I’ve deactivated my Facebook account.
I was a late and reluctant convert to the network. I buckled to peer pressure because it had become the only way some of my relatives wanted to communicate. I had reached the point where the social benefits of membership outweighed the privacy risks.
I won’t pretend I didn’t like using Facebook. Once I’d removed all the adverts and games, set access limits on the things I published and figured out how to read content without using the website, it became a genuinely useful tool. The events-management feature was a particular highlight.
Since I joined Facebook the company has been relentless in pursuit of it’s business plan: to extract and sell as much personal information about it’s users as possible. Consequently the privacy risks of usage became more severe over time. Facebook made a series of unilateral changes that affected user privacy adversely. It made public information I uploaded on the understanding that it would only be shared with my friends. From that point on the only way to protect this information was to lie. (For the record: my birthday isn’t really 1 January and I’m not really 108 years old.) The system has been trying to persuade me to tell it my mobile phone number lately, first by pointing out me how useful it’d be to hapless friends who’d lost their mobiles, and second by claiming it would improve the security of my account. I think Bruce Schneier described it best when he said, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product. It’s customers are the advertisers.”
The third-party applications through which much of the entertainment value of Facebook is derived proved untrustworthy, even without the accidental security-holes in the platform, so I stopped using them. Later, Facebook started dismantling the boundaries between itself and other websites by sharing profile information with it’s “carefully selected partners”, and subsequently with anyone who cared to put a Facebook “like” button on their website. It became necessary to log into Facebook only in Firefox’s “private browsing” mode to prevent information from leaking out to other websites without consent.
Facebook also made a controversial rights-grab by changing it’s terms and conditions to grant itself a copyright license-in-perpetuity to do what it likes with the content people published to it. My reaction was to stop sharing most of my photos, videos and blog posts on Facebook, which limited the value of my account to the people with whom I wanted to share those things.
Other changes were prompted by competitor social-networks. Facebook reacted to the explosion in popularity of it’s rival Twitter by changing it’s look to focus on status updates. At this point my use of Facebook became limited to the events system and as Twitter for people without a Twitter account.
In summary, as the Facebook kool-aid became more poisonous over time, I compensated by drinking less of it. A few months ago I realised I was logging in so infrequently that I was missing out on even those things in which I was genuinely interested: the birth of an acquaintance’s first child, an invitation to a party, and so on. I had to ask myself whether there was any point continuing.
The trouble is, Facebook is now integral to the lives of the people in my social circle, particularly since it reached critical mass: the point at which so many of my friends use the system that it’s become a chore for them to keep in touch in any other way. Some people I know don’t just limit their social interaction to Facebook – they also assume I’ve been following their posts and behave as if that assumption is sound. Suddenly it’s my fault if I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I’m making a social faux-pas by not reading what they have to say.
I’ve realised my relationship with Facebook has become an abusive one and it’s time to end it. This feeling was confirmed the moment I hit the deactivate button when my partner noted she’d probably have to field a stream of questions from her friends about why she’s no longer listed as “in a relationship” with me on *her* profile (my one concession to publishing private information about my life). I’m sure I would not have signed up to the network in the first place if I’d realised that my subsequent withdrawal could have an adverse impact on anyone other than myself.
I expect I’ll miss out on some photos I wish I’d seen, I’ll fail to realise that important events in my friends’ lives have happened, I’ll miss out on social events and my awareness of happenings in my extended circle of family and friends will diminish. Therefore I’m making my new year resolution to put more effort into maintaining my relationships in person. I’m betting I can enjoy just as rich a social life with fewer deeper relationships than I can with hundreds of shallow ones maintained through continuous partial attention.
This previously-boiling frog figures he’ll thank himself later for hopping out of the pan before it got too hot to survive.
If you want to get or stay in touch with me, or if you want to see my photos, videos and status updates, check out my ‘contact me’ page.