Measurement Menaces of the Year: Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter are our Measurement Menaces of the Year for 2017. Between the two of them they have done almost as much damage to the measurement world (never mind what they’ve done to the world as a whole) as AVEs. Last year at this time they were our runners-up, but back then we found other Menaces that were worse. Over the course of this year more of their ugly stories have emerged:

Fake accounts

Russians and other bad actors were able to create — and probably continue to create — thousands of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They used these to divide voters in the U.S., England, Ukraine and Crimea, Finland, Estonia, and others.

Falsified reach and engagement numbers

Facebook’s repeated errors in its reporting data give senior leadership and the bean counters the perfect reason to question marketing budgets. The problem is that communicators lose all credibility when we measure the wrong things and then report bad data that later has to be corrected. If people focused on building relationships and the honest human interactions — as opposed to bot-generated activity — we’d all be in a happier place.

Real life obscured

For far too many humans, Facebook and Twitter have become something larger and darker than just a source of news and conversation with far flung friends; they have become an entire skewed universe. We see the worst possible consequences when cyber bullying turns into real bullying. But there are far less dramatic consequences when a person’s circle of “friends” on Facebook or followers on Twitter continuously reinforces a particular view of the world. The Russians have exploited this to divide civil society for years, and ISIS has used it effectively to radicalize young people. In the real world you can’t just hit a button to “block” a friend, relative or co-worker, but on Facebook or Twitter a click can wipe out a year of history.

The irresponsibility behind it all

Facebook and Twitter are designed to exploit our vulnerabilities. As Maya Kosoff says in Vanity Fair, social media is in the business of “mining our social anxieties to sell ads, [and] feeding our anger to increase engagement.” Facebook and Twitter are run by very, very smart people. Smart enough to anticipate the problems they’ve caused, or at least deal with them as they happen. It’s time Facebook and Twitter take responsibility for the monsters they created.

Don’t get me wrong. I still use both Facebook and Twitter, and have since 2007. Many of us joined in the “good old days,” when there were relatively few people using them. It was easy — OK, easier — to know who was real and who was fake. I was a big proponent, and probably caused hundreds of people to sign up and participate over the years.

But Facebook and Twitter are not the force for good we once thought they would be. They are now closer to weapons of war than tools of peace.

For all these reasons we name Facebook and Twitter the Measurement Menaces of the Year. ∞

This just in: Under draft legislation proposed on 12/13/17, French children under the age of 16 will require parental approval to open an account on Facebook or any other social network.

(Animated illustration above by Bill Paarlberg with a photo from by Cassidy Kelley on Unsplash.)

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