I had been an active Facebook user for six years since 2008 and honestly, the login was part of my daily routine for the vast majority of my days. A few months ago I deleted my account. Since then, a lot of people asked me what my reasons were and how I feel without FB. So here it goes.
Part I: Facebook and I – True Friends?
In the phase of sweet beginnings, Facebook (FB) introduced itself as a great companion which would make life better for free. “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life“. I felt like it was part of an exciting new era, and I myself part of a young generation of people who travel the world and chose a global outlook. FB was the novel, brilliant invention to bring us all together so that we could find people, stay friends and thus maintain a network bigger than any other generation before.
Very well then. I was happy, made loads of friends and shared as much about myself as I was comfortable with.
Slowly then, FB became nosy and started nagging. „To which of your friends‘ schools did you go to?“ —- „We figure these people are close to your network. Want to befriend them?“ —- „That photo, where was it taken, when and with whom?“ —- „You did not log in for a week. Petro uploaded new photos.“
I ignored this as far as I could.
What FB did get to know about me nevertheless, they used to try and make me buy things. The timeline became smaller and the ad space bigger. I accepted this. After all, everyone has to make money somehow.
What often left me upset though was that FB never communicated when the rules of engagement had changed. Forgotten to log out? Too bad, because FB now wanted to know what its users do on the rest of the web. Since then, any website that has the FB like button tells FB whenever one of their users makes a visit. FB knows which websites you visit, when you did it and from which computer.
I thought I’d simply refuse to click on FB like buttons and carried on.
I generally tried to take maximum control of my profile, but it seemed FB made an effort to keep it difficult. When Pinterest suddenly wanted to post things in my name on my time line every time I logged in, the button to agree was always blue like the log in button, while disagreeing was white text on a white background, far less visible, intuitive and it didn’t always work. I disconnected Pinterest from FB but somehow FB started to feel creepy.
One of these days I saw photos of people who were not my FB friends, simply because one of my friends was tagged somewhere in their album. When I confirmed for events in my groups or wrote comments there, startingly, they got broadcasted to my whole network. By accident I also realised that I was able to share photos of people with whom I wasn’t even friends. It dawned on me that I had no idea with whom I was sharing my life, thanks to FB’s new policy to control privacy settings on an item-by-item basis. This process puts everyone at risk of sharing something publicly they would rather keep private, simply by forgetting to check or uncheck a box (see here).
This can have devastating consequences: a friend of mine who works for an American corporation in Germany told me how one of her colleagues gossiped about her boss on FB, another colleague pressed the like button and a third, unknown person reported the case to the compliance department. Both Facebookers got fired immediately.
I started to generally distrust and dislike FB, but what held me there was the idea that I would lose touch with my friends who I can not see regularly and I did not feel like I had any alternative.
Then, one day, all at once, FB seemed to know everyone on every photo I looked at and encouraged me to tag them. This was the result of an upgrade of FB’s facial recognition function: FB now compares profile pictures with photos that anyone uploads. In fact, FB’s facial recognition program DeepFace is already as accurate as the human brain (it can verify your face with 97.25% accuracy). This implies that FB has the ability to track faces across the entirety of the web, and in the future possibly in real life too when we’re on camera somewhere.
Figuring these things out, I realised that FB was not a cozy place to connect with friends and like-minded people any more, or was it ever? In fact, I was a fool to have felt like that. I had to admit that I was addicted to something that was opposed to my personal values and treated me as an expoitable product.
After having read up, I would go so far as to say that FB doesn’t give a shit about their users. Another example: in 2012, FB conducted a massive psychological experiment on 689,003 users removing either all positive or all of the negative posts on their timeline to see how it affected their moods. The experiment ran for a week during which the hundreds of thousands of FB users unknowingly participating may have felt either happier or more depressed than usual. The authors justified, “automated testing was consistent with FB’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on FB, constituting informed consent for this research.” When universities conduct studies, they have to get approval from an ethics board first. But if you have an account (and therefore agreed to FB’s data use policy), you’re in for whatever they want to do. In another 2012 study, researchers at FB collected information on all of the statuses that five million users wrote out but did not post. Did you know that FB keeps track of the status updates you never posted?
And where is it all going?
A FB app launched in May 2014 now has the ability to turn on people’s smartphone microphone, to recognize music and tv shows playing in a user’s vicinity. This makes your cellphone a surveillance device par excellence. In addition, FB also encourages smart phone users to activate its app Photo Sync, which automatically synchronises photos from their mobile phones to a private FB album. Whether or not users decide to share the photos on their public newsfeed, FB itself will still have access. That means they can mine those files for their metadata, including the location where the photo was taken and use facial recognition to spot those pictured.
Knowing all this (and some more), I decided this would spell the end of my personal story with FB. I felt certain that the costs had now by far outweighed the benefits.
Part II: The Break Up – Life in isolation?
I wanted to leave as little content on FB as possible, seeing that they never really delete profiles but keep it “for you” to hopefully re-activate after you realise your social isolation in the life thereafter. I hope that what I deleted myself will then eventually be deleted from the FB servers too (while I have no proof of this actually being the case). FB anyhow makes cleanup difficult and plodding. In a process that took several hours, I deleted every single “like” and comment I have ever left on FB one by one, exited the groups I was in, unfollowed sites, removed my photos. All the while FB got alarmed and presented me with new friends to add. I was unable to delete my messages though. FB keeps every single message their users send via FB chat. Whatever you write, wherever, to whomever. At last I sent all my friends a message with my contact details and closed my account.
By now I am off FB for a few months and I can honestly say that (to my own surprise) I haven’t missed it at all, and I never even considered returning. So, what has changed?
When it comes to friends, it’s true, I have lost “touch” with quite a few people. But what does that mean?
The friendships to my closest friends are not really affected. These are the relationships that don’t get hurt when we don’t see each other for a longer period of time and FB was never a defining part of our friendship. Those people are the ones I mostly meet and speak to anyway, and then we do stuff and tell each other how we really feel, even though some of them live very far away.
Then there is a wider group of friends who I would like to be in touch with and meet, but due to challenges of time and space, this doesn’t happen so often and easily. To make it happen, I hope those people will bear with me and use other channels of communication. I don’t intend to go back to the middle ages, but I have chosen to use only free and open source software that respect my rights to privacy. My husband and I use Owncloud to manage contacts, birthdays, appointments, files and photos. We also dropped Google. Our emails and messages are hosted by our own mail server and we use private (encrypted) XMPP chat (if you want to add me as a contact, you’ll find instructions below).
The FB friends that weren’t close to me, I still don’t see. With some of those people I wouldn’t really gel so well with any more in real life, I might not actually know what to say to them if I met them on the street. With other people I share great memories and in theory, I would love to meet them again. But I also came to believe that we are sometimes meant to say bye to people even if we had a great time together. Temporary companions, travelers I had amazing conversations with somewhere over the world, people who were in primary school with me, a date of some time. We have learned from each other, benefited each other, fulfilled the roles of the time. Reconnecting years later via FB simply didn’t do it justice, it couldn’t revive those relationships, and we wouldn’t make the effort to meet up again in person either. “Losing” those people may feel sad in a way, like it sometimes is to age and to let go of the past. But as a matter of fact, it is impossible to maintain relationships with hundreds of people. Technology can not do that for us.  In these cases, FB only created an illusion of connection that was possibly often also driven by curiosity rather than the intention to build a relationship.
This brings me to the second point of what I experience as having changed in my life without FB. Whatever we do, watch or consume has an effect on our psyche, our consciousness. Which effect did FB have? I was aware since a long time that I normally didn’t log onto FB when I felt happy and busy, but rather when I was either bored or slightly dissatisfied, and I felt worse after logging out.
Why are we on FB after all? A study showed that FB use is motivated by two primary needs: the need to belong and the need for self-presentation. There is also a correlation between narcissism and the extent to which people use FB (link here). The reasons why we share photos is explained in another study by our need to improve our self worth through our appearance, the approval of others, and the idea of outdoing them. In another study, participants admitted that they disclosed more information about themselves on FB than they would like to, considering that information control and privacy were important to them. However, their need for popularity drove them to disclose. In sum, the review of the literature on FB use suggests that a high level of extroversion, neuroticism, narcissism and low levels of self-esteem and self-worth are associated with high FB use.
So, a big part of what keeps us on FB is our ego. We are in love with the life we would like to have and present to others. The sunshine, the holidays, the fun, the beauty. We seek praise, compliments, don’t want to lose the crowd applauding. This can however create an environment of group pressure and competition, of jeaulosy, gossip and dissatisfaction.
Quitting FB therefore didn’t only stop the abuse of my personal data by a private corporation, it also opened up more productive ways of using my time and it completely removed me from negative emotions that come with social comparison in a fake reality.
The Internet has an amazing potential to connect us as humankind, to let us help and understand one another. A portal like FB with now over 1.3 billion users could have been the tool for this, had they not decided to commodify, manipulate and spy on us instead.
If you don’t pay for a service, then you are the product. I would have been willing to pay a monthly fee to FB for the luxury of privacy and control over my personal content. But FB is not the least interested in empowering their
In the immortal words of Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook: “They trust me — dumb fucks.”
- Go to https://conversejs.org
- Click on the “register” tab in the chat box in the bottom right of the page
- In the box labelled “your XMPP provider’s domain name“, type “conversejs.org”
- Click the button “fetch registration form“
- Choose a username and password and click the “register” button.
- Then, click on “add a contact” and add me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will have to wait until I see and accept your contact request before we can start chatting. To use this chat on your cellphone, I recommend “Conversations“, for use on the laptop, I recommend “Pidgin“.