Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg needs to win over not just politicians and regulators, but millions of Facebook users who are growing disenchanted with the social-media giant.
Yahoo Finance conducted a flash online poll April 9 to gauge how Facebook (FB) users are reacting to controversies that have engulfed of the company in 2018. Of more than 4,000 respondents, 46% said they’re using Facebook less as a result of what they’ve heard about the company lately, and 15% said they’ve deleted their account.
There were around 215 million Facebook users in the United States at the start of the year, so if our numbers reflect the actual quit rate, it would amount to 32 million people ditching Facebook–easily enough to affect its finances. (The company didn’t respond to Yahoo Finance for this story.)
Zuckerberg is visiting Washington to testify on Capitol Hill, where he’ll explain recent breaches involving user data and describe new measures the company is rolling out to better protect its users. There could be uncomfortable moments for Zuckerberg as lawmakers ask how Russian operatives were able to establish 470 fake accounts that created bogus posts reaching 126 million users during the last presidential election, and how research firm Cambridge Analytica got around Facebook’s own rules to gather unauthorized data on 87 million Facebookers.
The steady drip of bad news has clearly raised new doubts about the platform in the minds of Facebook users. In our survey, 69% said recent news has given them a more negative view of Facebook, and 74% said Facebook doesn’t do enough to protect their privacy. That’s makes Facebook’s mission obvious: Regain users’ trust.
Facebook has already said changes are coming. It will now specifically authorize anybody who wants to run a political ad, to eliminate or cut down on provocative ads run by shady characters. People who run “large pages” will have to identify themselves. And there will be more ways for users to control what others learn about their online activities.
Since Facebook is such a high-profile company, its travails may actually help improve the public’s awareness of how their data is used and manipulated, and make people more careful. We solicited open-ended comments in our survey, and some came from online consumers who sound pretty savvy. Examples:
“It’s the Internet. You can’t really trust anything.”
“I do not put anything on Facebook I consider private information and I’m surprised anyone has done so.”
“Why blame Facebook alone—everyone is using our personal data.”
It’s also quite possible most Facebook users will go on using Facebook more or less as they always have, regardless of how they answer a survey or react to negative news. Since Facebook’s business model is to provide a free service in exchange for user data the company can monetize, we asked respondents if they’d be willing to pay $5 a month for a Facebook account if it meant nobody could access their data. Only 13% said yes, with 87% saying no. Maybe it’s worth tolerating a few lapses when you’re getting something you value for free. But it would still be better if there were no lapses.
The full results of our survey follow. We eliminated respondents who said in Question 1 that they never use Facebook, so the results from Question 2 onward only include people who are at least occasional Facebook users.
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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman