Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me 1,000 Times, You Must Be Facebook

Published in Online Spin, February 2nd, 2019

I am done.

I am done being surprised by Facebook’s latest scandal(s).

I am done even thinking about believing its principals are sorry.

Most sadly, I am done thinking we have any kind of visible solution for the stranglehold Facebook has on our digital social lives, or for the way in which Facebook (and, let’s be clear, its FANG counterparts) monitors and manipulates our behavior.

Three days ago, I had dinner with some colleagues. “Did you hear about Facebook’s friendly fraud scandal?” I asked.

This was the one in which they had intentionally gotten kids to spend money without realizing it, and then refused to refund the money. Little kids. On Angry Birds, one of the games where the problem was most rampant, the average age of the kids was FIVE YEARS OLD.

To get the full sense of how deceptive and depraved these practices were, you really need to click through and read the full article. Not only was Facebook well aware of the problem, it actively encouraged it, sending a memo to developers titled, “Friendly Fraud – what it is, why it’s challenging, and why you shouldn’t try to block it.”

Never mind. Fool me once, right?

The friendly fraud article came out just over a week ago. Just a few days ago, yet another Facebook scandal broke: this one about how it paid 13- to 35-year-olds $20 per month to get access to everything on their devices, including, “private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.”

Ah, well, fool me twice?

Last October—just three months ago—I wrote about Facebook’s behavior over the previous 30-day period:

  • 30 million Facebook users had their personal information stolen.

  • Instagram thought growth was more important than the mental health of its users.

  • Facebook faked video view metrics by up to 900%, defrauding advertisers.

  • The New York Times Editorial Board scolded Facebook for relying on the media industry to moderate its platform.

  • Facebook was fined £500,000 for the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and

  • Facebook’s filter bubble algorithms were directly linked to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Every time, the company apologizes: “We’re sorry.” “We should have done more.” “We promise to do better.”

Here’s one from last March. Here’s one from AprilAugustNovember.

Let’s be clear: Facebook cannot be trusted to police itself.

It cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of its users.

I would say that the company is conflicted, but it isn’t conflicted at all. Over and over, its actions have shown it has one, and only one, focus: growth.

Last July, after Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call that the company was going to be investing dramatically in security to improve the user experience, its stock plummeted by 19% in a single day. After all, Facebook was predicting that the investment was big enough to significantly impact profits.

Except that it wasn’t. Facebook reported earnings this week: $16.91 billion in sales, more than 30% growth year-over-year. Record profit for the fourth quarter. 2.3 billion monthly users.

With results like that, why would Facebook actually plan to change?

Kaila Colbin