How the third sector should respond to Facebook’s data leak (Guest post)

Mike Buonaiuto, Executive Director of Social Change Agency Shape History asks what’s next for charities following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica controversy.

Guest Writer | 5th Apr 18
Charities Facebook Cambridge Analytica

While charities are using Facebook to do their work, they could in turn be unwillingly providing the tech giant with data used to fuel political unrest and global breach of human rights.

Mike Buonaiuto, Executive Director of Social Change Agency Shape History asks if the use of the platform is counter-intuitive to the overall mission of organisations looking to do good in the world.


It’s clear Facebook data was breached and misused by firms like Cambridge Analytica, to effectively and repeatedly deploy a military grade weapon of misinformation on an unsuspecting voter public. How should the third sector respond?

Smart charities have been strategically using data to inform their volunteer, membership & supporter strategies for years now. The intelligent use of data has empowered third sector marketers to both segment their support data by learning more about their audience, and then in turn build supporters up a commitment curve, taking deeper levels of engagement with each interaction over time.

Facebook’s smart and targeted ad platform, together with clever and creative storytelling, has changed the game – it’s not about turning everyone into a donor right away – it’s about taking people on a journey that gets them to the place they feel most comfortable in genuinely supporting a good cause.

Some may want to remain on Facebook, liking the page in anticipation of further content; some may feel comfortable clicking through and signing up to an email database, and finally others may eventually want to move into contributing with their time or money to benefit the charity.

This both empowers the organisation and also the supporter or volunteer, to engage from a place where they feel comfortable, with a clear journey of more committed interactions if they so wish. In a world of shrinking legacy giving and high-net worth donor bases, smart use of data has meant video and social media suddenly give tangible return on investment for charities.

Regardless of the fundraising and marketing potential, recent revelations of Facebook permitting the unlawful repurposing of users data by Cambridge Analytica, with 87 million people potentially affected, must force us to question how we response as a sector, both for the safety and security of those they serve and the wider public.

As the Guardian reported, a personality quiz app developed in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica was able to accumulate the data from millions of citizens from hundreds of thousands of users. The use of this granular data has been linked to not only commercial advertisement, but also to perverting democratic elections and political campaigns.

Organisations campaigning for human rights, democracy, and equality are not directly responsible for how their data is then further used by Facebook as a platform, however given countless examples of direct threats to democracy and privacy, what next?

The answer is not to abandon Facebook, but rather to put pressure on the tech giant as a united sector, and also join hands with our private sector and public-sector partners too. The recent pressure from both sides of the pond from the UK government, the USA Federal Trade Commission and music company Sonos, continues to keep the conversation current and therefore present in the hearts and minds of Facebook’s global user-base – piercing a hole in the company’s bottom-line.

If everyone stands firm, honest and together, we will both show that the third sector takes the misuse of their data very seriously – and stands with the public in needing to see change – so we can, together, continue to do the crucial work each of us do to benefit other people’s lives.

This article was written by Mike Buonaiuto, Executive Director of Social Change Agency, Shape History