Friday 21 December 2018

Is It Time to Face the Truth About Facebook?

By Candy Gourlay

We were supposed to post our Notes from the Slushpile Christmas greetings today but I've been so bothered by recent events that I thought I'd push our Christmas post to Monday and put this out today. 


A lifeline to the world. A boon to authors who are their own marketing departments. A way to meet like-minded folk, share information and grow friendships with people you would otherwise never have had the chance to meet in a million years.

I have really valued Facebook. It is not an understatement to say Facebook has given me the world.

But recent news has left me wracked with discomfort and guilt about my enjoyment of Mark Zuckerberg's creation.

We have known the harm that Facebook has been doing for some time. Its addictive qualities have eroded not just our productivity but our capacity for face to face, real life interaction. We discuss and debate this problem but most of us do nothing because our need for that Facebook Rush outstrips any concern for our own wellbeing – like just having to eat that chocolate bar when you're trying to lose weight.

As an author, I depend on Facebook to engage with readers. I try to curate a Facebook feed that does not just talk about my books but delivers meaningful content about reading, literacy and writing.

But recently, I have had to ask myself: at what cost?


Isn't it funny how we all got used to giving up our data in exchange for all the conveniences and wonders of social media? When the Cambridge Analytica debacle happened, maybe some of us tweaked our privacy and permissions settings but it didn't stop us using Facebook.

And then there were security vulnerabilities that resulted in up to 50 million accounts being hacked.

And then those trusted partners FB shares our details with? They included "such powerful global firms as the Russian search engine (and Kremlin partner) Yandex, Chinese phone maker (under sanctions for producing insecure devices that enable state surveillance) Huawei, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Sony (which suffered a major security breach in 2014), and the New York Times", writes Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Says Vaidhyanathan:

... if it becomes clear – as it has – that multiple industries depend on exploiting the personal data of millions or even billions of people, the concentrated political power of organized, wealthy companies outweighs the distributed power of disorganized citizens. These most recent revelations show that while Facebook might be the most egregious abrogator of our trust, there are no innocents.


But I think the most inconvenient truth about Facebook is how it has been weaponised by certain sectors to spread disinformation, win votes, destabilise and divide.

At first, there was euphoria, as ordinary people realised social media could bring down authoritarian governments. But it quickly became obvious that FB didn't discriminate between good guys and bad guys.

Warned over and over by alarmed journalists and experts, FB did nothing. Watch the PBS documentary The Facebook Dilemma, Part One and Part Two – or listen to the audio track 1 and 2. A report about the documentary on CNN summarises it thus:
... there were plenty of people sounding alarms who were by all accounts dismissed or ignored -- practically "begging and pleading with the company, saying 'Please pay attention to this'". CNN

Oh sure, out in the west, we are hearing a lot about concerns for US democracy. But in big, strong, monied democracies there is always an opportunity for justice.

It is FB's effect on smaller, poorer, weaker states that we see profound damage. In the Philippines – where most mobile phones can view FB for free – a FB-enhanced election has led to a drug war (drawing its oxygen from yet more FB weaponising) that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. In Myanmar, killings incited on Facebook are being called a genocide.


Well ... are we?

Facebook thrives on us.

Wired Magazine quotes media theorist Douglas Rushkoff:

Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don't know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don't know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers.

Many of us think, but that's okay. I have nothing to hide. I don't mind being served those adverts on FB – I want to see most of them anyway!

And for authors like me, Facebook is such a godsend that so what if FB has shared my details with Netflix? I like watching Netflix and FB is so convenient, so easy to use, and most importantly, has such a MASSIVE reach ... I could never achieve that with a poxy little author website.

But but but ... how can we ignore the harm FB is doing? How can we shrug and say, 'nothing to do with me' when the harm FB does is all in our name?


Is Facebook going to change?

Facebook will not change unless we change.

But most of us have too much too lose. Family, friends, livelihood ... we are enmeshed in FB's ecosystem (which includes WhatsApp and Instagram).

The right thing to do is to #DeleteFacebook or at least deactivate your account ... here's how.

For authors like me (this is, after all a blog for children's authors), deleting FB will be a massive loss. It will demand a sea change in social media behaviour. An author who abandons FB will have to:

• Return to blogging (many of us abandoned our blogs for microblogging on FB). Do all you can to build your subscriber list (not for the lazy or faint hearted).

• Boost one's presence on Twitter (which has its own ethical issues) and other social media platforms like Goodreads and Tumblr. Twitter is stronger on the networking front so this would take creativity and is only useful in combination with other social media. It might be that Twitter will be forced to change to respond to the needs of a huge influx of FB refugees

• Look to traditional media – radio, print and TV – for a presence. Even though this has been a shrinking space, large numbers abandoning FB will create demand. But will traditional media respond?

• Use YouTube – video is powerful but demands skills and presence. But YouTube is part of the Google ecosystem, and we haven't exactly been happy about Google's behaviour either, have we?

• Improve one's website – but how to drive traffic to one's website?

• Seek and participate in literacy groups and teaching resources (like Teachit) sites or whatever special interest group that might appeal to one's particular books – online AND in real space

I am mulling all these (and more). It will certainly make my professional life harder. How do I make the time for all these while writing my books and doing the speaking engagements that are my bread and butter?

And to be totally honest, I am feeling reluctant. I have put so much of my life on FB. I love seeing my friends from across the world on my feed. I love my FB groups for authors and illustrators and and literacy and history and Philippine mythology enthusiasts. I have so much to lose.

But people are dying. Surely that is a good enough reason to get on with it? Isn't it time to ACT instead of complaining on social media and signing endless e-petitions that only help to feed the FB newsfeed?

Siva Vaidhyanathan is not optimistic about these revelations changing FB:
... while the most recent revelations of the depths of Facebook’s depravity shock the conscience, the deeper story is that Facebook’s position is more secure than we had feared. And Zuckerberg need not abandon his core principles as his algorithms continue to manipulate how billions of people make choices every day. 

Leaving Facebook will be one choice that Zuckerberg cannot manipulate.

But do I have the moral courage to do it?

Candy Gourlay's latest book BONE TALK has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Award. Her picture book Is It a Mermaid? illustrated by Francesca Chessa has been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal.  Find out more about Candy on her website and Twitter


  1. I'm so conflicted right now. An enlightening piece - thanks, Candy

  2. I've wanted to leave Facebook for so long! Much prefer Twitter to talk anyway. But two things hold me back - the special-interest groups I participate in (kidlit, SCBWI admin, art, local history), which don't have any other platform and would not transfer well, and it's the only place I still have a connection with Japan - other platforms exist, but I would struggle with a Japanese-language only site, Facebook is the only one that everyone uses, whatever their language. So it's a tough decision. My thoughts are entirely with you though Candy.

  3. Food for thought indeed. Thank you.

  4. I think this is very important. maybe is we suspended our activity - went on facebook strike with demands, we could make the changes we want to happen> What do you think?

  5. I feel just as conflicted as you. The Facebook groups are very important to me and that's the main thing keeping me from leaving—how would I find these communities again? I'm not sure I could. It feels awful to think that I have to stay when I know how sleazy Facebook is. The dishonesty was built in from the beginning by its founder.

  6. I think it's a question of how to use FB - like many others, I'm mainly using it for closed groups, which have admins and rules regarding what can be posted. But what we are seeing on FB is really the cost of having something for free.

  7. Thank you for this post. I have been thinking about this so much recently. I have been wishing a competitor would enter the market.

  8. I really respect you for this, Candy, and I'm still thinking about it. I can only read a bit at a time on my phone, which is frustrating. I know everybody blames fb for lack of social interaction between people, for instance, but it has not been my experience. Ive ended up with more real life interaction because of it, because it has helped me to stay in touch with people I've only met once. That's why I don't know what to believe about the other things... And people could have said the same things about books.


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