Facebook is, to borrow a term from the popular woke vernacular, problematic. It is a company that has been plagued by scandal and controversy on a global scale. Its problems aren’t a womanizing owner or workplace conditions. No, Facebook’s problems are because of precisely what Facebook is, what it’s become, and the power it wields. They’ve been fined billions of dollars for their trafficking of user data and they were instrumental in the propaganda/bot campaigns having to do with the 2016 United States presidential election. They’ve been publicly dressed down on a number of occasions, so much so that upon information coming to light, many people opted out and continue to do so. While I would love to see millions withdraw from Facebook, that is not my purpose here. I’d prefer you read this and come to your own conclusion about social media, the internet, and their effects. I digress, we’re examining Facebook here, more specifically how Facebook continues to thrive even after the exposure of its misdeeds (so far).
If then the question is how does Facebook manage to maintain its power and prominence regardless of controversy, the answer is simple. It is because Facebook has a captive audience. As a short aside, there is a wonderful, brilliant, and terrifying band by the name of Swans who, in their early years, would lock the door while they were playing so that the audience couldn’t leave once they began their sonic onslaught. Like Swans, Facebook too has a lock on their doors, keeping customers in. They have structured Facebook in such a sweeping fashion that the users are disincentivized from leaving. Facebook positions itself as the hub for communication, a necessary part of staying in touch. Thus, users continue to come back because if they leave, they risk social isolation.
Leaving Facebook doesn’t lead to social isolation, a lack of communication does. You don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people, that’s what telephone numbers, home addresses, and email addresses are for. Remembering people’s birthdays or at least keeping them in your calendar is your responsibility. Once I left Facebook, the amount of people who wished me well on my birthday dropped easily by 85%. That is sad both for me and the world. The incentive to be a good human being and keep in touch with people on your own has been all but decimated. Facebook will handle it for me, why should I have to do anything else? The trouble here is that relationship upkeep goes far beyond social networks, or at least it does if the relationship is to be meaningful. Merely commenting on or liking someone’s status about a recent life event does not create a close relationship. It’s the internet equivalent nodding at someone in the park (were they to actually look up and not down at a device). But since Facebook posits itself a one-stop-shop for human relations, it stands to reason that its users would be afraid to leave lest they become a hermit.
Not only is Facebook the conduit through which millions of people manage their “social relationships,” it is also their gateway to information. This is how they find out about things, true or untrue. And so, Facebook has placed itself in a very strong position. The users need Facebook. They’ve got a captive audience, one that is seemingly unaffected by Facebook’s own transgressions. If allowing election propaganda and selling personal data didn’t push people from the platform, I’m not sure anything will.