In honor of the one year anniversary of Edward Snowden's revelations and in effort to #ResetTheNet, I am leaving Facebook. I will first download all my pictures, updates, and private messages and then delete my account data. Here is a list of reasons why you might consider deleting your Facebook account too. Not all of these reasons pertain to everyone, so click the titles which interest you most.
It's An Addicting Distraction
On average, my eyes spend about 2+ hours a day looking at Facebook. Usually this is while doing other things on my computer like work or personal projects, thus my attention is fractured and I end up taking longer to do the other tasks because of context shifting. Next time you're in a library or cafe, look around at how many people are using Facebook.
Having a Facebook account might seem important, but consider donuts- they taste good, really good, but are donuts good for you? If you're literally starving and below your caloric need, donuts are good for you. If you're not starving, donuts are not that healthy. Donuts trick our body & mind into thinking they are good for us by containing quickly burned carbs and fats. Facebook does to our cravings for social activity and inclusion what donuts do for our health- it's cheap, superficial, and only healthy in small amounts.
Facebook recently bought Oculus Rift, a cutting edge virtual reality company. It's reasonable to assume within the next two years Facebook will be browsable via VR. The technologist in me thinks "That will be AWESOME, it's FRIGGIN VIRTUAL REALITY!" The humanitarian in me screams "NOOOO." Facebook is already very addictive to many people. Imagine how much more addictive something immersive and resembling the real world would be. I want more connection in real life, I want technology that facilitates the later; not the former.
Interface Freedom & UX Fascism
Long gone are the chaotic MySpace pages with animated backgrounds, bright colors, and music players brimming with creativity and individuality. Facebook not only controls how your profile looks, but also the content- they control exactly what can be posted, where it can be posted, and how it looks. In the startup industry there is the idea of stickiness- how much users eyeballs and attention "sticks" to a website or app. Facebook's carefully implemented design & engineering choices make Facebook easy and friendly to use, but it also increases it's stickiness. This comes at the cost of interface freedom.
"A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa."
Zuckerberg, Beware of Filter Bubbles
Another way Facebook makes itself sticky is by tightly controlling and augmenting the News Feed. Each time you refresh your home feed, you see a mixture of posts ranging in type and content. This selection is heavily biased towards sorting in a non chronological order. Facebook completely controls what's shown to you after it's filtered through algorithms that suits there needs. We are choosing to make our digital homes in a territory ruled by user experience fascism.
Mixing this information breaks a users mental model of what is being presented to them- is it new information, important information, friends posts, or people nearby? There's no way of knowing what you are seeing or why you are seeing it, and you have no control over it. The information Facebook chooses to show you is based on what they think is most relevant, e.g. content that makes the experience more sticky or more targeted towards ads.
Liking A Page Isn't What You Think
Users are encouraged to "like" Facebook Pages, which are special profiles for bands, artists, and companies. What people don't realize is how weak of a link this is- liking a page simply adds one tiny signal to the meat grinder "News Feed" described above. The assumption is if I like something I will see everything they post. Wrong. Owners of pages, are constantly encouraged to pay Facebook so that their posts get better visibility amongst their followers. Just because you like a given page, doesn't mean you will ever actually see posts from that page. This is Facebook's main business model.
So, consider even though you "liked" their Facebook page, you may never actually see posts from that small band you really like, that artists you met, or that fledgling organic food company you want to support, because their updates might be buried beneath entities who spend more money to advertise with Facebook. If something you are interested in has an email list as well, subscribe to that instead!
Moving Fast and Breaking Things
Internally at Facebook they have a bunch of slogans on nicely designed posters that are meant to bolster team spirit and create company culture. These slogans say things like "done is better than perfect" and "move fast and break things." Zuckerberg believes that unless you are breaking things, you're not moving fast enough.
"What Robert Moses did for the idea of neighborhood, Mark Zuckerberg is doing for the idea of friend" If Picasso were a Programmer
The above statement was made by my enlightened 17 year old friend Jackson Gariety. Robert Moses is mostly known for creating freeways and suburbs. When I saw Zuckberg speak at Startup School 2010 to some of the best and brightest aspiring entrepreneurs, he went on at length about artificial intelligence and human psychology. Upon revisiting his lecture, it is amazing how much it lines up with Jackson Gariety's critique.
"It's really interesting to design software that takes into account the things we do know about the brain and psychology..." Mark Zuckerberg
Zuck is saying that we, researchers in the fields of science & medicine, don't really know how the brain works. Yet we know how to manipulate the brain to get certain types of responses and Facebook is leveraging this. When I first started using Facebook it was mostly text based in comparison to MySpace. There were very few pictures in the interface. Over the years Facebook has optimized how to integrate human faces that subconsciously make the platform more sticky and the advertising more effective.
While the UX designer in me finds it fascinating and worth striving for (designing software optimized for our natural abilities), the sociologist in me finds this extremely troubling- we are all participating in Facebook's grand experiment into how the human mind works, while making Zuck & Co. tons of money by advertising products to us via the same channel.
Facebook Owns Your Data & Experiences
You might have copies of the pictures in your camera app, but all the text conversations and moments transmitted through Facebook are not kept on users devices. The only permanent record of that information lives on Facebook's servers. Imagine sending a letter or postcard to someone, but neither you nor the recipient actually gets to keep the words and paper in their possession. Instead that information is kept in a vault somewhere owned by a company. Someday when you're old, do you really want the collection of your lives correspondence archived somewhere where you have no ownership or control over that information?
"Free is a Lie" Aral Balkan
Facebook gives us a "free" way to communicate (so long as you have an internet connection and a computer), but is not "Free" as in freedom. Ask yourself, is getting something for free as in cost, worth your privacy and freedom? Free is a Lie by Aral Balkan is an excellent talk that explores this concept in a compelling and accessible way.
A Honeypot For Mass Surveillance
For the last 10 years Facebook has been building the worlds most open & connected trove of personal data, which turns out to be a godsend for intelligence agencies. Last year on June 6th when Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and it's affiliates have bulk access to Facebook and numerous other tech companies data, the world was in an uproar about the apparent violations and abuse of privacy. Fast forward one year later, I don't know one person who deleted their Facebook account due to the disclosures. Is this because we're all addicted to Facebook? Do we depend on Facebook as social infrastructure? Do we need it to maintain our communication, relationships and businesses? This must change.
Obama at a dinner with Silicon Valley leaders, Zuckerberg is on his right
"Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected" Internet.org
In the spring of 2014 Mark Zuckerberg launched a side project called internet.org within Facebook's Connectivity Lab. It is easy to feel hopeful watching the videos and reading the copy, but I can almost 100% guarantee that if / when Facebook actually builds these blimps and satellites that rain wifi on the developing world, that in order to get their "free" internet access those people will need to sign up for a Facebook account. Clearly, this initiative is largely a means to onboard the next billion or two people as Facebook users. This data of course will be available to governments that demand access to Facebook's servers.
Large Centralized Services Are Dangerous
How far will Facebook become embedded in our daily lives? How far will they go in collecting our data? What will they do with all of this intimate information? A couple months ago a Brazillian credit card company started using Facebook's social graph to determine ones' eligibility for credit cards. Peoples social relationships, photographs, and cat video posts are seriously being used somewhere to determine if one should be allowed to get a credit card which might enable them to buy a new mobile phone or bicycle or food? Does this not feel like the beginning of a terrible trend that impinges on all of our freedoms?
Recently Facebook released a new feature that turns on users microphones and listens to their surroundings. The goal is supposedly to allow their mobile to suggest commenting on music, movies, and sports events without the user having to do anything. Consider what kind of access into your personal privacy you are giving a large corporation, all for a tiny bit of convenience. Will the NSA ever have access to this information retroactively in bulk? Will Facebook make a partnership with credit card companies or other insurance companies to asses the "risk" you pose? Do you ever really want to be faced with the decision- grant Facebook access to your microphone 24 hrs a day or limit your financial options?
Liberate Your Data
Quitting Facebook, by which I mean really quitting and not coming back, is a daunting decision. Facebook has been part of many of our life as a journal, an address book, a scrap book, and a chat around the water cooler for many years. Thus I've been planning my escape and making it as painless as possible, I certainly don't want to lose all my information.
- Facebook's data export tool is super easy to use but lacks a bunch of things
- My Facebook Messages exporter currently requires command line knowledge
- Manually delete your friends as Facebook does not make this easy
- Manually delete your posts also not easy
- Delete your account is easy, once you commit to the idea ;)
The exporting tool Facebook offers is not useful if you ever want to use your data again, so I created a nifty Python script that downloads my profile, pictures, friends, updates, and private messages. My tool formats Facebook messages and attachments so they can be imported into any standard email client. After downloading your data, if you want your exit from Facebook to be permanent, you will need to manually delete your data as Facebook keeps your profile intact just in case you come back.
Install & Use Better Solutions
Part of my motivation for deleting my Facebook is I want to "be the change I seek to see." I'm building a next generation email app called Mailpile as my full time job. You may be shrieking "you expect us to replace Facebook with email? Ugh, really?" Yes, I believe email is a much better technology for private communication and there's no reason email can't be as pleasant to use as Facebook. We can leverage all the tricks Facebook learned about stickiness and human faces to do so. But, with email, it's much easier to get Freedom and privacy part. However, to replace public social media style sharing, I am not sure if email is the best protocol for the job. For three years I've been a part of the IndieWeb community which is building some really great web publishing apps. I believe the IndieWeb has the right approach.
Most of these apps are not user friendly for non techies yet, but they will be soon. Mailpile is releasing a beta in July. The important thing is that email is an open standard, and the IndieWeb is a community creating open standards. Standards are what allow the web to remain decentralized and free. Decentralization is a crucial to what makes the internet a medium that facilitates freedom, expression, and awesomeness. Both approaches have many 100% Free and open source software apps, and both are all about empowering people to own their data while retaining utmost control over the digital selves. Let's build a better internet!
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