Sunday Business Post/Coyne Research survey suggests a huge erosion of confidence in platforms such as Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
To begin, social media usage is virtually ubiquitous in this country today. From a proportion of a national representative sample of 1000 Irish adults, we asked do they have at least one social media account and which account they use most often/use regularly.
More than nine out of ten adults over 18 claim to use social media, and on average each person has three accounts.
Facebook is the dominant platform, with seven in ten reporting having an account, 57 per cent using it regularly and 36 per cent using it most often. All the others are in a secondary league by comparison – 56 per cent use WhatsApp (24 per cent most often) and one in three Irish adults uses Instagram (5 per cent most often), revealing a much smaller overall footprint for Facebook’s competitors.
Three in ten Irish adults have a Twitter account, but again only 5 per cent use it most often – belying the very high profile the medium enjoys, particularly as espoused by one resident of the White House!
When we probe the reasons for lapsing, Facebook stands out: 23 per cent of former users say they were concerned about their privacy, while 20 per cent were concerned about their data being used without their consent. These concerns do not arise for the other platforms in any significant way.
The main reason for lapsing from Twitter was that it was too time-consuming, while those dropping Snapchat said more friends were on other social media sites. Facebook has clearly been left with a privacy issue well in excess of any of its rivals following the negative publicity from the Cambridge Analytica revelations.
So what about our privacy settings on social media: how much confidence do we have in them now?
Again, Facebook is the biggest loser in this: only 50 per cent of users are ‘very’ or ‘quite’ confident that their privacy is protected, while 45 per cent are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident that their privacy is protected.
To have almost half of users expressing no confidence on this key measure should be of significant concern to Facebook, especially when compared with its peers. Instagram is the next in line for this dubious honour, with 35 per cent of users not confident their privacy is being protected – but it manages a more respectable 60 per cent who are confident it is.
All other platforms have a minority of users (around a quarter) who are not confident in their privacy being protected illustrating the extent of the contagion – but it is clear that Facebook faces a far higher magnitude of problem than any other platform on this metric.
When asked directly what effect the recent revelations and scandals would have on their own social media usage, 23 per cent of Facebook users record that they are ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’ less likely to use the social media site, with 64 per cent saying it would make no difference. Once again, Facebook is the most negatively affected, with those less likely to use well in excess of any competitor such as Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn and even further ahead of WhatsApp and Snapchat.
The passive option of ‘make no difference’ is about ten points on average lower for Facebook than for competitors, again indicating how users have been motivated to change their online behaviour. It is clear from these findings that a significant number – albeit a minority – of Facebook users have changed their online activity due to the fallout of recent scandals. Rebuilding confidence in this platform’s safety and privacy must be a priority if further reputational damage is to be prevented.
All of this has brought into stark relief the age of digital consent and the issue of protecting children in their online activity. There is considerable support for age limits to be set on usage – 61 per cent support establishing an age limit of 13; this rises to three in four for an age limit of 16.
However, in practical terms there are considerable doubts over whether applying age limits would actually work. Opinion is evenly balanced on this, with some four in ten coming down on either side of believing such rules to be work able and enforceable. There is clearly considerable work to be done in convincing people that their children can be protected when using social media, even with age controls in place. Communicating how these will be enforced will be key if they are to engender renewed confidence in social media platforms. Whatever about age controls, it is clear there is a yawning confidence gap for parents in relation to their offspring’s social media use.
Currently, 56 per cent of parents of under-18s report that their children use social media, an activity about which they display a high level of concern. When asked “How concerned are you about your children’s usage of social media following the recent controversies about privacy and data security?“a whopping 75 per cent say they are ‘a lot more’ or ‘a little more’ concerned about their children’s usage of social media – indicating that their own concerns with social media usage are magnified where their children are concerned.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal laid bare to what extent our personal data on social media platforms can be harvested and manipulated to influence events in faraway places. The upshot of this has been a considerable erosion of our trust in the largest of these social media companies. It has much work to do to repair this breach of trust for its own customers – even if it has made a start in doing so. If it manages to guarantee our privacy this should cleanse the industry of its ailment and restore the confidence of customers both for themselves and, perhaps more importantly, their children.