What Facebook Does (To You)

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?

weareallfriendsIn 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.spying 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.

FacebookThen, 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?

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?

breakupI 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[1]).

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 birthday-thanks-facebook-wallpast. But as a matter of fact, it is impossible to maintain relationships with hundreds of people. Technology can not do that for us. [2] 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.

checked-facebook-framed-photo-holiday-gift-funny-ecard-uM6Why 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.

glad-paranoia-over-facebook-birthday-ecard-someecardsSo, 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.

Vector

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 users product.

In the immortal words of Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook: “They trust me — dumb fucks.”

____________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes

[1] How to add me as a XMPP chat contact 

  1. Go to https://conversejs.org
  2. Click on the “register” tab in the chat box in the bottom right of the page
  3. In the box labelled “your XMPP provider’s domain name“, type “conversejs.org”
  4. Click the button “fetch registration form
  5. Choose a username and password and click the “register” button.
  6. Then, click on “add a contact” and add me: manuela@opkode.com.

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“.

[2] I have a good friend who gets many birthday wishes every year from his FB friends, none of them being aware that he has set the wrong day and month for his birthday.

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29 Responses to What Facebook Does (To You)

  1. Burgert Kirsten says:

    Thanks for sharing this Manu. It really makes me considering deleting my FB profile as well. I ha€™ve also been noticing lately what drives my interaction with FB, and I didn’t like it.

    Burgert Kirsten MComm (Psych)

    Organisational Psychologist & Coach

    [Cell] +27(0)82 255 9625

    [Skype] burgertk

    http://www.playingmantis.net

    Playing Mantis

    People Development Consultants (Pty) Ltd

    Play – Connect – Shift

    To be brilliant you must risk being foolish

    • Metathoughts says:

      Thanks for leaving the comment, Burgert. It always helps me to know when people find my thoughts useful for themselves, it motivates to keep on writing. Facebook is such an interesting concept, and I am sure it can mean completely different things to different people, but sometimes we read what someone else thinks and that helps us to realise that we feel the same. Hugs to you and your girls!

  2. I only met you once and You made a lasting impression on me. I really enjoy the way you are thinking about things and I admire the way you can put your thoughts into writing something of great significance. Please keep me on your mailing list. I never reply but I always read your stuff and I always feel happy and energized after I’ve read your articles. Thank you for sharing yourself.

    Retha van Stelten 082 493 8136

    >

    • Metathoughts says:

      Baie dankie Retha for the great compliment, it means very much to me! I remember our conversation from the Positive Psychology Coaching course, and I would love to meet up when I get to Pretoria again. It might take a while, but I will let you know. Until then, I am glad we can stay in touch via thoughts on this channel! Alles van die beste vir jou!

  3. Pingback: What Facebook Does To You | Metathoughts | facebook in the news

  4. Someguy says:

    I really liked the article, and appreciate the detailed thoughts going into this. I myself dislike social media, and went without for about a year or year and a half. As you point out, it doesn’t seem to make a difference socially. Your close friends will still contact you, and the acquaintances will still play almost zero role in your life. I went back though, for ‘professional use’. I’m in academia, and it’s a useful tool to be able to keep track of other people you meet in a professional setting and be able to contact them. I’ve toyed with the idea of reversing the usual facebook protocols, and only friending colleagues and professional acquaintances, and defriending my ‘actual friends;’. Any thoughts on that?

    • Metathoughts says:

      I think it is an interesting idea that you mention, to use FB as a professional tool only. Seeing that this is not the niche FB is designed for, it might be difficult for your friends though to understand when you delete them, and you might continuously get friend requests from private contacts who you’d have to decline.
      For a while, I also toyed with the idea to restrict my activities on FB in a certain sense, but I got the impression that FB is purposely designed to constantly blur the lines between private and public, to make you share more or spend more time on it than one initially wanted to, so I got tired of spending energy on self-discipline, a resource which is limited and I rather make use of in other areas in my life 🙂

  5. imgulyas says:

    Nice, well written post. Should I share it on FB? (jk)

    I think I’m often very bad at expressing my thoughts with words (even only to myself), when something feels off, and if I don’t (try to) do it, after a time I just get desensitivesized to the bad feeling, and ignore it afterwards, taking it as the new norm.
    The facetagging, auto sharing of photos, third party, unknown people appearing on my timeline.. I think these were also somewhat disturbing to me when they first came up (I’m a user since 2009 or so), and I got used to them over time, which fact now, as we are reflecting upon it, also seems disturbing.
    Thanks for the well written article. It inspired me to do the same thing as you did and quit it altogether. I think until I finish my degree, I can’t quit FB tough, because it gives me an edge in study (well, not anymore, it kind of became the norm, I just need it to not get behind) by tips, materials, exam infos shared between the big groups of students at my university.

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi there, thank you for leaving this comment. I am fine with you sharing the blog on FB 🙂
      I know exactly what you mean with getting desensitized to negative feelings, and like you desrcibe, when it comes to FB, this is also what I experienced for quite a while.

      Someone mentioned the analogy between FB and the boiling Frog story:
      They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger. But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog’s survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes.

      Maybe this image can help you in becoming more aware of your feelings and acting on them. I wish you good luck!

      I understand the problem of FB groups. I am in a course of 18 people, and 15 of us opened a group on FB. Luckily the classmates in my study group share the info with me and it is generally not crucial. I am also doing another course where I am the only one without FB, so I can not watch the videos, I actually forgot to mention this in my blog. Nevertheless, by some of us deciding not to stay part of FB, I believe this sets a sign to others that it is possible and that having a FB account comes at a certain cost. Because I am not on FB, I actually got in conversation with the teacher of the class, and now she herself is considering to quit FB.

  6. Mark says:

    Thanks for this article. I agree with your points … there seems to be something about FB that brings out a bad side in us (narcissism, envy, judgmentalism, etc.). And then to hear how we users are being jerked around, makes me even more unhappy. One thing you don’t mention here is how Facebook filters the comments from people … just because I post something doesn’t mean that anybody will see it in their feeds. That drives me crazy. I am *this* close to pulling the plug like you did, and your article has definitely pushed me closer to the edge of the cliff!

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi Mark
      I am happy that the article helped you on your path towards the cliff 🙂

      Yes, indeed, the covert and discretionary algorithms which FB uses to manipulate the newsfeed are something I didn’t mention, the blog became a bit too long 🙂
      They also do that for businesses so that people are forced to pay to promote their posts. If you don’t promote them, they get shown to almost no-one.

      This is a very good blog that might be interesting for you as well: https://medium.com/@hansdezwart/ai-weiwei-is-living-in-our-future-474e5dd15e4f
      The author uses the interesting analogy between FB and casinos, for it being designed to abuse our cognitive weaknesses. Like with slot machines, “The FB user is seen as an ‘asset’ of which the ‘time on service’ has to be made a long as possible, so that the ‘user productivity’ is as high as possible.”

  7. Diego Michel says:

    Hello, i would like to translate this to Spanish, but i would like to ask for your permission first, can i?, thank you :).

  8. Abe says:

    Congratulations on breaking free. My wife and I quit the FB several years ago in college when we realized it was shallow, addictive, and contrived. We haven’t looked back and never miss it. When people ask me why I’m not on FB, I ask them why they are. 🙂

  9. Thiago Mendonça says:

    Nice text, I want to translate this to brazilian portuguese, and I want to give you a tip about a federated network: Diaspora, make a search about it (use duckduckgo if you don’t like google like me.) choose a public pod and see how different things go in diaspora. Another tip for a twitter-like experiencia is GNU Social, free as in freedom, just like diaspora.
    See ya!

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi Thiago. Thank you for leaving the comment and for your tips. I will definitely check out Diaspora at some time. As a search engine, I use StartPage, and I am so far very happy with them (although the image search is not as good yet as google images). But here is how they protect privacy.
      I haven’t heard about GNU Social yet. Well, if I get to the point where I am completely free from using closed software and corporations, then I might write another blog post about that 🙂
      I am happy for you to translate my text into brazilian portuguese, please just remember to link back to the original article visibly. All the best to Brazil, to me one of the most amazing countries in the world (and I haven’t seen friendlier people than there!) 🙂

  10. Ian says:

    Very well written. I too have removed myself from Facebook in the past (and you can completely delete your profile through a specific process in which you get something like.. 2 weeks to change your mind, and then everything is permanently deleted).

    I have returned, however, for one reason that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned yet: networking. The overwhelming majority of my “friends” are not true friends, and yet they may be important connections in the future. Networking is the single most important tool for employment, and LinkedIn just isn’t personal enough for some of those acquaintances you acquire over the years. For example, my current job came to me through a friend from college who referred me to a recruiter when he noticed on Facebook that I was looking for work.

    I’ve also seen friends use Facebook to stay in touch with family members overseas. There’s also people who use social media to push self-published, creative content associated with their work, where the larger your online following, the more likely you are to make additional money.

    I find that control is more important than removing yourself from the situation. Social media can still be a useful tool. Just don’t access the site as often, and don’t partake in some of the more invasive components.

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hi Ian. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I believe I used that process where your profile gets deleted. You are right, FB states here“It may take up to 90 days to delete all of the things you’ve posted, like your photos, status updates or other data stored in backup systems” and “ Once your account is permanently deleted, there’s no way to undo this action. You won’t be able to reactivate the account or retrieve anything you’ve added to it“.
      They don’t really say that they won’t be able to retrieve your data themselves though, one never really knows what happens with your data with closed source code. I am not worried about it though. I don’t have any secrets (like some people might assume). Most of all, I just want to minimize the feeding of details of my life to a corporation whose business model and practices don’t correspond with my values.

      You are also right when it comes to networking, that is indeed something that one can miss out on when leaving FB, and I haven’t discussed this, I guess I didn’t really feel affected. Networking is something that is important to anyone though, independent of their profession. I think in the end it comes back to priorities. I decided for myself that my disagreement with FB’s practices and the negative effects it has on me weigh heavier than the benefits of networking etc. For now, I try to replace the networking factor with a piecemeal of other means. In the meantime, I hope that alternative platforms that use free software and are not primarily after monetization of user data will gain traction.
      But I am also happy for anyone who enjoys FB and feels they are benefiting from the service, like you do.

  11. asa5000 says:

    Thank you very much for those thoughts..it’s putting together so brilliantly what i feel and think about it but never could express this way.
    I’m just about to jump off myself, and experience, that people who exactly know are willing to accept the conditions which somehow is strange to me.
    Of course we might know that every staten institution is building profiles of my ways in the net, but i don’t have the feel i would like to leave it in the hands of a company, manipulating like they do.
    Kind regards

  12. Henry Smallaxe says:

    An example of how social media “oversharing” can go horriby wrong:
    “Two robbers have paid a visit to a house in south-eastern Australia, hours after a teenager posted a photo on Facebook of a large sum of cash.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18232613

  13. Reblogged this on Joe's Notepad and commented:
    A must-read before you sign up for Facebook, and describes some of the reasons I ditched Facebook two years ago.

  14. Stephan Pieterse says:

    Well thought through article, thanks! It forced me to reconsider my involvement in FB as well.

    • Metathoughts says:

      Hello Stephan! Thank you for following my posts still. Did you change anything regarding your FB usage? I’d be very curious to know your newest applications of Positive Psychology in the workplace too! 🙂 All the best to Bellville!

  15. Pingback: Diaspora. Yes Privacy Does Matters! | Me and this world | ഞാനും ഈ ലോകവും

  16. Pingback: Goodnight Facebook | moebis

  17. Christian says:

    Well written.

    Makes me think about quiting FB, too….

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