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Did Cambridge Analytica Change Facebook Users’ Behavior?


“If Facebook wants to use me as a data point to improve their overall algorithm, by all means do it,” Garvey says. “I think it’s going to be a net benefit to society. That data is valuable and I think there are insights to be gleaned from it that are more constructive than harmful.”

“Mark Zuckerberg, I think, is a genius with Facebook,” says Shirley O’Key, a 98-year-old retired teacher who lives in Sacramento, California. “He had admirable goals, he wanted to have the world communicate. I really believe that he sincerely wanted that. Then of course he’s hammered because they said he didn’t keep things private. Well, nothing is private. How stupid can we be?”

Perhaps it’s not that people are stupid, but that they’re stuck. My colleague Alexis Madrigal has posited that Facebook may be unstoppable—too big, too central to too many people’s lives for any negative press to truly affect it. At the very least, it seems that in terms of necessity, Facebook is in a class of its own. The majority of Facebook users in my survey—68.6 percent—said that without Facebook their social life would suffer somewhere from “a little” to “greatly.” For every other social media platform, the majority of people said their social lives would suffer “not at all” without it.

Regina Goodrich, a 26-year-old retail worker in Coral Springs, Florida, says she’s deactivated her Facebook five times or so in the last five years. But she kept coming back. “I think it was mostly the fear of missing out on something,” she says. But she recently deleted it for good—not because of Cambridge Analytica, but because it was making her feel too anxious, she says. Although, “the privacy concern is definitely a reason why I won’t be making an account again.”

But the majority of people who answered my survey didn’t change their behavior on social media after Cambridge Analytica.

Taylor Moore, a 22-year-old in Chicago who works in digital marketing, says Facebook is her “primary social-media network,” and that she uses Facebook Messenger more than texting. “If I had to delete any app, I think Facebook would have the most impact,” she says. And while she says the Cambridge Analytica news felt like a “violation,” she says she hasn’t changed her behavior because of it.

“Cambridge Analytica is not the first time Facebook’s been in the news for privacy practices,” Schoenebeck says. “That’s been an ongoing news story for almost a decade now. Each time it’s happened, there’s a sense that, ‘No, but this one was the real one, and people are really gonna leave,’ but then people seem to not leave. It’s almost acting like a public utility, in the sense that people, especially adults, feel like they have to be on it. So I think you’re not going to see that people’s use of Facebook correlates with their trust of it. So many institutions and organizations have adopted it—workplaces, schools, community centers, churches—people will in fact miss out.”

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