What the Cambridge Analytica scandal means for musicians on social media
Unless you’ve been chilling under a rock somewhere, you’ll know Facebook is currently facing down a PR disaster after it emerged it let political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtain the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users, without their permission, to unfairly influence everything from the US presidency to the Kenyan election.
It’s the reason why you’ve been seeing Mark Zuckerberg – whose glaring failures as Facebook CEO have left him looking like a malfunctioning version of Star Trek android Data – nervously answering questions in front of US Congress. The scandal has even resulted in the ‘Boycott Facebook’ movement, with thousands of users deleting their Facebook accounts in protest.
Surprisingly, given the intrinsic link between social media and the income of modern celebrities, there’s also been a notable backlash from the entertainment industry.
Trip hop pioneers Massive Attack deleted their Facebook account in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In a joint statement, members Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall, said: “In light of Facebook’s continued disregard for your privacy, their lack of transparency and disregard for accountability – Massive Attack will be temporarily withdrawing from Facebook. We sincerely hope they change their policies around these issues.” Massive Attack were joined by entertainment icons including Will Ferrell and Cher, as well as high-profile companies such as Tesla and Playboy.
But are musicians and actors really growing weary of Facebook? Or is all this account deleting just a publicity stunt? It’s very much the latter, according to Goldsmiths University’s media professor, and author, Angela Phillips. She tells Crack: “It’s good publicity for a high-profile liberal with a social conscience to leave Facebook but it is a meaningless gesture as these people are mega-stars who have plenty of other avenues for self-promotion.”
According to David Edmundson-Bird, a digital marketing lecturer from Manchester Metropolitan University, the move by Massive Attack is designed to appeal to their fans, many of whom are left-leaning. He suggests: “I think it’s a convenient marketing spin to appeal to an artist’s audience. There’s a fraught relationship between the mainstream media and artists and celebs, but it doesn’t stop their publicists hoovering up these opportunities.” After all, if the group were really that concerned about data privacy, then surely they would have deleted all their social media accounts (FYI: the band’s Twitter account is still active), with Facebook not the only guilty party when it comes to using user data for monetary gain.
"If any band [or actor] thinks that it is a radical act to abandon social media then they are deluded." – Angela Phillips, Goldsmiths University
But perhaps Edmundson-Bird is offering a cynical view. Over recent years, we’ve seen more and more celebrities move away from using social media as a primary channel to connect with their fans. Star Wars’ actress Daisy Ridley recently deleted her Instagram account after suffering death threats from trolls after she spoke out about gun violence in the US. We’ve also seen U.S. comedian Leslie Jones quit (yet ultimately rejoin) Twitter after being viciously bullied by racist trolls, while pop stars Ed Sheeran and Adele have taken extended breaks. Surely all this is a sign that social media is becoming less of a priority for modern artists? After all, so many high-profile names now seem more than happy to hit the delete button.
Phillips isn’t so sure. “If any band [or actor] thinks that it is a radical act to abandon social media then they are deluded. An individualistic solution to a major social problem is really not the way to go. They should use their power to force governments across the world to regulate social media and search engines,” she argues.
“I think that the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation at the end of May will change things considerably, and people can probably rest easy that their data will be better protected in the future. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that we are all deeply embedded in a global network run by a billionaire in California who makes his own rules.”
Advertiser spend on Facebook was up by an average of 43% year-on-year in the weeks following the Cambridge Analyica data row, according to the Telegraph. And the ‘Boycott Facebook’ movement has not caught alight in a way that will particularly worry Zuckerberg, who has seen his company’s shares surge back into life in the wake of his appearance in US congress. This suggests western society is already starting to forget all about the scandal, and with Facebook’s user base and money-making opportunities still unparalleled in the social media space, you wouldn’t be a surprised if artists began reactivating their accounts sooner rather than later. Whether this underscores Phillips’ assertion that artists who delete Facebook are simply playing it for publicity is debatable. The more worrying reality, you sense, is Facebook, despite all its gross moral and ethical flaws, is simply too important a marketing tool for musicians to ever fully abandon.