The Facebook Meme Controversy

It is not uncommon for different types of memes to go viral on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. The 10-year challenge (Year - 2009 vs 2019) is the latest of such memes. Many users have started contrasting pictures of themselves.

To the users, it seems like the idea is to have a laugh at some of the questionable fashion choices that they may have indulged in while they were 10 years younger.

However, critics have been claiming that there is a far more sinister reason that Facebook has started this challenge.

According to many critics, the real reason that Facebook has started this challenge is to harvest data in order to train its face recognition algorithm regarding the effect of ageing. Many users started taking offence about this claim. This is because they felt that they had been duped into giving their personal information since they did not know the true purpose behind the same. As a result, a huge controversy was created, and in the end, Facebook had to come out to defend itself.

In this article, we will have a closer look at some of the claims that were made by critics as well as the response that Facebook has given.

What Critics Believe About the 10 Year Meme Challenge? (Year - 2009 vs 2019)

  • Why a Meme When the Data is Already Available: There have been many articles in the news wherein critics have openly accused Facebook of swindling data from its users in order to train its facial recognition algorithm.

    The next question that arises is why would Facebook go to such lengths in order to obtain pictures of its users when it already has them in its database? It is a known fact that any picture which is uploaded onto the website becomes the property of Facebook as long as it stays there. So Facebook could have simply taken the pictures without inventing the 10-year meme!

    Critics do acknowledge the fact that Facebook already does own a lot of this information. However, that is raw data which needs to be processed.

    1. Firstly, processing is expensive and would cost money.

    2. Secondly, many times data may be missing. This is because people do not chronologically update their pictures.

    Hence, Facebook would find it difficult to obtain pictures which are exactly 10 years apart. Also, many times users do not use their own pictures. Instead, they use pictures of cartoons, movie stars or even sceneries in their profile picture. Here too, getting relevant data would be difficult.

    By inventing this so-called challenge, Facebook would have a ready database of pictures which are exactly 10 years apart making it extremely easy for its algorithm to understand the effects of ageing.

    According to critics, the problem doesn’t stop with Facebook having trained its algorithm. This is because Facebook is likely to misuse its algorithm in many ways. Some of them have also been listed.

  • Selling Products: The most obvious use of facial recognition would be to create more tailor-made advertisements that have a higher chance of selling products to you. For instance, if Facebook algorithm judged that you are aging faster than your peers, they could target you and try to sell you anti-aging cream. This would not be very different than what they are doing as of now. However, it would become much more annoying and creepy that Facebook would now be armed with much more specific information about its users.
  • Law Enforcement: Amazon had access to a similar database of pictures in the past. Later it came to light that Amazon was selling its facial recognition services to local law enforcement agencies. The problem with this is that the police could also misuse this data to quell peaceful protests.

Facebook Clarifications

These articles and posts about Facebook became so viral that Facebook itself had to come up with a clarification about these posts.

According to Facebook spokesperson, the 10-year challenge is actually a user-generated meme, and Facebook has very little to do with the data that is being generated.

Facebook has clarified that it was not aware of the existence of such a challenge and that it does not plan to use any of this data in order to train its algorithms. Critics believe that Facebook is abandoning its program mid-way because it is scared of all the bad press that it has been receiving lately.

Why Bad Press Matters?

It is true that Facebook does want to avoid bad press at all costs. This is because it has been involved in two major scandals wherein it has been proven that Facebook has been harvesting user data and using it for sinister reasons. If another instance of misuse of data is proven, Facebook may have just created enough pain for thousands of its users to switch to another social media platform.

The Conclusion

The bottom line is that many so-called innocent memes on the internet are actually a ploy to harvest user data. Many companies have been using this shady technique and getting away with it. However, with the rise of consumer activism, users have become aware and getting away with such misuse of data is no longer possible.

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