The Thing About Trust, Facebook and Social Media

Mitch JoelPosted by

At the core of social media is trust.

No matter what is happening in the media today or how others are twisting what social media can do, we often forget what the platform is/was intended for. We should pause. Just for a moment. Social media was created as a way for anybody to create content and share it globally… for free. The other side of social media was a place where anybody else can interact with that content, comment on it, share it, subscribe to the creator’s thinking and – most importantly – build on it or create something entirely new. Social media broke down the gatekeepers (as Seth Godin called them) to allow a million voices (or flowers) to bloom. 

Over time… magic.

Over time, people did connect, share and build relationships (billions of us). It used to be ridiculous to imagine that real relationships could be developed through these digital pixels, but they did. Sure, dating sites also pushed this forward, but we could easily argue that a dating site is really nothing more than a variant on social medial. At this moment in time, my most active social media engagement happens in two private Facebook groups. Each group has well over three hundred members, but it is a very powerful place. I love it there. It flies in the face of a world that only sees social media as a garden for narcissism, fake news, hacking, manipulation, and data breaches/leaks. Within those groups there is trust, there are true friendships… and real-life gatherings because of it. But something is rotten in digital.

The platforms grow… and they lose the trust. Sadly. 

That’s the strange part. It’s easy to not trust what people create. People create content from their own perspective. People create profiles that aren’t accurate representations of themselves. I’ve often said that Facebook is the place that people go to create the person that they want the rest of the world to see. Humans are complex (and flawed). We’re quick to flaunt and slow to dig in deep. It’s normal. It’s not just you. It’s not just me. It’s not just that person from High School who is still trying to impress everybody else. The bigger problem that we see today is that the platform, these corporations, and their leaders suddenly do not appear to be trustworthy. As with anything that deals with technology, the platform should be agnostic. It should just be this empty shell (a piece of software), but it’s not. Facebook may be struggling with growth, engagement and trust, not because of fake news, or people creating negative content or people spreading hate and bullying, but because the platform – in and of itself – can’t be trusted.

If Facebook can’t be trusted, who can?

That’s the bigger issue. If Facebook is engaging with consultants to sway the direction of political conversation, or if they are mis-representing how videos and ads are being reported, or if they are (or have been) allowing third parties to access user’s data, or if they are purchasing third-party data on top of their already mass amounts of personal data to know everything about everyone, it’s not just going to change because government steps in and regulates it. It won’t change if industry standards are put in place. That’s not true. Things will change, but that’s really not the core problem. The core problem is that the users (people like you and me) are putting our personal information in there, we’re connecting and building real networks, while behind the scenes we have no idea or control over what the platform is doing. It’s not the lack of oversight from outside of Facebook that is concerning, it’s the lack of trust due to the words that their executives are saying.

Without trust… there is nothing in social media.

The argument can be made that Facebook (and every other social media platform) is free to consumers, and that makes all of us the product. “If you can’t see the product, you are the product,” the saying goes. Plus, “data is the new oil,” (another turn of phrase). We all know this, but it does strip away at our trust of the system. Fine, use my information to show me better advertising. Letting other parties analyze my data? Allowing external parties to create misinformation to sway or mess with my beliefs? Manipulating the system so the advertisers who are paying to put an add in front me are (somehow) not getting what they paid for? That erosion of trust doesn’t just sway consumers away from wanting to connect, it turns them off of the platform… and it will make the business model questionable.

Facebook is not going anywhere.

This may be true. And, with all of its flaws, many of us find ourselves in their sandbox for a good portion of our connected days, but underneath that, there is a question of trust. That’s problematic. It’s problematic for Facebook’s growth. It’s problematic for Facebook’s revenue opportunity. It’s problematic for Facebook’s future. It’s also troubling for folks like me, who have been engaged – and a champion of the platform – for a very long time. I want Facebook to be better. I want Facebook to be more. I want Facebook to create the most relevant advertising platform in the media. Trust is the problem… and it’s not because I don’t trust what individuals or brands are posting… we are all starting to no longer trust the platform.

Do you still trust Facebook?

4 comments

      1. Mitch. I also have to say that I miss the conversation level that used to be here on the blog. It’s anither sign of the times when it’s all gone to the world of Facebook.

        Having followed your blog for years, I’m thankful you’re still doing it. Hat’s off to you.

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