How to Disappear Completely

I’ve disliked Facebook for a while. No big secret there. I blogged about it about six years ago. My intention since has been to limit the time I spend there, which is easy. Facebook has gradually (or at least my slice of it) shifted towards the phone book of personal connection, the place where people put baby pictures and the occasional life update.

I have not, however, gone the extra step and deleted my account. My primary reason for staying has been my fear of becoming a hermit. People still frequently use Facebook for events, and if I’m not on it then I’m going to get invited to less things. I would call it FOMO, but it’s more fear of not having a life at all.

Anyone who knows me can attest I’m not what you would call particularly talkative or sociable. Making connections is difficult for me. Checking out of one of the main ways that people plan events seemed like a plan fraught with peril, a recipe for becoming whatever the male equivalent of a cat lady is.

Yet these days I find my life is full, and it’s full without the help of Facebook. I don’t have that justification for staying anymore, but the reasons for leaving are piling up.

Reasons for Leaving

As our world darkens with all that has occurred politically in the last few years, I’m thinking more about the impact of my personal choices have on the world. I tend to favor changing institutions that mold people’s behavior rather than encouraging individuals to change. For instance, it’s easier to make organ donation opt-out versus opt-in than to encourage more people to sign up. I’m doubtful of the ability of people to simply leave Facebook because its use has been ingrained in us by design. However, I think moral choices still have to be made by the individual. What world do I wish to live in? What sacrifices am I willing to make to ensure that world happens?

Facebook controls a huge amount of the world’s data. As of this post, it has about 2.2 billion users. It is sloppy with how it controls that data and how users interact with each other. It seeks to connect people, but doesn’t think about the consequences of all those connections. Facebook epitomizes the Silicon Valley quasi-libertarian view that if we connect people and allow them to communicate unfettered, good things will happen.

But that is bullshit.

The Erosion of Democracy

The election of Trump and the triumph of Brexit in the United Kingdom can be attributed in part to Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook propaganda push. I won’t say the usual phrase, as I think propaganda is a more accurate term. I’m sure this is news to no one here, but we’re also still on this site. Despite Facebook’s attempts at change, this isn’t a problem that’s gone away. Recently in Brazil, Bolsonaro won the first round of the presidential election. He looks back fondly on Brazil’s military rule and his politics mirror Trump’s in a disturbing manner. His campaign has been linked to Steve Bannon, although he denies this. His victory was credited in part to a WhatsApp propaganda campaign. WhatsApp is, of course, owned by Facebook.

You may take issue with my conflation of the two companies, but Facebook is more than just Facebook the website. It is a data empire that knits together Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. WhatsApp’s founder resigned this year because of the direction Facebook was taking the company with regard to how they encrypt and collect data. No one seems capable of truly holding them to account. Around 87 million people were affected by the Cambridge Analytica breach. For this they were fined half a million pounds, which is roughly the revenue they take in every five minutes.

Facilitating Human Rights Abuses

Facebook is also one of the instruments that the military leadership of Myanmar is using to incite genocide against the minority Rohingya people. It is the primary way people in Myanmar access news, but in 2015 Facebook still had only two people monitoring hate speech in a country with millions of users. The generals and extremist monks of Myanmar were more than happy to take advantage of this open and unregulated platform.

Facebook’s original motto was “Move fast and break things”, but it is very slow to fix the things it breaks along the way. Alt-right and extremist movements all over the world, on the other hand, have taken their old motto to heart. They move faster than Facebook to break things like democracy, or people.

Web Infrastructure

Facebook also has transformed the way the web works, and not for the better. There was a period on the web, before social media took over everything, when the blogosphere flourished. Remember blogs? You could share and follow what other people had created with this magical technology called RSS. You owned your information and controlled it. Then Facebook and its like turned most of the web into a closed garden, where almost all content belonged to them. This account by an Iranian blogger is a good overview. In many countries, Facebook essentially is the web because it has been so successful in creating this shift.

Then there’s the familiar problem of how Facebook creates filter bubbles because of the way the news feed algorithm works. While people naturally seek out the company of like-minded people, the algorithm pushes this tendency to an extreme, as emotion and conflict create more clicks. It can seal people in toxic bubbles of discourse that they’re not even aware of, and encourages the fast dissemination of propaganda and disinformation, because those are always more clickable than truth.

Facebook, in conjunction with Google, is also dangerously close to having a monopoly over various aspects of the internet. For instance, between the two of them, they’ve essentially cornered the digital marketing sector in the United States. No other competitor has more than a 5% share. It’s becoming more and more difficult for smaller companies to compete with them, leading to some critics suggesting using anti-trust law to break up Facebook’s empire. Many technology critics have warned about the dangers of creating infrastructures that are not open-source and community controlled, but we’ve unfortunately ignored them up to this point.

Voting with our choices

In short, Facebook exacerbates many of the problems in our world. It is an increasingly a force used by evil. I hate to resort to such simplicity, but it is hard to see it otherwise. Back in 2012 I wrote:

While the internet may not be a democracy, you are essentially voting by the spending of your electronic time, by your membership and the content you surrender to the great internet titans.

I kept my account, so that was my vote then. Now I can’t justify my continued use. Facebook is something I’m able to cut from my life, so that’s what I’m going to do—vote with my membership, my data.

I don’t know if we can go back to the old blogosphere, but I think a return to a decentralized open web of some variety would make for a better, more democratic world. Using open-source tools and platforms like WordPress (which this post is written in) or Firefox for your browser helps foster the open web.  Sir Tim Berners-Lee also has something up his sleeve.

The End

So this post was longer than intended. I apologize. I didn’t realize how many reasons I had accumulated for leaving until I started typing and cross referencing every point I was making.

Short version is this: I’m going to delete my Facebook account. I’m aiming for a week after I publish this post, so people can save my email/phone number if they want to get in touch. I downloaded the Facebook data I care about eight years ago, when Facebook was still fun, so there’s not much to miss at this point.

You can still find me on the webs of course, including Twitter (which is also terrible). I’d encourage people to check out the Signal app for messaging me, but Hangouts is fine.  I’m going to try and post more things on this blog in the future. I always forget how much fun blogging can be, until I sit down and start again.

I don’t imagine any of you will follow me out the door. I’ve no pretensions of being convincing, and the siren call of Facebook is strong. I would urge you to ask yourself, however, if you think the price of this supposedly free site is worth paying.

2 thoughts on “How to Disappear Completely

  1. Thanks Eoin for a thoughtful post! I’ve been wanting to leave facebook for a long time now and can’t quite bring myself to do so, despite having similar frustrations and concerns with it. I’ve shifted away from using the platform for personal matters and towards using it as a page to post articles and opinions that I hope will shift those of others who may disagree with me, but I fear that it’s also become an echo-chamber. You are a braver person than me! Hope to someday bump into you again!

    • Thanks! Yeah, leaving is hard because it’s so intertwined with our lives. I’m sure we’ll run into each other one of these days!

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