News dropped this week that Facebook had given companies access to users' private messages, even as its leadership said it would prioritize user privacy. It was yet another scandal at the tech company — but who’s counting? — and users, in the Philadelphia area and beyond, once again announced that they were deleting their accounts.
“Dear Facebook,” West Philly-based writer Terrilyn McCormick wrote on her blog, “You’ve been undermining democracy throughout the world and more explicitly facilitating the Russians’ influence on our election here in the US. I’ve held on through this rough patch because I love seeing pictures of my friends’ kids and really appreciate your events feature. But you’ve changed. Maybe I have too?”
But as the #DeleteFacebook hashtag makes the rounds again, some are asking: Does it matter if we delete Facebook? What about the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp? And if what users really want to see is change, is there a better way to do that?
On that last note, Anand Giradharadas thinks so.
The author, whose most recent book is an investigation into what he describes as the hypocrisy of the tech set, says #DeleteFacebook is “admirable” but buys into a troubling narrative that we’ve all been fed: that we, as individuals, have the power to change systemic problems.
#DeleteFacebook as an individual, you are personalizing what is, in fact, an issue of systems and the abuse of power," he said Thursday in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Think, he says, of the fallacy of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s famous line about “leaning in." Women can become #ladybosses in the workplace if they just lean in, the thinking goes. But it ignores the bigger systems at play: that we live in a society that is built around the oppression of women and people of color.
So what’s the alternative? The government, he says, should regulate Facebook.
Government regulation is not a new idea, and it’s a controversial one. Most recently, City Council passed a law to regulate how retail and fast-food companies schedule their workers, hoping to quell what they see as abusive scheduling practices. Mayor Kenney was set to sign the bill Thursday afternoon. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, as well as some Republicans in Harrisburg, see regulations like this as an overreach that stifles business growth.
But regulation in the tech industry is only starting to happen. In August, the New York City Council regulated Uber, capping for-hire vehicles licenses for a year while it studies the industry and mandating a minimum pay rate for drivers. On the other hand, gig economy startups have fought for laws that ensure they can classify their workers as independent contractors. And the fight over net neutrality regulations rages on.
Instead of just deleting Facebook, Giradharadas suggests calling your elected officials and working to get younger politicians into office who understand how these tech platforms work.
McCormick, for her part, said she’s all for regulation, but she’s also being realistic.
“We can’t even regulate guns in this country, so what, are we just supposed to hope for the best on that front?” said McCormick, 46, reached as she baked holiday cookies.
Plus, she said, “I think we’ve seen the power of individual actions done collectively.”