Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Breaking News: Users Don’t Trust Facebook; Plan To Keep Using It

A conversation with swing voters who don’t trust Facebook, but don't want to unfriend it, either.
November 17, 2021
Breaking News: Users Don’t Trust Facebook; Plan To Keep Using It
(Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Last week we focus-grouped ten “Trump-to-Biden” voters from Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Georgia about their views and usage of Facebook. Nine of the ten visit the site at least weekly.

They knew about (some of) Facebook’s problems. They have real issues with the platform. And they have no intention of abandoning it.

When asked what recent news they’d heard about Facebook, three knew about the company’s rebranding as Meta. Five others volunteered information about censorship, clickbait, and ad-revenue maximization.

Further, six had heard about former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifying before Congress concerning the company’s questionable business practices.

Many of them wanted Facebook cleaned up. “Eliminating the . . . fake stuff that’s coming out as well as the hatred . . . that gets spewed on that platform at all times, those things need to be further regulated and further scrubbed,” said Jay, 41, from Scottsdale, Arizona. “But outside of that . . . it’s a source of information, so continue to allow it to be free flowing, outside of the negative nastiness.”

At the same time, most of the panel doesn’t trust the government to regulate Facebook, and doesn’t have any ideas about who else could. While an independent third party might be welcome, our respondents don’t know how that might operate, or who would create it.

“I don’t think the government should be involved,” said Brenda, 51, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “I think it’s a slippery slope. It starts with social media [and] could go to brick-and-mortar businesses. I do agree that there should be some sort of regulation. . . . [M]aybe . . . an impartial third party. The internet is huge, I don’t even know how that would be tackled, but I just don’t think it should be the government.”

John, 34, from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, agreed. “There’s a lot of creativity with things that go in [Facebook], and when you start having an entity reign over that, and tell you what can and cannot be published, [it’s a problem]. Fact checking can only be as good as the fact checker is. Regulation when it comes to a governmental agency, I don’t ever see as a positive. I see it more as red tape and issues.”

Many of our respondents are well aware of Facebook’s unsavory side. Four of the ten reported knowing people who deleted Facebook due to concerns about the company’s operation. Yet none of our respondents has deleted the platform themselves.

What it boils down to is habit and convenience.

Benjamin, 32, from Michiana, Michigan, said, “I don’t agree with the things that Facebook has allegedly done, but I also don’t get on Facebook for news or for it to be a reliable source for literally anything. . . . So for that reason, I haven’t gotten rid of it. . . . I do think it’s wrong, but I’m a homebody, and I don’t like to leave my house, so it’s the only way for me to keep in contact with people. . . . I can just see their life from a different perspective, and I don’t have to interact with someone else.”

“I always knew Facebook and social media was a can of worms,” said Mark, 52, from Bayfield, Wisconsin. “Everything you put on there is there forever, and so I never used it for anything other than to communicate with family and friends like I would any other normal way.”

Laurel, 36, from Dunedin, Florida, was similarly nonplussed by the stories about Facebook’s problems: “There’s corruption all around us, and this was just brought to light from this whistleblower, and it sucks, it’s bad, I don’t condone it. But I like seeing my aunt in Hawaii, I like seeing my nieces grow up through Facebook, so I’m not going to stop using it.”

Two respondents did report changing their Facebook habits following the troubling news.

“I haven’t deleted mine, but I don’t post,” said Brenda. “I’ve changed the way I think about it. I don’t type anything on there, I don’t put any opinions on there, I don’t contact anyone, it’s just kind of something to scroll through to see what friends and family are up to, so it has changed the way I view Facebook.”

Kate, 42, from Yardley, Pennsylvania, has cut back somewhat less: “I’ve changed behavior. I don’t comment as much.”

Others expressed the belief that Facebook’s corporate behavior was no different from other companies.

“I just figure for me, YouTube and Google are doing the same thing, Facebook is just the one that got caught,” said Joshua, 40, from Mesquite, Texas.

“I feel like I meddle in corrupt entities all day long, with things going on that I don’t know about . . . [Facebook can] just get in line,” said Laurel.

And some simply didn’t think bailing from Facebook would matter. “I just feel like just little old me deleting my account just isn’t going to make a big dent in the millions or billions of people who have Facebook accounts,” said Brenda.

Regardless of their reasoning, the result is the same: Swing voters are sticking with Facebook.

Cleaning up our public square would be easier if citizens cared to take part in the effort. But that seems unlikely. People who want better politics will have to take this unpleasant truth into account.

Rich Thau and Susie Pieper

Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group. Susie Pieper is a student at Haverford College and an intern at Engagious.