Date
22 April 2018
Facebook's co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to face grilling from US lawmakers this week over the firm's data and advertising practices. Photo: Reuters
Facebook's co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to face grilling from US lawmakers this week over the firm's data and advertising practices. Photo: Reuters

Would you boycott Facebook platforms for 24 hours?

As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg prepares for testimony before US lawmakers on the firm’s data privacy scandal, a group calling itself Faceblock has called on netizens to send a strong message to the CEO that it can’t be business as usual for the social network giant.

Aiming to convey the depth of feelings of Facebook users over misuse of their personal information, the group has urged a boycott of all the online platforms of the tech giant for a period of 24 hours.

“Operation Faceblock” has been set for April 11, when Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to explain how Facebook failed to prevent data on millions of its users from being improperly accessed by a political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica.

As the world waits to hear what the CEO will say about his company’s plan to rectify its mistakes and reaffirm commitment to user data protection, there are worries that the social media network is merely seeking to tide over its current crisis and that things won’t really change much.

With data harvesting a key element of Facebook’s monetization strategy, will the company really shed its old practices and stop playing around with the personal information of its users?

Well, no one has really has much hope, but at least one can try to pile on pressure on the company and force it to rethink some, if not all, of its practices.

Given this, Operation Faceblock does make sense, with the organizers calling for a one-day boycott of Facebook and its associated apps including Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.   

“If millions of us refuse to use Facebook for just 24 hours on 11 April when Mark Zuckerberg is due to testify to the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, and post about why we’re doing it, together we’ll send a powerful message that Facebook must do better,” Faceblock said on its website.

On Wednesday, the group will post various messages and graphics on other online platforms to remind Facebook of the need to change its ways and respect user privacy.   

It is clear that data privacy activists intend to use Zuckerberg’s appearance before a Congressional panel as an opportunity to vent their anger at the world’s largest social media platform.

The boycott call will surely help raise public awareness about data privacy issues, but will it really prompt enough people to stay off Facebook group entities all day? 

Well, let’s not bet on it!

While most people agree that Facebook needs to mend its ways, there is not a great deal of enthusiasm for calls to give up on the platform as well as other group entities.

The stark truth is that Facebook and its other social media properties such as WhatsApp and Instagram have become part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people across the world.

Having become key communication tools, the social media networks have reached a point of addiction for many users. Staying off the platforms, even if only for a day, may not be an easy task.

Besides, if you talk of a Facebook boycott, what other alternatives are really out there? 

Given these factors, Faceblock’s campaign may not go very far in terms of achieving large-scale user disengagement from the Facebook platforms.

That said, it is still a laudable effort and should serve as a wake-up call for Facebook and its top executives that they can’t take their users for granted.   

In addition to staying away from Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram on Wednesday, Faceblock has urged netizens to write letters to Zuckerberg and governments about data privacy concerns. 

“We chose the day as we want to show Zuckerberg and also the US government that we want change. It’s Facebook’s responsibility to manage their platform, but it’s also the responsibility of governments to ensure companies protect data and to regulate monopolies,” media reports quoted Laura Ullman, a spokeswoman for Operation Faceblock, as saying.

While it may be quite difficult for people to completely abandon the use of all Facebook products, users can seize the opportunity to tell Zuckerberg that he needs to bear responsibility for the data misuse scandal in the company he created.

Some observers, meanwhile, feel pressure should be put on Facebook’s board of directors to make them reassess Zuckerberg’s leadership role at the firm and whether the firm requires a new boss.

From the investors’ perspective, the data breach scandal has given rise to questions as to whether Zuckerberg is still the best person to lead the company.

Facebook, like many other technology firms in the world, has adopted a weighted voting right structure, which gives Zuckerberg a 60 percent voting control in the company so that he can be the board chairman and CEO of the company.

Such arrangement may not face a challenge from shareholders if the firm’s business runs smoothly. But if the company is facing a scandal like what is happening now, some investors might well question the set-up.

The board will face calls to look into the issue independently, away from the management, to get a full picture.

A fund manager in New York already wrote a letter last month urging Facebook to add three new independent directors and replace Zuckerberg with an independent chairman.

The company’s Class A shareholders, who hold more than 80 percent of stock but just 30 percent of the voting power, might prefer to have an independent chairman to safeguard their interests.

Zuckerberg really has a lot to worry about!

As the Faceblock group says, Facebook can certainly do better. 

– Contact us at [email protected] 

RC

EJ Insight writer

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