‘There needs to be more awareness of privacy’

Facebook offers services in return for data collection, says Lancaster University academic Dr Helena Wenninger
Facebook offers services in return for data collection, says Lancaster University academic Dr Helena Wenninger

In the brave new world of social media, it can feel as though Big Brother really is watching our every move. But is it really so bad that Facebook knows our favourite drinks and where we like to shop? And will the Cambridge Analytica revelations really change the behaviour of the social media generation?

READ MORE: What information is held by Facebook? How to find out what Facebook knows about you?
Dr Helena Wenninger is a lecturer in Information Systems at the Lancaster University Management School.

Her research interests cover patterns of social media usage and online communication as well as their consequences for individuals, providers and society.

READ MORE: Should we be deleting Facebook? Or is it too late?
She says that there were key differences between George Orwell’s nightmarish dystopia in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four and Facebook.

“It’s quite a provocative comparison,” she said. “People are not forced to give out their data or information.

“It’s on a voluntary basis compared to what Orwell’s novel displayed to the current situation and also users get a lot of benefits from sharing on these platforms.

“They can promote their own projects and contact friends. It’s a voluntary tool they can use without having to pay anything for the use of the platform.

“It seems like the dimension of what the data is used for is getting broader than what is was used for in the beginning.

“We as a society have to negotiate the boundaries that some parties illegally take advantage of influence.

“Some parties have already illegally used the platform and it’s one reason why people are angry.

“For the most part users are aware that their data is being used by businesses.

“I would recommend much more awareness about what people like on Facebook. It’s not a private environment. I think there needs to be much more awareness for users about the consequences. This should be a consideration for people who are considering continuing to use Facebook. There’s the weight of the benefits and the costs. “It’s also important to be aware of that and of Facebook’s business model.

“It uses data it collects from users for making revenue to keep the platform free of charge for users. It’s a little bit like a trade off.”

‘Facebook is simple and everyone uses it to stay in touch’

Sonja Karimkhanzand, from Blackburn, studies journalism at Leeds Beckett University.

She said: “If social media didn’t exist, all my problems would be solved. Instagram plays tricks on your mind. This is especially true for young women like myself. I constantly feel pressured by today’s society, to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards. Along with that, Twitter and Snapchat fuel my short attention span. However, it all started with Facebook.

“When I hit 13, I immediately signed up to the website. It was exciting, finally being the legal age to use something you weren’t allowed to until then. It was a fairly new concept at the time, all my friends had it and I felt special to be part of the crowd.

“From then onwards, it became an addiction. I found myself constantly divulging random, useless bits of information to hundreds of Facebook “friends”. It was like an addiction, as soon as I was home from school, I’d be checking the site constantly. Though I’ve never been naive, I was still very lucky to have gone to a school, that constantly drummed into us the dangers of Facebook in terms of safety.

“Now, a fear is engraved within me, that younger generations, lost in the social media frenzy, post pictures of themselves and all sorts of details about their lives online. When this goes hand in hand with those who accept friend requests from random people, you essentially put your own life in danger. With the recent scandals, it’s not a secret that Facebook stores the most intimate details of our lives, tracing back to years ago. In light of this, I’m relieved that I barely use it anymore. Now, all I need to do is wean myself off Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat otherwise social media rehab is on the cards!

Periklis Iakovidis, 23, is a Lancaster University Student originally from Greece.

He said: “Social media has gradually embedded itself deeply in our day-to-day lives. Now, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light and Facebook coming under heavy fire and scrutiny, many are trying to step away from the platform.

“However, that is often easier said than done as many people are more dependent on social media, especially Facebook, than they might realise.

“Despite the rise of other apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp etc that fill similar roles, Facebook has remained the ‘king’ of social media, due to the sheer volume of its userbase.

“While young people are starting to move away from it towards apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, people older than 30 or 40 years of age are vastly underrepresented on those platforms. Facebook’s days as the youth ‘hangout of choice’ may be numbered, but its grasp on the 30+ demographic is as strong as ever.

“Furthermore, many apps like Instagram and WhatsApp are actually owned by Facebook, so using any of those as a substitute, hoping for better security and privacy, is likely a fool’s errand.

“I like many others, am dependent on Facebook to stay in contact with friends who do not live nearby. As an international student from Greece, Facebook is how I stay in touch with my Greek friends when I am here at uni, and my English friends when I return to Greece.

“It certainly is possible to communicate through other means, such as Skype, phone calls or texts, but that is much less convenient. That is the reason for Facebook’s success. It is simple to use and ‘everyone’ is on it, either by choice or necessity.”

So sure, X or Y platform might be ‘objectively’ better, but good luck convincing all 300 of your friends to migrate to it.