Facebook's Next Act: Balancing User Privacy, Community Health, and Monetization

Spectrum CHM - Facebook CEO Zuckerberg Testimony.jpg

"Trust is like blood pressure. It's silent, vital to good health, and, if abused, can be deadly."

In his second day of congressional testimony, Facebook Founder, CEO, and Chairman Mark Zuckerberg continued his plight to convince regulators and, more importantly, 2.2 billion users that tech's leading social media company is worthy of consumer and institutional trust. Wednesday’s discussion followed Tuesday’s five-hour public hearing, during which Zuckerberg was lambasted by Senator John Kennedy, who decried “[Facebook’s] user agreement sucks,” Senator Dick Durbin requesting Zuckerberg share what hotel he stayed in the night prior (like the app's "check-in" feature), and Senator Lindsey Graham stressing the importance of data privacy due to the fact “most Americans have no idea what they’re signing up for because Facebook’s terms of service are beyond comprehension.”

While it’s important for Congress to hold data-dependent tech behemoths responsible for their misdeeds, the grand-standing quickly lost its bluster as Zuckerberg coherently defended his company, practices, and strategies. In fact, Facebook stock had one of its best days in three-years as it became clear that Congress had very little, if any, understanding of how Facebook actually operates, maintains, and monetizes private data.

While investors may be temporarily frazzled by numerous calls for regulation, and an end to Facebook’s “self-policing” policy, the most troubling and lingering aspect of Zuckerberg’s testimony is that Facebook still doesn’t comprehend the importance and sensitivity of the personal data it collects. Either this, or that its monetization methods are even more egregious than presently thought. While consumers only recently discovered the data-as-a-currency business model, Facebook’s long-term monetization strategy may be at serious risk if the company doesn’t improve its core communities, user interactions, and data collection practices.

To be certain, Zuckerberg’s management team must increase its data transparency efforts. However, given the growing importance of AI, such efforts may ultimately prove futile or, even worse, backfire. While it is true deep learning can automatically solve some Facebook-specific problems, the AI explainability paradigm is likely to exacerbate others. To begin with, Zuckerberg’s 2.2 billion users generally don’t understand why or how Facebook harvests and mines their data; conversely, digital advertising and monetization methods remain murky at best. Now, imagine Facebook can’t actually tell you why its platform AI – the engine that dictates what you see – arrives at certain conclusions; imagine Facebook can’t answer why your personalized feed is moderated in a seemingly arbitrary manner, but that you should trust it regardless. Has Facebook, or any member of the tech oligarchy, really demonstrated a track record of radical transparency? Although AI can quickly interpret large data volumes, identify nuanced connections, and generate relatively accurate outputs, the reasons for why deep learning algorithms actually arrive at their conclusions are unknown. Hence, by definition, transparency – the main thing Facebook must improve – may indeed become more elusive.

With this in mind, how will Facebook continue to thrive? Zuckerberg already asserted that it’ll take his company, one of the most well-resourced and technically staffed tech giants in history, 5-10 years to develop a robust hate speech detector. Does this mean Facebook’s many user-induced problems won’t be solved for 5-10 years and, if so, will Facebook’s core platform even be relevant a decade from now? If it indeed remains relevant, will it also become transparent?

Community Health Management (CHM) must be at the forefront of Facebook’s strategy in order to mitigate the new concerns that arise from evermore prominent AI usage and delayed transparency features. To understand users and their impact on other community members lays the foundation to promote diverse, inclusive, and thoughtful discourse across a platform in serious need of improvements. By fostering constructive dialogue and better understanding user behaviors, Facebook will accrue the necessary communal knowledge to fix its most pressing and existential questions without further compromising consumer trust. Because, when correctly implemented, CHM leverages AI to solve disruptive behaviors while also ensuring user and data privacy.

ABOUT SPECTRUM LABS, INC.

Spectrum provides enterprise Community Health Management (CHM) solutions to companies seeking to protect their digital presence, users, and bottom lines.

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