Facebook’s trust crisis: Has it harmed democracy?

Barraged by accusations of spreading divisive fake news and amid new allegations that it handed over personal information on up to 50 million users without their consent, Facebook is losing the faith of the Americans people, according to the Digital Citizens Alliance.

Facebook trust crisis

Almost 4 out of 10 Americans (39 percent) said: “Facebook is not a responsible company because it puts making profits most of the time ahead of trying to do the right thing.” Less than 1 in 3 (31 percent) said that Facebook is a “responsible company because it tries to do the right thing most of the time even if that gets in the way of it making profits.” The rest were unsure.

By a 7-1 ratio (54% to 8%), Americans say that Facebook has had a negative influence on political discourse. Sixty-one percent said that “Facebook has damaged American politics and made it more negative by enabling manipulation and falsehoods that polarize people.”

The survey of 925 Americans was conducted as new revelations surfaced that the company connected to the 2016 Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, inappropriately harvested personal information on millions of Facebook users.

The sharp rise in negative feelings is a significant departure from Facebook’s standing prior to the 2016 election, when the rise of so-called Fake News and polarizing content led to calls for the company to take greater responsibility for the content on the popular social media site – or face government regulation.

By a 2-1 margin (53 percent to 26 percent), Americans said it’s Facebook’s responsibility to remove or warn about posts that contain false or misleading information. And 59 percent reported that the company is not doing enough to address the issues of false and inflammatory information that appear on its site.

“Facebook is at a crossroads because of its inability – nearly a year-and-a-half after the election – to get a handle on its divisive effects on society,” said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of Digital Citizens. “From spreading fake and manipulative information to becoming a ‘Dark Web-like’ place for illicit commerce, Facebook seems to losing the trust of the American public. Regulation will not be far behind for social media companies if things don’t change.”

This declining trust reflects a growing concern about the impact Facebook and other social media sites have on young teens. In the survey, more than two in five Americans (42 percent) said that the minimum age to have a Facebook account should be at least 18 years old.

In a time of increased calls for greater digital platform responsibility, Digital Citizens has proposed that Facebook, Google and other companies:

  • Commit to greater investment in a diverse workforce that can monitor online content to determine whether it’s illegal or inappropriate.
  • Work together to identify bad actors and create a clearinghouse to share that information across digital platforms.
  • Give consumers the ability to set privacy settings across platforms.

“Digital platforms have to rise to the occasion and assure Internet users that their personal information will be safe, that the content will be legal, safe and not contrived to manipulate. In short, they have to demonstrate they will be the positive influence on our society that they espouse to be,” said Galvin.

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