On January 3, 2013 I deactivated my Facebook account. I’ve had the account since 2002, in the early days when the only communities using Facebook were college students. Back then, people were migrating en masse from MySpace because FB seemed shinier, newer, and devoid of pedophiles, psychopaths, and spammers that helped cripple MySpace. At least that’s how I remember it. Frankly, I just liked that I didn’t need to know html coding to operate FB – a huge bonus for me since the only thing I remember from my computer science class in high school was getting the computer stuck in a loop. (Hey! Stop laughing at me, I have overcome such lameness and have learned –html– .Okay?!) Anyway, that was obviously a decade ago and as you all well know – because freakin’ everyone is on it now – FB has….changed.
Don’t get me wrong. Change can be wonderful, but I’m not convinced that FB has changed for the better. I am convinced that it is changing us, that it was changing me, and not necessarily in ways that are good for humankind. What follows are some of my personal reasons for exodus. Perhaps some will resonate with you, perhaps not. Either way FB has become a fact of most people’s everyday existence and as such it holds a particular kind of power over each of us, whether we’ve willed it or not. Power, my friends, must always and ever be questioned so that it does not morph into an abusive form. This is not a call to arms to extricate yourself from FB – these are my personal reasons for logging off. But if you’re even remotely ambivalent about FB or it has changed into something that you don’t like and it’s not a place you want to hang out anymore, this may provide back up music to your own FB swan song.
I could no longer be myself on Facebook
…Which was really disturbing and disappointing to me. Indeed, that feeling of having to second-guess myself or worse, worry about posting something I think is legitimately interesting, educational, or important human-improving and thought-provoking information was part of what drove me away from FB. Facebook is now a place for meaningless banter, an update about your physical location (which I personally find to be dangerous and a bit Big Brother) or what someone just ate, or is about to eat, or when your kids went to sleep, or what the lady or dude at the drive-thru just said, or something else that ends in LOL or SMH. It’s like a publicly-sourced (terrible) gossip magazine. Is this what we’ve become? The unfiltered mutterings of the masses? I’m worried.
FB is, or was, supposedly a “social networking” site, and allegedly a “great tool” for that purpose. But if my newsfeed is daily littered with overly personal posts, racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic posts (which seems to be WAY too common and I’ll expound on this issue in a moment), or advertisements, how is that social networking? Most genuine social networking happens in the private messages function (which is easily replaced by email,Twitter, LinkedIn) or via Google+ or Skype, or in person, basically anywhere but Facebook proper. It has become hard to share useful information over the noise and static currently dominating the FB airwaves.
For their part the creators and administrators of Facebook are content to send this once revolutionary platform into a downward spiral of commercial data-mining. Data-mining?! What are you talking about? Facebook privacy policies have time and again warned you that once something goes on the internet, it is there forever. Facebook has claimed rights to every single image you’ve ever, ever, posted on FB, to every single word, and to all the information that you’ve willingly and sometimes unwillingly or unwittingly uploaded to your account. This is how they come up with the targeted ads that appear in the right sidebar or in your newsfeed, because someone you’re friends with liked and shared Dove beauty products, or modcloth.com (some of you are thinking – ZOMG, I freakin’ LOVE modcloth!!! And you’re right, what’s not to love, but why on Facebook and How? How did they know?!).
If they can target you so accurately for advertisement, they can do much and more with your personal information. This concerns me, and it should at least make you twitch in your seat or be concerned, at least a little. (Hey, I watch and read a lot of sci-fi and this it how it always starts, it’s how they get you! j/k…kinda.) For many reasons, this is why I have only ever posted limited information on Facebook.
My point here, is not to be alarmist, but realistic. I used to work in an industry where information about a person (that they didn’t know you had or how you got it) was key to getting what you wanted from them. No, I didn’t work in extortion or blackmail (that would have paid much, much better), I worked in fundraising and it could get real creepy, real fast. Facebook is moving toward this business model, and its one of those changes that I think jeopardizes our capacity to have meaningful relationships and is damaging to humankind because it views people as commodities (as things or data, to be bought and sold, traded and exchanged) and manipulates us into a destructive consumerist society. A quick word on why consumption culture is a bad thing: it means we don’t produce, we aren’t creative (or that our creativity is being diminished or overridden by the urge/need to consume), we just consume and consume, and consume, until we no longer think for ourselves, but about ourselves and the things that we have been fooled into believing will satisfy us.
In case your skeptical about the seriousness of the grasp Facebook has on our lives let me just run through some statistics.
“Almost 50% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up – 28% before even getting out of bed.” Read that again. No really. Read it again. That should give you pause – especially if you just realized that you are one of these people. Facebook has become the first thing that around 80 million FB users (in the US) do when they wake up in the morning and about 24 million of those people do so before they even climb out of bed. Another survey found that 54% of FB users in this age-range checked their accounts daily, and on average 7.5 times per day. Basically a good swathe of users are obsessed and compulsively check their FB pages. Apparently, there’s some science behind this which explains why some people compulsively check email or FB or the like. We like the initial feeling of a response from other, we like and associate the attention with a positive feeling in our brains. Eventually it becomes an obsession, despite the kind of feedback we’re receiving. When that happens, we develop anxiety, an itch to check FB, or see what other people are saying, our emotions rise and fall with the opening and closing of our FB accounts. That leads to other problems.
Facebook Trolls, Hate Speech, and Feeling COMPELLED to Respond
I don’t remember exactly when, but the clever geniuses at XKCD came up with this comic strip some time ago:
This is me. And this is another significant reason I had to leave FB. Let me explain. I, as you’ve figured out by now, am a pretty opinionated person. I don’t claim to always be right, by any means. But I prefer meaningful dialogue to hateful retorts, internet trolls (those nasty contrarians who live to be assholes on the internetz), or downright ignorance. I’m more than willing to have a lovely debate with various opinions and sides contributing to the conversation/argument/dialogue/debate, and though we may not ultimately agree, we’ll probably have learned something useful from one another in the process of discussion. Hooray! We’ve all become smarter through this process!! LOVE when this happens.
FB, however, is not a place where this happens. At least not for me and it began to eat at me. The academic in me is dedicated to education and making information available to people. That part of me, amongst others, also makes me feel compelled to speak up when someone is being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise hateful. Hell, you don’t have to be an academic to speak up when such word-vomit is taking place on the internet, but my sense of social justice combined with the public educator in me won’t allow me to simply let it go. Instead of LOLing at Facebook posts, I found myself constantly worried about defending myself against the inevitably nasty retort someone might have to an anti-racist blog post I’d shared, or to a desperate plea for people to stop making rape jokes, or something in that vein. Or worse, stumbling upon someone’s wholly inappropriate racist, homophobic, or sexist post, and feeling compelled to explain why this was problematic and asking the person to remove it, or just acknowledge that it was problematic. Instead of meaningful dialogue, this usually resulted in backlash or a flurry of hate speech defending the offense and me being admonished for “pulling to race or gay card.”
Some of you may be thinking, “well, it’s not your place…” or “just ignore those people,” but the fact is it is a responsibility of each of us to call out these offenses when we encounter them in order to effectively eradicate them. That FB has become a safe-haven for such things was discomfiting and helped me realize how generally unhappy, angry, anxious, and caustic I was becoming because something or someone on FB set me off. I can (kind of) control my happiness and worldview, my minimizing the crap to which I subject myself – I determined that deactivating my FB account would be a step in the right direction. (Others have thought so, too. Read this post on Reddit that a friend sent me when I announced my FB departure.)
“Congratulations on stepping away from FB” and other musings…
Something that surprised me after I announced to my peeps on FB that I was leaving was the number of “Likes” and congratulations I received. I was surprised because it seemed like lots of my friends really want to leave FB, but feel trapped or worried about the potential consequences of divesting. If you’re feeling those things, what have you got to lose? To those people, I say try it temporarily and see if you can live without it.
But, what if social media is how I make a living?! Good question. Maybe it’s possible to not be a participant in the social media platform and still analyze it. Maybe stepping away, even if not permanently, can make you view the FB more “objectively” and help prevent those times where analysis has the tinge of one’s personal experiences (for better or worse). I don’t really have a good or credible answer for this conundrum, but these were some general thoughts I had and thought I’d throw out there.
For the rest of ya who want to leave but are worried about losing a procrastination tool – trust me, we’re creative, we’ll find another way to procrastinate. That’s what we do!!
Another thing to keep in mind is that deactivation is reversible. I didn’t delete my account, though I might depending on how all this works out, but I already feel much less wedded to my phone. I’m not worried about being myself or actively feeding the data-miners. When faced with a boring situation or social interaction, I will actually have to engage, think, and be duh-dun-dun … social – an activity that the alleged social-networking site in question has actually made more difficult. I can find memes on Tumblr. I can read my favorite blogs or websites with Google Reader. I can keep in touch with everyone I know and love and keep people’s birthdays in the calendar on my phone. Basically, the Internetz doesn’t collapse into a black hole when you pull the plug on FB. I’m not less connected to the world without Facebook, and with any luck I’ll be more connected to it – and all of you.