I got on Facebook several years ago for one, basic, parental reason: I wanted my college-aged kids to know there were adults hanging around their social network, in the hopes that they wouldn’t post stuff they didn’t want their dad to see. Not quite like showing up uninvited at their parties, but close. And it worked, mostly.
Getting into Facebook turned out to be much easier than getting out. I think it was possible to simply “deactivate” my account (and that was the best I could do, since I couldn’t figure out how to really “erase” my account) with one click. But doing that would leave all my data in their system. So I methodically went through and deleted as much as I could get at: I left groups, “unliked” pages, untagged every picture of me that I could access. I’m pretty sure there were some tags that other users had protected, so I couldn’t get them all.
Last of all I “unfriended” everybody, turned out the light, and shut the door. Still, there seems to be a residual glow from my former Facebook life: the account is “deactivated” but not gone, and I can log in again any time. I’m not sure how of my data they still remember, store, and sell.
Why did I decide to commit Facebook “suicide”? Lots of reasons come to mind. For one thing, it started to feel like one more lagoon in a vast, sticky sea of advertising. I think at the most basic level I simply became uneasy with the sheer quantity of information about me that was “out there” and almost entirely beyond my control. It turns out that a whole boatload of information about my sex, age, relationships, likes, and dislikes is worth collecting, because there are companies who will pay real money for information like that. And Facebook is willing to sell it.
The tipping point was probably the Facebook technology that scans photos for faces and “guesses” about which ones might be me. Their computers even guess the identities of young children who do not have Facebook accounts. I figured out how to turn off the notifications of pictures that might be me, but just because they aren’t telling me doesn’t mean they aren’t identifying me in pictures that I don’t even know about.
I know that “social media” are all the craze right now, and that anyone who is serious about their business or their careers “must” use things like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and of course Facebook. I’ve heard of people who “only” communicate by Facebook. (I’ve never met any of these people, but of course, I guess I wouldn’t if that’s the only way they communicate!) I read that there are 800 million active Facebook users. If it were a sovereign nation, Facebook would be the third largest country in the world. And only a sinister, totalitarian government would systematically collect–and use–the masses of personal information about its citizens that Facebook is designed to harvest, and profit from.
Facebook and the other social media technologies are, no doubt, useful tools for many people. I’m pretty sure most of the uses of all that information are not malicious or evil. Mark Zuckerberg (probably) doesn’t aim at world domination; he just wants to make obscene amounts of money. When I was a Facebook user, I was a consumer–and a product, since it was my information that is, for some reason that remains obscure to me, valuable to companies.
Yeah, there are internet rumors that Facebook is run by the CIA. That sounds a little crazy to me. Besides, the thought of a bunch of businesses using my personal data to keep me buying their stuff isn’t really any more appealing than the idea of Big Brother watching my every move.
I’m not a Luddite. I use email. I do much of my Christmas shopping online. I have a “smart” (sic) phone. Like most guys, I love the latest cool gadgets and the shiny new technology. But maybe because I feel its attraction, I also worry about ways technology shapes, and maybe diminishes, my life as a human creature. I’m willing to trade a global social network for my real, flesh-and-blood friends. I’m willing to give up a virtual circle of partisans whose ideas (and rants) I “like” in exchange for a few fellow sinners kneeling at the same altar. When it really matters, I want and need the real community of my fellow creatures, not a limitless network of virtual relationships.
So you can still be my friend. Drop by the office. Give me a call. Send me an email. Just don’t look for me on Facebook. Because I’m not there.