Is Facebook like the really cool friends who come to visit and you have a blast for a weekend, but they overstay and ultimately you find out you really don’t like them very much?
It’s a little unfair to single out Facebook — Twitter certainly has some pretty disgusting hygiene habits — but its footprint is unparalleled. So its failure or rehabilitation could be catastrophic, especially for businesses. As of this month, 35% of the world’s population are active users on Facebook. Eighty million of those users are businesses — just like yours.
The social media giant is the conduit a vast majority of U.S. small businesses use to reach their audiences. So much so, in fact, that many use Facebook as a substitute for a website.
But Facebook is having a bad patch.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal shone a bright light on Facebook’s dark underbelly (we thought you were our friend, and here you are selling us out).
The news that Facebook stored hundreds of millions (looks like 540 million so far) of users’ sensitive data in plain text on servers was not only a hit to its flagging security reputation, but maybe to its bottom line. Those policies run afoul of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation and Canada’s privacy laws. Facebook faces fines of several billions of dollars for those violations.
In addition to the GDPR and Canadian fines, Facebook is facing between $3 billion and $5 billion in U.S. fines from the Federal Trade Commission.
The state of New York is investigating the company’s “unauthorized collection” of 1.5 million email addresses, which could result in more fines.
Facebook announced last week that more than 2 billion fake accounts were removed from the platform. Most of those were at the point of creation, however. And the company now estimates as many as 5% of all currently active user accounts are fake (that’s 100 million accounts).
Recently its own co-founder, Chris Hughes, promoted the idea of breaking up Facebook.
Into this mosh pit falls an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi designed to create the false impression she is drunk or ill. It was known from hour one that this video was doctored. But it remained on the Facebook platform and has, as of this writing, been viewed by 2.4 million users and counting. Business Insider reported last week that things will only get worse with more fake audio, video, and accounts ramping up to impact the election.
It’s getting to be too much for some users — and even some companies. CrossFit last week deleted its Facebook and Instagram pages, detailing a litany of grievances. There’s a good amount of online discussion from both users and brand about whether or not it’s time to ditch Facebook.
But the issue for businesses remains: What do we do instead? Where will our clients go? There are a lot of smaller, niche social sites popping up, ready to corral the disenfranchised Facebooker. But none that I saw offered a welcoming home for business marketing. Of course, there are the old standbys Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, but their audiences are significantly smaller, and how will you know if your likers are there?
One interesting idea is that the FTC, as part of whatever consent decree it crafts, could require Facebook to create a data portability method so people could get out without having to leave their friends and favorite brands behind (and vice versa). Another is that Congress may be ready to take up the idea of a data privacy act that could, at least, reform Facebook to make the environment safer, more secure, and — possibly — more honest. The GDPR, with a lot of adjustments, could be the template for such a law in the U.S.
In the meantime, it’s a wild west show out there as privacy stares down convenience in the biggest of all town squares. And it’s everyone for themselves. Ultimately, that’s probably the best lesson for small businesses: The only one putting your business first is you.