Students still ‘like’ Facebook despite data breach

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Facebook quizzes are one way political data firm Cambridge Analytica mined data from Facebook users. Illustration by Gaby Fantone

Up to 87 million Facebook users recently had their data, including birthdays, current cities and page likes, compromised by Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. 

For many, this information was collected through a third-party quiz application connected to Facebook. Users who allowed the app to access their information also shared their Facebook friends’ data with Cambridge Analytica.

“One aspect of the data that was leaked from Facebook was personality profile data. There’s a really high number of college students who take those quizzes,” said Timothy

Summers, director of innovation, entrepreneurship and engagement at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. “(College students) are absolutely impacted by this.”

While younger generations are switching to Instagram and Snapchat as their primary social media platforms, 82 percent of 18-29-year-olds use Facebook, according to a Pew Research Center study. Although it’s no longer the peak social hub that it used to be, people use the site to tag their friends in memes or funny posts, and to share photos. It’s not used to share as many personal thoughts as it once was, but students say that, going forward, the data leak teaches a lesson about online privacy.

“I feel uncomfortable (using Facebook), but that feeling actually encourages me to be careful about what personal information I put on social media,” said Dylan Wen, a freshman communication studies major. “I do think I will continue to use Facebook, primarily because it is a platform where I can connect with people on a professional and personal level.”

Still, despite the breach of privacy, some students say giving up Facebook is easier said than done.

“Any other social media platform will never compare to what Facebook is and the possibilities that Facebook has,” said Kaleo Chang, a sophomore political science and strategic and corporate communications major. “If I had to give up all social media and keep only one, it would be Facebook. It’s so versatile.”

A group of users created a campaign called “Faceblock” for users to boycott Facebook on the day of Mark Zuckerberg’s senate hearing, arguing that the site’s users deserve better. But Chang believes that the roots of the boycott are misguided, as the process of a ban is unproductive.

“So many people in our generation are so quick to take unnecessary activism,” he said. “Facebook is still going to be around, and ultimately, whether people think it right now or not, they’re going to get over it.”

Wen said that, although he believes that the Facebook boycott wasn’t successful, its intention was reasonable.

“Their reasons are well-founded, but I don’t have much confidence in the movement,” Wen said. “I agree that something needs to be done, but I don’t think boycotting Facebook is the right idea, and neither is it a successful one. Facebook is not only a social media giant, but also an international business.”

Summers suggests that users take extra steps to protect their data so they can understand what information Facebook collects. People should log in to Facebook to find out what it’s “capturing” about them, he said. He also said users should check their settings to see what apps are accessing their data.

“Social media is eroding democracy,” Summers said. “This kind of psychographic profiling being done on Facebook is absolutely
damaging to democracy and to the longevity of our society.”

Though Summers said people can’t expect Facebook to be “good stewards” of user data, Chang believes that others should focus on hacking and privacy in general, and not just pointing fingers at Facebook.

“I don’t think people really understand what happened,” he said. “Major organizations have been hacked before, like the IRS, but because social media is such a new thing and it’s fun, we focus on the bad things when they do happen. It certainly is scary, but you should think that hacking is bad, not Facebook.”