Saurabh Parmar
Guest Article

3 reasons ad folks should take a more honest look at Facebook

Privacy, addiction, depression.

It's been some time since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but Facebook can't seem to leave it's controversies behind! Last month itself there were two more independent news stories about Facebook:

3 reasons ad folks should take a more honest look at Facebook

Saurabh Parmar

Newspiece 1: Facebook's public policy and communications head Elliot Schrage quit recently. He was one of the main people dealing with all the public and government furore.

Newspiece 2: A New York Times investigation done at the start of this month revealed that Facebook had shared data on users and their friends, without consent, with around 60 device makers, and they continue to have access to this data.

But this piece is not really about what happened at Facebook, but about what could happen.

But why is that important for advertisers?

Here's why. We and the brands we represent have built an entire ecosystem around Facebook which just keeps growing... fan pages to groups to Instagram to millions in media buy. Facebook and its future will impact brands of every size, from a small restaurant to big player like PepsiCo.

Here's my take on the impact Facebook could have, and in some cases is already having:

The new 'Big Brother'?

Ask most Facebook users and they would say Facebook just collects their basic personal information and 'at most' every post, like or share. Even that much is profound but perhaps most of us were aware of it. However, as software developer Dylan McKay discovered, Facebook had logged all of his text messages and phone call history over the past few years. And he doesn't use the Facebook app for calling or sending text messages! The same thing happened with tech journalist Sean Gallagher.

It's not just about what you are doing on Facebook, but also outside it. Some tech journalists claim Facebook is using our phone's microphone to listen in on our conversations. Of course these are unsubstantiated rumours, but fact is most of us have already given Facebook access to our microphones... and nothing really stops them from doing it.

For the technology industry, which has always been against the 'Big Brother' approach, this sounds extremely intrusive. Also Dylan McKay and Sean Gallagher are software engineers and tech journalists from the most developed economies of the world; if they didn't realise what was happening, what is the hope for a regular user in a small town in India to understand how Facebook is robbing us of our privacy?

Addiction: Facebook is a substance...

Facebook is addictive. According to a growing body of research, social platforms like Facebook have several features specifically built to trigger dopamine release. "We... give you a little dopamine hit," Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, has been quoted saying.

"It's a variable reward, because sometimes you have new tweets or sometimes you have new messages, and sometimes you don't. And that makes it intrinsically addictive," Tristan Harris, ex-Google employee, has been quoted saying.

So now you realise why you feel compelled to keep checking your insta-feed or Facebook notifications multiple times through the day, or why you keep scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed when you are free. It's not just a harmless habit; it's a well-funded tech ecosystem, designed to exploit our behaviour.

Interestingly, a lot of people in the Mecca of the tech world, Silicon Valley, do not allow their kids to use platforms like Facebook.

Loneliness and Depression

The UK recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness. One of the biggest reasons loneliness is becoming such a big issue today among young adults is because of platforms like Facebook. Though there's a sense of being connected to our friends, what we're really doing is 'watching their lives', rather than 'being part of their lives'. And since this technology is new to the human brain, we don't really process the two as different things.

Don't take my word for it. Here are two interesting perspectives from the tech industry:

'The Truth about Tech' is a campaign launched by former employees of Silicon Valley tech firms .The agenda to make people aware of how tech causes depression, attention deficiency, etc. And no, it's not a grassroot movement by some tech hippies' it's a 57 million dollar campaign.

There's a piece on Facebook's own newsroom which talks about the possible impact Facebook could have on mental health. The team admits there is a negative side to the story. The post begins with: "With people spending more time on social media, many rightly wonder whether that time is good for us. Do people connect in meaningful ways online? Or are they simply consuming trivial updates and polarizing memes at the expense of time with loved ones?"

When the guys who sell tech, and build platforms like these are talking about it, it's about time we did too.

The reason I felt compelled to write this piece is - I am someone who has believed in the idea that technology, especially socially media, unifies us and brings us closer. And it did. But somewhere along the way some tech companies got greedy about building empires. And we are paying the price with our data... and our happiness.

I still believe Facebook and social media can have a positive impact. For example, social media allows me to distribute and share articles like this one. But does the benefit outweigh the cost? Maybe not. But if Facebook changes its policies, it's approach, then perhaps.

(The author is a brand consultant & trainer).