Facebook, WhatsApp and Accountability

3 minute read (539 words) Published:

Some thoughts on Brian Acton saying people should get off Facebook

The other day, I had an interesting Twitter discussion with my friend Char. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, WhatsApp founder Brian Acton had jumped on the #DeleteFacebook bandwagon. To my eyes, this was an extremely hypocritical move. The man reportedly made billions from selling his app to Facebook. To now suddenly tell people, from a position of extreme wealth, to never use their services again is something that you just don’t do. He in effect sold millions of users of his messaging app to this company. Sure, it’s plausible that at that point he had no idea about the practices going on within Facebook, but that’s beside the point. Knowingly or unknowingly, he was complicit of handing a huge part people’s digital lives over to the company. He should feel bad about that. And he should shut the fuck up and not presume he’s qualified to give those same people advice about anything to do with Facebook after doing what he did.

I get what Char’s point was and it is a laudable one: People change, cut them some slack. Generally, with every day people, I’m very happy to do that. But here’s the thing: when these people are massively famous and/or rich, they forfeit this right in my eyes. These are people are, as we say in Germany, Menschen der Zeitgeschichte. Important people of the times. This includes politicians, entertainment stars but also people who become inordinately rich in business deals. The actions of these people affect many lives in wider society. And with that comes responsibility. Even before I became a professional journalist, I’ve always held this belief. People do not seem to understand it very well, though. While Linux Outlaws was on the air, I would occasionally get into discussions very similar to the one I’ve just had with Char.

As a journalist, I believe it is my duty to call said people to account for things like this. Everybody is entitled to an opinion – and that includes me, unfortunately.

Besides, I think #DeleteFacebook is an idiotic idea. It’s born of a certain boycott mentality that’s become very fashionably lately. People do little, relatively comfortable things to make themselves feel better about the real problems. Tackling the real problems is extremely uncomfortable and people generally don’t like doing that. Another aspect of hypocrisy. In my decade of covering tech in one form or another, I’ve seen a lot of these #DeleteThisOrThat moves. People delete accounts and some months later they are back on the service. I’ve literally seen people delete their Facebook accounts three times now, just to always go back. Let’s face it: Facebook has become a huge part of everyone’s lives. It’s not just another social network, it’s reached critical mass and it has now transcended the very concept of a social network. Most people can’t live without Facebook anymore. No matter what Brian Acton says.

That’s not to say the Cambridge Analytica stuff isn’t horrible. Mike and me actually had a huge discussion about this on the latest episode of Geek News Radio, which isn’t out yet at the time of me writing this. I’ll post on here once I release that episode. I think it’s worth a listen.