes while we're not sure how directly affected we are down here, it should be a huge "wake-up" call for us about how we use social media and in particular, Facebook.
"Being online is good and we get so much enjoyment out of being on there. But we need to keep our eyes open," he says.
Facebook have developed a messenger app for six-year-olds, and we have some concerns. Post continues after audio.
How have Facebook responded to the saga?
Funny you ask. (I'm aware you didn't, but onwards.)
You could argue Facebook are being criticised as much for breaching our data as they are for their response.
"This was unequivocally not a data breach," Facebook vice-president Andrew Bosworth tweeted on Saturday. (The platform choice for the statement curious for obvious reasons.)
“People chose to share their data with third party apps and if those third party apps did not follow the data agreements with us/users it is a violation. No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked.”
Our mate Zuckerberg hasn't commented on the #DeleteFacebook campaign, but he says he has "been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn't happen again".
It's interesting, of course, that Facebook can flatly deny breaching data when so many argue they did.
Dr Vanessa Teague, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing and Information Systems at The University of Melbourne, says at this stage, they're playing the ignorance card.
"The fact is that information you put on Facebook can be used by Facebook’s customers, who are advertisers. Facebook is angry that data – which they think they rightfully sell access and exploitation rights to - has been passed on to someone else, ironically, without their consent. They thought they were handing it over for research purposes only."
On Monday, Facebook's shares dropped by almost seven per cent, which equates to more than $40 billion being shaved off the company's value.
What do I do now? Do I really have to #DeleteFacebook?
While the campaign to #DeleteFacebook has certainly got legs, Safiya Noble, an assistant professor of information studies at the University of Southern California, says it's privileged to be able to #DeleteFacebook, if you decide to do so.
“For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know, and it plays a central role in communicating, creating community and participating in society online," she said, as per The Guardian.
Nigel Phair believes we should be vigilant, rather than initially jumping on a band wagon to delete Facebook.
"You should have all your privacy settings maxed and the same goes for your security ones. You should also have strong passwords - it’s just good online hygiene."
He argues after that, our next step is to consider terms and conditions. Not to necessarily read them, he means, but to re-consider how they're phrased. Their purpose, too.
"The next step is for us to look at is the terms and conditions of these apps and these websites. We shouldn't be asked if we 'agree' with the terms and conditions, because we don't agree. The truth is, you’re not going to read it, it's impractical to do so. We should instead be clicking something that instead says 'I proceed'."
In short: Facebook are trying to dodge this saga by claiming it's all in the terms and conditions. After all, we're the ones who agreed to them.
"I think we also need to look at the norms of our online world compared to the norms of our offline world," Phair suggests.
How much information would we give up to someone on the street? And in considering that, why are we happy to change our practices online?
"We need to be across all our socials," Phair says, noting Facebook owns Instagram and Whatsapp, too, though they haven't been embroiled in this saga.
"We are the product... and they have to keep monetising their platforms. This is just one of the ways they do it. They track the things we're liking, the pages we go to, the personality quizzes we complete, the games we play. They are all there for a purpose."
Why is the story such a big deal?
This is an interesting one. In a world where we're often told Facebook does irresponsible things with our data (particularly in the case of the 2016 election), Phair believes this breach in particular is eliciting such a visceral response from users because of... ah yes, you guessed it, Donald Trump.
"He is such a polarising person and anything that can explain why he got elected - because it’s confounded people so much - is going to cut through.
"Second to that is the Brexit discussion," he says.
"It’s not a bad wake up for some people, aware of what it means to be online, good digital citizen."
Interestingly, even Tesla founder Elon Musk has joined the campaign to Delete Facebook, deleting both the Tesla Facebook page and the SpaceX Facebook, both thought to have culminated more than two billion likes.
The overriding sense, however, is that you shouldn't rush to Delete Facebook, but instead understand the medium of which has access to a whole heap of your stuff.