New poll shows Facebook's severe trust problem

A recent informal poll of tech community sentiment showed a shocking level of distrust for Facebook -- way more than other tech companies.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

We all use Facebook because it's the only way we can know what people we haven't talked to in years have eaten for dinner. Far too many use Facebook as an echo chamber, providing a definitive source of confirmation bias for the craziest pet conspiracy theories. Facebook is also the primary news source for more than half of all adult Americans.

But Facebook is not without its problems beyond simply being what I have called "a pox on humanity." There was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook shared confidential information on millions of its users to an outside firm. There was Facebook's little email harvesting operation, where it improperly grabbed email information from millions of users without consent. Then there were the hundreds of millions of passwords Facebook stored in plain text, completely unencrypted.

But yet we keep on using Facebook.

Last week, I decided I wanted to gather some informal data on what people thought of Facebook and three other companies: Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I often use Twitter's polling feature to reach out to my small army of followers and gather sentiment information.

Also: Quitting the five tech giants: Could you really flee Facebook?

I do this for work, certainly, but I also do this because I have an unhealthy obsession with charts, and Twitter can slake that thirst in a matter of minutes -- and definitively after the poll finishes its 24 hour run. Yes, I get as much of a dopamine rush from looking at charts as I do looking at puppies.

Who do you trust...least?

In any case, I did a poll that asked, "Who do you trust...least?" Now, you have to understand I've done a LOT of Twitter polls. I've even done highly-charged politics-related Twitter polls. Not once, not in the hundred or so polls I've run, has the response been as lopsided as the result was from asking "Who do you trust...least?"

Look at this:

In all the polls I've ever done, I've never seen one where one answer so completely dominated the others. Even Google, which has turned its earlier motto of "Don't be evil" into some sort of self-parody, and whose entire business model is sucking up your information so you can be advertised to, is vastly less distrusted than Facebook. 

The  wildly asymmetrical results of this poll are unprecedented among all my previous polls.

Now, I fully understand this isn't a scientific poll. I did scientific polls when I was working on my graduate degree. I even know how to use regression analysis and p-values to reject the null hypothesis.

Also: Tone down the bile on Facebook and Twitter: Your job may depend on it

But Twitter polls also aren't that unscientific. When I use Twitter for polls, I'm polling a specific constituency, in this case my Twitter followers, which means it's a constituency of people likely interested in tech, coffee, government, snark, and puppies. I reach out to tens of thousands of users, and those who wish to answer, do.

Granted, a landline phone poll, which used to be the gold standard of polling until people stopped using landline phones, is slightly more random. But the very fact that someone is reachable at a landline (even in the days before smartphones) immediately set up a demographic weighting towards a particular set of psychographics to the exclusion of others.

Also: Big bad Libra: Do we really need (or want) Facebook to reinvent money?

So I would argue that my little Twitter poll is just as scientifically valid as more traditional polls -- just as long as you understand that my polling audience has a specific coverage bias based on their original decision to follow my tweets. But the fact that the coverage bias is reasonably well known means it can be factored into the results of the poll.

What I mean by this is we can't necessarily say that everyone distrusts Facebook. Instead, we have to limit our population to "tech savvy people distrust Facebook," which is fair enough. Of course, there are a whole lot of tech savvy people out there.

All of this goes to one simple, holy cow-level fact: Facebook's level of distrust is almost off the charts. Yet, most of us still use Facebook daily -- and there's no sign of that ever ending.

Also: Does Facebook cause friends to fight?

What do you think? Did you answer my Twitter poll? If not, how would you have voted?  And share with us what you think about Facebook. Are you a regular user? Have you managed to extricate yourself from its reach? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Editorial standards