Facebook In Rough Waters

By André Carmo

December 23, 2021


At iVirtual, we feel like we’re building a new vessel in the middle of the open ocean, heading toward something new, promising, inclusive and hopeful.

Shipbuilding on the high seas is a decent metaphor for most new ventures, especially when you’re seeking to transform the way people interact with technology. Our view is that a new enterprise needs to get out of safe harbour and into the open water as soon as it’s seaworthy. If you have something to say and something tangible to contribute to the world, then don’t wait for perfection to start your journey. Besides, even a smaller and well designed but unfinished boat can be more stable than a massive poorly designed cruise ship.

We have something to say about the massive vessel that is Facebook, which is facing some very rough waters these days.

The Facebook Files are the leaked documents from Frances Haugen, the now famous whistleblower and former data scientist and product manager at Facebook. For anyone needing a recap, here’s what the leaked documents suggest:

  • Facebook has a different set of content rules (privileges) for celebrities and politicians than it has for regular users.
  • Facebook employees frequently flag human traffickers on the platform but the company’s response is habitually “weak”.
  • A shareholder group is suing Facebook for the $5 billion payment it made to the US Federal Trade Commission to resolve the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The claim states that the settlement was designed to protect Mark Zuckerberg from personal liability.
  • The company pumps pro-Facebook content into people’s news feeds in order to boost its image.
  • Facebook didn’t share its findings that Instagram was a “toxic” place for many young people and that 32% of teenage girls surveyed said that Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies and their self esteem.

So, is Facebook the Titanic or a cruise ship infected by a pandemic? Either way, most agree that things are precarious and something needs to change.

Recently, some of the smartest people on the subject of privacy and social media gathered around a Zoom table at Yale Law School for an event called: The Facebook Files: What Next? You can watch the entire event here.

The first panel included prominent privacy activists such as:

  • Tristan Harris, the president and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, (you might have seen him in Netflix’s The Social Dilemma);
  • Shoshana Zuboff Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School (also in The Social Dilemma) and the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism;
  • Meetali Jain, the Deputy Director of Reset Tech, which works to attract long-term funding for civil society organizations engaged in the democracy and technology problem;
  • Frances Haugen the already mentioned Facebook whistleblower.

The second panel included five top privacy law professors from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Fordham and UC Irvine.

The event surveyed a broad range of Facebook problems that clearly need to be fixed. Some seem to feel that Facebook is the Titanic about to crash and sink unless it’s dismantled. Others see Facebook as the cruise ship in a pandemic: It should be highly regulated to sanitize the ship and eliminate the disease.

With over two billion users affected by Facebook, we at iVirtual care only that this all gets sorted out in a way that clearly benefits everyday people. So, while we joined The Facebook Files: What Next? and listened and learned from amazing experts, it also occurred to us that regular people were not at the table talking about what they want and need.

That’s why we are building iVirtual. We want to be a vessel for everyday citizens seeking data, privacy and identity management solutions that empower consumers and foster real trust in the digital world. And there is room for everyone. Our view is that people should design their own terms and conditions for how their suppliers, like Facebook, can use personal data.

We’re going to keep building the ship. But that won’t stop us from steering into the action. Why? Because people have something to say on these issues right now.

With that said, here’s our contribution to the question: What’s Next for Facebook?

We are today announcing YouOwnYou’s Facebook Terms. We’re inviting every Facebook user to copy the Facebook Terms and share them in their Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp accounts. Here they are:

“By continuing to offer me its services, Facebook agrees that it will not knowingly make me unhealthy and it will not knowingly make technology, software and product choices that result in the promotion of conflict, racism and violence.”

YouOwnYou is for now in closed beta, gathering the feedback of thought leaders in the field, but the team is working hard to make it available to everyone very soon. Until then, feel free to sign up for our YouOwnYou newsletter and we will keep you posted on our progress in changing the way data ownership works.

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