Back on the evening of 30 September, not an hour after making a mundane Facebook post about the episode of Luke Cage I had been watching on Netflix, I announced that I’d decided to abandon my Facebook account. I wrote:
After one too many “WTF Facebook” moments, I’m shutting my account down soon.
I failed to specify when “soon” would be, but as I wrote the words, I had imagined giving it about a week, simply to allow folks to download photos, etc. In three hours from the moment I’m writing these words, the full week will have passed, but I’ve since realized a few things that I’ll need to stick around for–I’ve got some “Pages” to hand over, accounts to untie from Facebook (Spotify and a raft of others), and prefer to keep Messenger active through a bit of upcoming travel in November. So I’m keeping the account until December 2018.
I also failed to specify what I’d meant by “shutting down”. By this I mean to say that I’m full-on deleting the account, including all posts, photos, etc.
In the meantime, however, as I wrap up 10 years worth of Facebook footprints, I have decided to try to document what might be interesting material for other folks who may, one day, decide to do something similar themselves. The plan is to write posts on my blog (where you’re reading this), and to then share these posts to both my Facebook and Micro.blog accounts.
Those future posts will focus on the What and How. In the remainder of this post, I’ll speak to the Why, and the Why So Long.
The Why is easy: privacy and security. Facebook has a lot of data about each of its members–way more data than the far majority of people likely know. Moreover, Facebook also has way more data about most users’ friends than either the users or their friends know.
In fact, Facebook is so good at building a sense of who their users know, that there even people who open “fake” accounts, using no personal information, often find that Facebook begins to recommend people they actually know as likely friends.
Imagine how rich the information is about users who actively give Facebook information about themselves.
Fair warning, this is the bit that gets particularly navel-gazing and retrospective. At the time of this writing, I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years and a few months. It’s fair to say that I’ve been quite an active poster for most of that time. And that many experiences and interactions that have enriched my life that have only been possible because Facebook existed. Not least of these things is the extent to which I’ve been able to keep in touch with my family in Greece, the family-like friends I made in Rome in my mid-20s, and an array of friends scattered across the US and the rest of the world.
And, beyond “staying in touch”, Facebook has made possible some truly great and serendipitous shit. Last December (2017), for example, I posted about my arrival to Fiumicino airport. I do this largely to let family know that I’ve arrived somewhere safely, without texting a bunch of people the same message. But it had just so happened that one of my cousins was secretly taking a vacation with her manfriend to Rome–and she had arrived the very same day. She was laying low on social media because her employer wouldn’t give her leave, so she had to phone in sick, but her father (my uncle) caught my post and relayed the information to her, so we were able to meet for a coffee in Campo de’ Fiori! That simply would never, nor–I can’t imagine–would ever have happened, without Facebook.
I’ve also evolved a lot of my thinking about what it means to be something that’s been completely invisible to me for most of my life: a white, middle-class American male. And, more importantly, have had access to glimpses of what it’s like not to be one, from a variety of smart and thoughtful friends. I am humbled to learn what they’ve been willing to share, and am very grateful for the access Facebook has given me to their writing and thinking.
Facebook has also taught me interesting new things I never knew about people I’d known for ages; introduced me to sometimes-great recommendations for books, articles, movies, and more; and even facilitated the organized response of a trans-generational group of people from my old high school rally to support one of the greatest teachers in all of our lives, when the current administration was–by all appearances–simply trying to flush him out… it was like Dead Poet’s Society, except justice prevailed!
So I’m not merely saying Facebook was responsible for some “OK” stuff; I’m very much saying Facebook is responsible for some downright awesome shit.
Which is why making the decision to leave took so damned long.
But leaving Facebook is an idea I’d started entertaining last summer (2017), when my mobile phone was stolen during an ohterwise lovely lunch date near Syntagma Square, in Athens. I was in the middle of my summer vacation, and I’ll tell you outright that the phone theft was a colossal pain in the ass–I almost certainly don’t need to tell any 21st century adult that I had been relying on my phone to get around town, and to track my travel and lodging plans. 1
Luckily, I was in a place I’ve visited almost every year since 2000, and I was very familiar with how things generally work. 2
But without a phone, I was not contactable (outside of my hotel room), had no access to GPS directions, and I didn’t have a camera… how would I ever remember what the food I ate looked like, without a flippin’ camera????
I was also unable to access the mobile internet, which meant no Facebook.
So for a couple of weeks, it was just me, my immediate environment, and my Kindle reader, passing each day on the Naxos beach. None of the bullshit Trump news reached me. I wasn’t stumbling upon random bigoted or racist comments from strangers or–depressingly–people I actually knew.
And you know what? It was nice… it was really nice.
Over time, though, I returned–to the US and then to Facebook. And it was largely uneventful for a while. Sure, it was marginally creepy how Facebook would keep showing me ads for shit I had looked at on other sites, but I turned a blind eye. Besides, I was tech lead for a team that looked after my employer’s “news” product at the time, so there were even a few minor work-related reasons to use the platform (not least of which was a private group the team used to share silly photos and plan karaoke outings).
When a close friend had responded to the “View As” vulnerability news by announcing he was shutting down his Facebook account “in a week”, it reminded me of that period I was completely off Facebook.
Then I asked myself: what exactly would need to happen to really push me over the edge to just leave? What shittier thing could they do with their lack of respect for privacy? They’ve already got way more information about who I know, where I’ve been, and what I like than just about anybody, and they keep slurping up more data about me–both direclty from me, and from my friends. Or what sort of security breach needs to happen? And what of my information will have been stolen in that security breach to push me over the edge?
Finally, last Sunday, it occurred to me: if I wait until something significantly “bad enough” does happen, “after the fact” will simply be “too late” to do anything at all about it.
Over the course of the last 10 years, Facebook has shown–time and again–that it is hell-bent on gathering as much information about its users’ online and real-world interactions as it possibly can, whether directly reported by those users, or not. In fact, the recent “Shadow Contacts” story taught the world that Facebook doesn’t even stop at slurping up data about its users, but also seeks to retain as much data as it can about all their contacts–whether those contacts are on Facebook or not.
If I had even a small (though sensible) inkling that they were taking user privacy in any way seriously, I might have stuck it out, given all the value I do acknowledge the service has offered these years. Instead, they have repeatedly demonstrated the opposite.