The recent backlash against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal has made me all the more confident that one of my New Year’s resolutions to give up Facebook for 2018, was the correct choice.
I created my account on Facebook in July 2007. I know this because Facebook tells me that is when I joined. And while it’s provided some utility to me over the following 10 or so years, I’ve never felt especially connected to Facebook. In fact, I’ve written about my rather meh attitude towards Facebook in the past.
Originally when I joined Facebook back in 2007, there weren’t that many people using it. From it’s inception in 2004 through 2006, Facebook was only available to college students. When I joined, Facebook was one of several social media sites and it wasn’t in any way the dominant one like it is today. MySpace was the unbeatable social media platform back in those days. Remember Myspace? I mean, do you remember when it wasn’t just the punchline to a joke?
So, when I joined, Facebook was a pretty desolate place. I had a few friends that were signing up but not enough where I was posting much there.
In those early days, it was all about trying to expand your Friend universe so anybody that sent you a friend request was accepted no matter how tenuous the connection. Soon, even though only maybe 100 people you actually knew were on Facebook, you had 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 “Friends” on Facebook.
Then I began to notice that this was headed in a bad direction. I became far more selective about accepting friend requests and even began culling names from my friends list that I didn’t recognize.
But because of my blog, this blog, I also kept a lot of “friends” that I didn’t actually know because, hey, they seem to have an interest in poker and they must be fans of the blog.
A few years later though, I saw a conversation on a message board where someone I didn’t know was discussing pictures of my family members that had been shared on Facebook. Let’s just say that the discussion was not complimentary and it was quite disturbing.
That’s when I decided to lock down my Facebook account and only have Facebook Friends that meet the following criteria:
We are related by blood or marriage
We have gone to school or worked together
We have shared a drink or meal together
When I did the purge, I had over 1,700 Friends and when I was done, I was down near 600.
Yes, 600 sounds like a lot, but I still find myself cutting people when I see their name pop up in my mailbox telling me that I should wish them a happy birthday.
Don’t get me wrong though, I do see the utility of Facebook. Just last night I had a drink with a good friend that I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. He initially reached out via Facebook.
And another good friend from my past sent me a quick message via Facebook Messenger to let me know he was in town for a conference but his schedule was full and though he wouldn’t have time to get together, he wanted me to know he was thinking about me. That was nice of him.
I even wrote about how someone I knew back in high school reached out to me to let me know that a mutual friend of ours was losing a battle with cancer and I was able to call my dear friend while he was in the hospital and speak to him one final time.
But, a few years ago, I started to wonder if Facebook was actually useful or if it was a crutch. By that I mean, when I get a “You should wish so and so a happy birthday” email from Facebook, does it really mean anything to go and post “HBD” or “Hope you have a great birthday” on their timeline? I know that I get several hundred of these on my birthday and while it does feel nice to see some old names show up, it’s kind of a pain in the ass and I know most of them have basically made the minimal amount of effort to acknowledge my existence.
So, on Jan 1st of 2018, I decided that I would extract myself from that banal cycle. Now when I get that email telling me to wish someone a happy birthday, I send an email or a text message. Old school. You know, when you actually used to have conversations with people rather than posting updates or liking their photos.
I logged out of Facebook on all my devices and deleted Facebook on my phone. I kept Messenger only because some people insist on using it. I’m talking to you, Dad. :-)
I also deleted all of the app connections and re-signed up using an actual email and password on any site that was using my Facebook credentials as a sign-in.
I’ve logged back into Facebook a few times here and there. I even had to log in to check some details for this post. But I haven’t read a timeline or posted anything since Jan 1. If I do need to access something or lookup someone’s contact info, I log in, get what I came for, and log out.
I’ve considered suspending my account but haven’t yet gotten to that stage as I do have some business related pages that I still need to have an active account to administer.
Granted, my wife is my pipeline for important information that people post on Facebook. “So and so just had a baby.” I guess that’s cheating a bit.
Will I be able to go the entire year without Facebook? Probably. I’m almost 3 months into it and I really don’t miss it.
What about after the year of living clean? Well, that’s a more difficult question.
Even before the Cambridge Analytica revelations, I already had some issues with Facebook, their privacy overreach, and how they attempt to manipulate behavior.
I have long had a problem with the fact that Facebook decides what shows up in your timeline. They obviously are not manipulating your timeline for your benefit. They want to increase engagement, to keep you clicking. So they push content into your timeline that is likely to get you to react, rather than showing you the content that you actually want.
As someone once quipped on MetaFilter, “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”.
Not that I have any particular problem with that. A large part of Google’s and many other company’s business models are based on that same paradigm and I am okay with the tradeoff. But I often find myself uncomfortable with the egregious way that Facebook wields that power.
For instance, NBC News has compiled a timeline of previous Facebook privacy issues.
Also, you have a former VP at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, stating that “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
You have Sean Parker, former president of Facebook saying about Facebook, “It’s a social validation feedback loop. It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting vulnerability in human psychology.”
I always viewed Facebook as sort of a bubble ecosystem. You “Like” something and then Facebook shows you more of that thing.
Ironically, sometimes this backfires like the year or so where I was getting ads and other stuff in my timeline in Thai. I can read and write a little Thai but not well enough where I’m going to take the time to read some random thing in Thai on Facebook.
And in the three months I’ve gone cold turkey, I’ve found that I sort of like sending an email or text message (or even picking up the phone) and having an actual conversation with friends rather than liking their vacation photos.
There’s a peacefulness to not checking in on what everyone you know is doing every 10 minutes. Or not worrying about whether or not anybody has liked something you’ve posted.
I mean, what the heck is this even?
I’m not sure if they were doing this specifically for Facebook but these people were in Vegas at a restaurant and they got up and went outside to do whatever it is that they’re doing.
I’m sure that their mood that evening was greatly influenced by how their audience (whoever that may be) received their, ahem, art.
Ultimately, it’s not necessarily a binary decision. It’s not on or off. I wanted to go clean for a year, mostly because I wanted to figure out what, if anything, I would miss about it and whether it was worth the privacy costs associated with obtaining those benefits.
I still skim through Twitter. I have channels I watch on YouTube. I interact with people on LinkedIn. I text, WhatsApp, Skype, Signal, and check out message boards and forums. It’s not like I’ve sworn off the internet or communicating with people. It’s a question of identifying whether or not I’m getting value out of it.
The odd part is that Facebook tries to be so many things, I’m sure I’ll find better alternatives to some things and Facebook may end up being superior at others. I really don’t know.
I’ll figure it out when the time comes.