Facebook user, a young woman with face illuminated by laptop screen

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has good reason to be thinking about building a "privacy-focused social network" this month. According to nationally representative surveys conducted by Consumer Reports—one in May 2018 and a follow-up in January 2019—public trust in his current platform has clearly declined in the year since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted, compromising the personal data of 87 million people.

As of January, nearly 25 percent of Facebook account holders say they are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the volume of personal information Zuckerberg’s company collects and stores. And more than twice that number (63 percent) say Facebook should not be allowed to collect data about them when they are not on Facebook.

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“The privacy issue definitely bothers me,” says Facebook user Michael Panzer, an adjunct history professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “We should be way more concerned about the way corporations make use of our data.”

Does that mean Americans are ready to abandon Facebook in droves? Not quite. Only one in 10 Facebook account holders stopped using the platform after learning about Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook data—or one of the various scandals that followed.

"I always threaten that I'm going to delete it," says CR member Bridget Donovan, who lives just outside Milwaukee. "But I never do. I could email photos to my relatives, but it's easier to go on their Facebook pages and see what they're up to."

But that doesn't mean it's business as usual for Facebook users. They have become much savvier and cautious on the platform. Here's a closer look at what the two surveys revealed.

What Makes Facebook So Irresistible?

When we asked the platform’s active users in January to select reasons why they didn’t quit, despite data scandals, here’s what they said.


Does That Mean Nothing’s Changed?

Not exactly. More than seven in 10 Facebook account holders said they’d altered their online behavior after a data privacy scandal. The first wave of changes came soon after the public learned about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and many people became more careful on Facebook. Then, users continued pulling back in the months that followed, as you can see in the chart below.


Fooled by Fake News?

Six in 10 active social media users say they’ve read news on Facebook that they initially believed to be true, but later realized was a fabrication. By Facebook's own admission, false reports have been a persistent problem on both that platform and WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by the company.


Pay to Play?

Only one in 10 Americans who have a Facebook account say they’d be willing to pay to use the social media platform if that kept the company from collecting data on them to deliver targeted ads. But wait! When you do the math, that means tens of millions of account holders in the U.S.—and maybe hundreds of millions worldwide— might be willing to kick in a few dollars a month to turn off the snooping.


Is Facebook Bad for Democracy?

People on both ends of the political spectrum have expressed concern about social media's outsized role in shaping public opinion. We presented respondents with the following statements and asked them to choose the one that best describes Facebook’s impact on society.

“Facebook fosters division in society by showing people only certain issue-oriented news items and advertising based on factors such as demographics and interests.”

“Facebook creates an environment that fosters free speech where people can hear and share perspectives on all sides of an issue.”

What do the people in your age group think? That near-even split in opinion doesn't hold up across generations. When you drill down into those numbers, Millennials are more skeptical about the social media platform than members of the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations.

Here's how they voted.

A Question for the Ages


Millennials

Gen X

Boomers

Facebook Fosters Division

50%

42%

38%

Facebook Fosters Free Speech

40%

52%

52%

No Answer

9%

6%

10%