Facebook: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
There’s something incredibly unsettling about the current Facebook data scandal, and I don’t think it’s the fact that they’ve been using our data against us on a scale that really matters (think hijacking elections and referendums). I think what’s really unnerving me, raising the hairs on my neck and causing my tummy to knot, is the realisation that, deep down, we already knew.
Like for Like
Facebook is such an institution of modern times. It’s a global entity with over a billion people logging in daily. It powers small businesses through its ads and connects family members and friendship groups through its messenger systems. It owns WhatsApp and Instagram and has over a third of my life on record (I joined in 2007, and despite hiding the majority of my university photos, they’re still there haunting me and no doubt any grandchildren to come).
When pushed to answer the question “Why do you use Facebook?” I can’t really give an answer beyond “Because it’s there”. It’s a brilliant way for me to stay connected to my family when travelling or to stay in contact with any friends I’ve made along the way. But are these just not things I could do elsewhere? I could send letters, or text messages, or heaven forbid actually just call someone.
Selling you Water by the River
Essentially, I use Facebook to own a network that is already mine. I just happen to pay them in the currency of my privacy. I’m not sure how I feel about this, although it’s something I came to realise a long time ago. I decided to just ignore it and put a plaster on top and let the wound fester. With the latest accusations however, I realised a plaster isn’t cutting it and the problem is a lot bigger than my stinky past statuses and dodgy night out pics from 2010. Facebook isn’t harmless anymore and I’m not sure it even was.
I think I’m on Facebook because of FOMO. I’m afraid of not being there. I’m afraid of missing out. But I also choose to live my life by asking the question “Am I acting out of love or fear?” and if I’m using Facebook out of fear, shouldn’t I stop using it all together?
Deleting Facebook – Can it be done?
So if I do decide to leave Facebook, am I really proving any point? I love the idea of sticking my middle finger up and walking away but there are so many accounts connected I’m not entirely sure of how many bridges I’m burning as I waltz off into a FB free sunset. Sure, I can rebuild the bridges but that is hassle, and Facebook works by making lives easier, even if we pay with privacy. Is my privacy worth less than the hassle of connecting to Facebook separately? I suspect that up until this point yes, I’ve valued it as less. If a shared life is an easier life, I’ve been on board.
From a professional angle, a great deal of my income comes from managing social media accounts for myself and clients. Again, I question the hassle of leaving the platform when it comes to managing ads and staying on top of trends. Does a social media manager who ignores Facebook look specialist or foolish?
The Instagram Question
And then there is Instagram. I adore Instagram, my ego adores Instagram, my wanderlust and inspirational art muses adore Instagram. I have no desire or temptation to leave Instagram. So if I’m just running to Facebook’s better looking sibling, what’s the point of leaving Facebook at all?
A Middle Ground
As I said at the begining of this post, I think deep down we all knew something wasn’t right with Facebook and its steady encroach on our private lives. A great deal of people I’ve spoken to admit “I never trusted my data with Facebook anyway”, yet we still hand over all our movements, locations, interests willingly? I can’t honestly believe that those who allegedly ‘knew all along’ were ok with it.
And even if you did know all along, and not trust it, does that make it ok? No, I don’t think it does. I think Facebook’s misuse of our data is only the first warning light in what looks to be a procession as dazzling as the Las Vegas strip. We need to start thinking about the ramifications of online interactions in the real world as it’s no longer just us and a computer – it’s an interface with each other and the emerging Internet of Things.
Do I Stay or Do I Go?
This is an idea I’ve been ruminating on for a while now, but I recently caught a free streaming of Chris Paine’s new film ‘Do You Trust this Computer’. Interestingly, after watching the film it’s not so much the technology I distrust, but a society who aren’t ready for it and who are potentially stumbling into the lion’s den. Even if that lion doesn’t mean to, it’s going to bite you if you walk into its jaws.
So I’ve come to the decision that Facebook is no longer a place for a personal profile. I’m not sure anywhere on the web is. It’s become a place for businesses that both empowers and exploits on a capitalist model. It's a place which takes without giving in a Faustian exchange of privacy for perceived freedom. It’s a beautiful echo chamber filled with all the things we want to see but infinitely dangerous for this reason. For a platform designed (allegedly) to connect, it is isolating and manipulating us with every scroll of the feed, every ad it serves up and every Like generated.
So I’m no longer going to use Facebook personally. I’m going to start to untangle my life from the network API by API and delete my profile. I’m going to have to have a profile to use as a matter of business, but it won’t be a personal depiction of me. It’s most likely too little, too late as I’ve not always been particularly careful about what I’ve put online, but I can stem the flow of information Facebook picks up about me going forward; that has to be better than remaining part of something I no longer trust. Ignorance was bliss, but I’m not able to be ignorant any longer.
Will I leave Instagram? No. Instagram is a very curated, fragmented depiction of me. Facebook feels dangerously close to a truer profile with its tentacles wrapped around too many aspects of my life. Also, my Instagram usage is a lot less than my mindless interactions on Facebook. If I begin to feel this way about Instagram in future, I will delete my profile there too.
I’ll also be coming off of WhatsApp because that is even closer to the ‘personal’ parts of my life and after seeing how my data has been handled by Facebook thus far, I’m not comfortable with sharing day to day conversations through the channel.
This may be closing the gate after the horse has bolted, or closing Pandora’s box after all the horrors were released, but at least coming away means I am no longer contributing to the bank of data the network has already has accumulated. Even if it is absolute folly and the equivalent of me taking an umbrella into the sea, staying on a platform that makes me feel uneasy is worse.
So, operation #DeleteFacebook begins. Let’s see how deep its claws go.