Collect Your $3 From Facebook!

Facebook’s new lawsuit revealed that private data was stolen from users, Stuyvesant students included. Will the Stuyvesant community be able to fix their overdependence on Facebook, or will they sacrifice their security for their academic and social lives?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sara Shen

A few weeks ago, Facebook announced that they were giving out a total of $725 million to Facebook users who have been on the app from May 24, 2007, to December 22, 2022. Free money? Sounds too good to be true. Alas, such a phenomenon is, in fact, too good to be true. The catch is that the money isn’t truly free. It is at the expense of your privacy. 

Facebook was recently caught in a lawsuit for breaching human privacy laws by stealing user data and selling personal information to third parties. The official lawsuit was first filed in 2018 after Alexander Kogan, a researcher from Cambridge University, developed an ad called “This is Your Digital Life,” which paid Facebook users $1 to $2 to take a personality quiz. Though only 270,000 people had taken the quiz, the app was able to access posts and messages from the users’ friends, ultimately resulting in Kogan obtaining the information of over 50 million Facebook users. This information was wrongfully handed to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to categorize the personality of American voters into five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Campaign organizations were then able to send targeted ads that promoted former President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. 

As a result, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Columbia filed a class action lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Facebook’s official company, suing them for $725 million. This lawsuit stated that anyone who used Facebook from May 24, 2007 to December 22, 2022 is eligible for compensation.

This may initially seem like a lot of money, but for the average Facebook user, the effects of this lawsuit will likely be severely underwhelming. The amount of money granted to each eligible user depends on the number of people who sign up for compensation, and considering that the number of eligible people is estimated to be around 250 to 280 million, the amount of money granted to each individual will be at most $3.

Seven hundred twenty-five million dollars is also an insignificant financial loss for a company like Facebook. Meta Platforms stated that it generated $116 billion yearly in 2022, meaning it could make back what it lost from the lawsuit in less than three days. Considering that Facebook is paying for the privacy invasion of millions of people, the reimbursement is minor.

This lawsuit ultimately reveals the wealthy’s ability to deceive the public and suffer minor consequences. In the instance of Cambridge Analytica, their immorally obtained ads had the potential to influence the 2016 presidential election results. Letting these actions persist with little consequences sets a historical precedent of privacy invasion and manipulation that will not end here. 

This lawsuit is especially relevant to Stuyvesant, as Facebook is a big part of Stuyvesant culture. Thousands of students look to Facebook for social networking, club updates, and new opportunities. Freshman Jahia Joseph described, “I check [Facebook] in the morning when I get a notification. I wake up and check my phone.” 

The Facebook culture at Stuyvesant is so prevalent that students previously unaccustomed to social media face immense pressure to install it upon entering Stuyvesant. Freshman Audrey Hilger explained, “My Big Sibs kept telling me to download Facebook. They told me it was a good way to stay connected to everyone. Everyone was telling me, ‘You need Facebook,’ so I got it.” 

Students such as freshman Sarah Yu believe that Facebook’s recent lawsuit is a wake-up call to the dangers of using the platform. Yu revealed how disturbed she felt by the recent lawsuit: “I feel at risk because I don’t know what type of information they’d relay and how revealing it would be,” Yu said. 

On the other hand, students like freshman Tiffany Qu feel that Facebook isn’t an extremely integral part of their lives, so the lawsuit isn’t particularly concerning. “I only check [Facebook] in the morning. It’s good to check clubs and groups, but you could do that in any other app,” Qu explained. 

Upperclassmen, who have more experience with Facebook, such as senior Ameer Alnasser, also acknowledged that Facebook can not only be harmful to students’ data security but also to their social lives. “There has been a decrease in sociability in Stuy, which sucks. Also, mental health decline is very highly correlated with increased social media usage. The issue with social media is that it’s very isolating and a solo activity,” Alnasser said.

On the other hand, junior Bishesh Shah feels that Facebook has its benefits. “A massive resource, especially here at Stuyvesant, is having a Facebook account. Whether it be the ‘Dear Incoming Class…’ Facebook group, Facebook acts as a hub for Stuyvesant students to gain knowledge of opportunities they wouldn’t have known of prior. Facebook has become a staple in the lives of Stuyvesant students and has become a big part of our everyday life,” Shah explained.

Shah further argued that the benefits of Facebook outweigh the negatives. “Though it troubles me that Facebook does sell our information, it has become a valuable resource in the lives of us Stuyvesant students. Others and I fear being lost in our school community more than our information being stolen,” Shah reflected. 

Many students also noted that merely replacing Facebook as a platform would not be effective in solving privacy issues. “Unfortunately, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, also owns Instagram, and most of the big tech industries have a chokehold on our attention and our information,” Alnasser said.

In addition, Yu also mentioned that replacing Facebook would be a difficult adjustment to make due to her large reliance on the app already. “Honestly, I don’t think I’d stop using Facebook because I would have to move all of my conversations to another app and that would be annoying,” Yu said. 

Other underclassmen agreed with Yu: “I don’t want to delete Facebook because of educational reasoning. I need it so I can keep up with the daily news on the ‘Dear Incoming Stuyvesant Students, We Have Advice!’ group and not be lost,” an anonymous freshman explained. 

Though it may seem difficult to completely replace Facebook at Stuyvesant, students should be aware that Facebook, as well as other big social media platforms, is able to manipulate algorithms and steal data. Digital safety begins with becoming aware of the possible dangers of the online world, and we must remember that the content we view online is not isolated but rather engineered by bigger companies.