A couple of months before I joined this blog (hi Kate!!), I deactivated my Facebook page. I had been vacillating about doing this for approximately a year, but something or another always brought me back to the pro-Facebook side of the fence. Finally, I decided enough was enough, and I hit the “Deactivate” button. Now that I’ve taken the plunge (or surfaced for air, whichever you prefer), I’ve had some time to reflect on the decision. Here are some thoughts…
PEOPLE LOVE TALKING ABOUT THEMSELVES
When a cultural tide rolls in, it usually doesn’t stick around for too long unless it has one of two things: 1) a current so deep and a purpose so focused that no amount of splashing around can disrupt it, or 2) huge waves of narcissism. Facebook is so successful because it possesses both: manicuring your image to make you the best (i.e. most conventionally popular/hippie/mod/Goth/world traveler/anything) version of you is what Facebook is all about, and making ourselves “likable” in order to garner positive attention is deeply embedded in the human brain. People love hearing themselves talk, and they also love constant affirmation; Facebook offers a platform for one and ample opportunity for the other.
But what happens when we start valuing what others think of us more than valuing our potential for intellectual and emotional honesty? If we become obsessed with “getting likes”, three things tend to happen: 1) we embellish the truth for shock value/humor/anything really, as long as the status/picture/whatever gets “liked”, 2) we begin reacting (which is a one-step mental process and concerns only yourself) instead of responding (which is a two-step mental process and takes into consideration not only yourself but also the person in front of you), and 3) we begin resenting our friends for their successes. In short, Facebook encourages the worst in us.
All that aside, keeping in touch with friends — especially if they live far away — is a good impulse. I used that reasoning to keep my page up and running for years. Facebook made me feel like I would lose contact with the people I care about if I left the site, like I would be erased from my social groups. Newsflash: if you care about someone and they care about you, you will never lose contact. Facebook is not the be-all-end-all of communication (just look at Kate and me! There are other, more productive/creative ways to be long-distance friends), and even though it makes it easy to keep in touch, it is also unhealthy for your brain and skews your priorities. Facebook may offer some social shortcuts, but it also hurts you. A little effort in a friendship, on the other hand, never hurt anyone.
PEOPLE ARE INHERENTLY TRUSTING…
For a man who called early users of his now wildly popular website “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their private information, Mark Zuckerberg sure has access to a lot of people’s private information. He’s since expressed regret regarding that rather colorful turn of phrase, but the fact remains that user privacy guarantees and the conditions regarding personal information usage on Facebook are dubious at best. The man in charge may have apologized for his poorly-chosen words, but that doesn’t mean he actually changed anything. But, because most of us are good humans, we want to believe that an apology equals, or at least leads to, change.
…EVEN IF THE ORGANIZATIONS THEY TRUST ARE CLEARLY UNTRUSTWORTHY
You may ask, “Well if people are worried about their privacy, why do they have online profiles that are about nothing but sharing their private lives?” That’s a great question, and it has a rather complicated answer.
Privacy doesn’t mean nobody knows anything about you ever. Privacy means choosing what you share and with whom you share it.
If that means nobody knows anything about you ever, cool. You probably don’t have a Facebook page.
If it means that you want an online platform where you can share the important things in your life with selected people with whom it would be otherwise difficult and/or impossible to maintain contact, also cool. Facebook should afford you that opportunity, and allow you to set the limits regarding 1) who sees what, and 2) how your information is used. It doesn’t.*
If you want to broadcast your misogynist views to the world, that is also a privacy choice… and unfortunately also something that has been allowed to continue on Facebook (even though the site’s Terms and Services explicitly forbid it).**
*You can customize your ad preferences under “Privacy,” but there’s no button on that page that gives you the choice of, say, simply not providing your information to Nissan or Groupon. If you don’t want your information to go to advertisers, Facebook’s advice to you is to delete your account. Basically, Facebook spends roughly 3,000 words of legalese telling you that it respects your privacy and values your trust, and then says “Oh, by the way, by signing up to use this site, you tacitly agree to share your information (including pictures) with third-party companies without compensation or knowledge of the fact. If you don’t like it, leave.”
**Freedom of speech means you are legally allowed to say anything you want, but if you’re about to defend promulgators of hate speech by using the First Amendment, consider this. It is the responsibility of people at the helm of multi-million-dollar companies like Facebook to not only protect their users through their Terms and Services, but also to adhere to their own rules. If Facebook is unable to rein in overtly and publicly destructive users, I personally have questions about how many other, less visible yet equally important things slip through the cracks.
IT’S REALLY HARD TO LEAVE
Feeling like you can’t leave is one of the primary indicators of an abusive relationship. Facebook makes it difficult for you to leave on two levels: an emotional one, and a physical one.
I was worried that if I left Facebook, I would be cut out of social events and friendships irrevocably. I was afraid that people would forget my existence. I was afraid that I would lose access to professional opportunities, since so much of my freelancing work depends on networking.
I was completely wrong on all three fronts. My friendships became more focused and personal; instead of sharing compacted, generalized information with 300-some-odd “friends”, I began having actual conversations with the people I love via e-mail, letters, Skype, phone calls, and coffee dates. And because my interactions with people were deeper and more meaningful, I started getting more work requests; potential performance partners and students enjoyed that I was making a personal effort to communicate with them — and only them — when it came to professional matters. In general, my life is richer and less anxiety-ridden post-Facebook than it was when I still had a profile.
The actual process of leaving the site is so tedious that I’m sure many have begun and given up part of the way through.
Deactivating your page is not simply a question of clicking a button. Clicking the button sends you down a wormhole of endless “Are you sure you want to leave us?” pop-ups and a grueling multiple choice questionnaire about why, exactly, you want to abandon this social paradise. Regardless of which reason you click, a yellow subtext appears underneath your choice, explaining how Facebook can fix whatever problem you’re having. It’s exactly like an ex-boyfriend who keeps texting you and asking you to come back, even after you’ve broken up with him.
Bottom line: anyone (or anything) that tries that fucking hard to make you stay and annoyingly obstructs you when you clearly state your intention to leave is unhealthy and should set off all kinds of alarm bells.
If anything, the process of leaving made me certain that I never want to go back.
So, goodbye Facebook, hello WordPress. I’m glad to be here, and very much hope to stay.