Facebook and Me

I've been on Facebook since the days where you needed an academic email address to join, I think that was 2008. I joined in the rush of the non-profit technology cadre who were experimenting with new technology non-profit organizations might use to help their missions. I was a little suspicious at first, and didn't participate a lot, but then the platform grew, my friends and family joined, and I was hooked.

A little relevant background about my life: I was born and raised in the NY metro area, but left when I was 18 for college, and never lived in NY as an adult, even as most of my immediate and extended family remained. I've lived in five different states since then, gathering friends and family of choice along the way. At this point, a majority of the people who are family, close friends and chosen family don't live geographically close to me. And most of those people are on Facebook.

So Facebook became the de-facto way that I connected with many of these people on a regular basis. It's how I heard about births and deaths, and big and little life events. That's how I had conversations and sometimes arguments. It's also how I heard about most community events, took part in community groups, and connected with others who share my interests and experiences.

Facebook has always been problematic, but it has become more and more so over time. There's an adage: "If a product doesn't cost anything, then you are the product." This is true of much of our technology life - we connect for free on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. It also includes using GMail and Google. It includes messaging apps like Whats App, Snapchat and Messenger (Signal is the outlier - it's an open source product, funded by a foundation). We read lots of content for free on the web (although less and less over time.)

And then there simply is the reality that Facebook shapes your experience to maximize their profit. You might think you're looking at a chronological feed of what all of your friends are doing, interspersed with ads and posts from groups you follow and pages you like. But your feed has been carefully crafted, with literally millions of dollars of research spent on figuring out how to present you with information in such a way as to increase the likelihood that you will click on an advertisement in your feed. You probably remember thinking "Wow, so and so hasn't posted in forever," then going to their profile and realize they've been posting plenty all along, you just haven't been seeing it.

But of course, there is more - security breaches, effects on the 2016 election, all of the recent news about Facebook's blatant disregard for the privacy, security and integrity of its platform's users. I think we have to face that as much good as Facebook seems to have done for community and connection, in fact, when it gets all boiled down and the minuses subtracted from the plusses, it will come out pretty far negative.

After more than 10 years, and 2 accounts, dozens (and dozens) of groups and events, administrating FB pages, and even running Facebook ads, I've decided to leave Facebook entirely. I've already deactivated my account under my old name. I'll be deactivating the new account at the end April, and deleting both at the end of the year. I'm also deleting my Instagram at the end of the year as well. (In case you didn't know, Instagram and WhatsApp are both owned by Facebook.)

Why am I leaving? The reasons are both personal and broader. First, the personal. I'm leaving because I've noticed that I became addicted to the dopamine release carefully constructed by the Facebook newsfeed (I've been in detox for the last few months). I'm leaving because I feel like I've sacrificed depth of connection with fewer people with shallow connections with more. I'm leaving because it's far too tempting to curate my life to generate the approval that I crave.

That might be enough for me to control how and how often I interact with Facebook - something I've been actively doing for the past year. But it likely wouldn't be enough to get me to completely leave. What's pushing me over the edge is the fact that I think it has done irreparable harm. Not only in the issues mentioned above, like the 2016 election, but also for the nonprofit sector, and for community organizing and building in general.

Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) became the de-facto place where people learned about organizations, discussed issues, and publicized events. Because of Facebook, burgeoning (and distributed and diverse) online community resources dwindled and died, as organizations understandably went where the people were. When was the last time you visited an online bulletin board? When was the last time you read RSS news feeds? (Some of us, like me, still do, but we are in the far minority. Most people get their information from social media.) If we hadn't jumped on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon, we'd likely have a robust, distributed set of online resources driven by and controlled by the community.

We still can create that, but it will take an active effort to divest ourselves from corporate-driven social media. We can't trust them - they can talk all sorts of talk about how much they care about community, but in the end, all they care about is returning the investment of their venture capitalists and shareholders. We can think we're just using the tool, but in fact the tool is using us.

I don't know where I'm going to end up. I'm on Twitter (for the time being) and Mastodon, but I don't necessarily know that either of those is going to be better in the long run. In the absense of an open source, community-funded and driven social media service, I'm going to be in limbo for a while. The good news: I'll be focused on spending more time connecting individually with friends who are not local by phone, text or email, and spending more time in person with friends who are local. And I'll miss things - I won't hear about events that are happening. I won't hear about the death of someone I knew, or the birth of an aquaintance's child, or the new pets, new jobs, or new houses, unless I'm in continued connection with someone. Like it was before Facebook. And that's OK with me.