Farm data, privacy, and the #DeleteFacebook movement

In this piece: A brief background on the Cambridge Analytica situation | Personal data – do we know what we’re signing up for? | Mental health – how does using social media make us feel? | Will you #deletefacebook?

We’ve known for a while that social media is a complicated beast, especially as it relates to human behaviour, our own mental health, and how personal data is shared and used. Its benefits and challenges, ranging from effects on attention span to depression, occasionally (and usually briefly) make headlines, but in recent days, the spotlight has been a little brighter.

Recently we’ve learned British strategic communication firm Cambridge Analytica was given personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users by Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan, who had developed a third-party app in 2013, before Facebook put restrictions on users sharing their friends’ data. Because it’s against Facebook policy for developers to share data without permission from users, in 2015, they asked Cambridge Analytica and Kogan to delete “all improperly acquired data.”

The concern is that that did not happen and that Cambridge Analytica used the data while working on the campaigns of Donald Trump and other Republican candidates to target messaging and influence the U.S. election outcome in 2016. Cambridge Analytica was also involved in the “leave” campaign in the Brexit vote.

In a post outlining the timeline of events and next steps forward, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg called the ordeal “a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook.”

Personal data

“Giving up our personal data seemed like a small price to pay for access to all the time-wasting features that Facebook has to offer.” – Margaret Wente, in the Globe and Mail.

Perhaps the biggest argument against social media sites is their use (and in some cases, abuse) of personal information. But are we, as users, as diligent as we should be in understanding how our data is used?

Many organizations and awareness campaigns call “I agree to these terms and conditions” the biggest lie on the internet.

In 2016, an experimental study of 543 undergraduate student participants found that 74 percent skipped reading the privacy policy. Though the study reported the average adult should take between 29 and 32 minutes to read the privacy policy provided, the participants spent, on average, a little over a minute on it (73 seconds). Similarly, the terms of service would take roughly 15 to 17 minutes, the average time spent on it was under a minute (51 seconds).

The length and technical details behind privacy and service agreements do little to entice engagement, which is somewhat ironic considering engagement is what drives social media success. Many are arguing it’s not the fault of average users that we tend to skim or skip these important details, but the fault of those who regulate, and those who write the terms and rules. Could there not be a simpler way of communicating what, exactly, we’re signing up for? You know, maybe in 280 characters or less?

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg.

Mental health

Proponents of social media sites like Facebook say they bridge great physical divides that separate friends and family, giving us a convenient way to share thoughts, pictures, and updates from our lives. This is especially relevant in the farm community where physical distance separates people. But, cited in a blog from Psychology Today, a 2014 study in Computers in Human Behavior found only 9 percent of Facebook users’ activity actually involves actively communicating with people.

For the most part, users are instead consuming random content, and that can wreak havoc on our mental wellbeing. According to the same study, though we believe some time on the social media site will help improve our mood, it often does just the opposite, as we leave the site feeling unproductive and unfulfilled.

And that’s not even considering the “spiral of envy” that so often occurs when we consume social media content. Whether it’s a friend’s beach bod, a neighbour’s new tractor, or a complete stranger’s glamorous vacation photos, it’s easy to get sucked into the envy trap. (But, arguably, it’s how we handle, and what we do with that envy that matters.)

Other studies have concluded that how we use social media determines how it affects us. If, for example, we use it as a way to share our emotions, and reach for support, it may be doing more good than harm. (Check out this interesting break-down by the BBC)

Perhaps it’s time to start asking ourselves whether we leave social platforms feeling fulfilled and inspired or unproductive and insignificant. And, if it’s a mixture, how can we lean it to the positive? Is it time to unfollow/unfriend certain parties? Limit the time we spend on our devices? Change what we see in our news feeds? Review our privacy settings? Or just outright delete our account?

The rise of #deletefacebook

From election-meddling and data sharing, to location tracking and ad-targeting, the reasons for the rising #deletefacebook movement are vast.

Even Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp (sold to Facebook for $19 billion in 2014) has joined the movement, tweeting simply, “It is time. #deletefacebook” (to which founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk responded, “What’s Facebook?”).

In recent days, similar thoughts have started to pop up on some agriculturalists’ feeds on Twitter (some of which we have included below).

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Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a Field Editor based out of central Alberta, where she never misses a moment to capture with her camera the real beauty of agriculture. Follow her on Twitter @RealAg_Debra

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