Tomorrow night I am deleting my Facebook account.
I invite all of you to ask yourselves whether your own set of ethics and principles will allow you to stay on a platform that is, quite literally, putting our democracy at risk. I’m asking you to join me, to #deletefacebook. I know — I’m asking a lot. But I’m asking it of you anyway, because Facebook has betrayed us all.
I know it’s difficult to imagine losing easy access to family and friends. I know we connect with groups, charities, activism, and local businesses via Facebook. I know we build community, and share memes, and help each other cope with this dystopian Trumpian nightmare we’ve all found ourselves in. In other words, people are telling me I’ll lose a lot by hitting that “delete” button. (But will I, really? More on this in a minute.)
Here’s the thing: With a little more effort and intention on my part, I can stay just as connected to the people and things I care about — via text, blog posts, other social platforms, email, or in-person conversations. There are tons of ways to share stories and photos besides Facebook, right? And post-Facebook, when I contact my friends via email (or snail mail!) or in person, or with a text or a phone call — won’t that contact be even more meaningful, because I had to go out of my way to initiate it? Facebook’s appeal has always been that it is the path of least resistance; it’s the lazy person’s way of maintaining connections.
Only now, our laziness has gotten us into trouble. Facebook enabled Russian interference in our presidential election, and it enabled Cambridge Analytica’s shocking purchase of our personal data. I say “purchase,” not “theft” or “breach;” to say “theft” is to let Facebook off the hook. No: Facebook knowingly profits off of apps that collect, aggregate and mine our data. Still. Today. Though they claim they’ve limited the data that apps can access, I do not trust them — and neither should you. When the Russian trolls came to light, and when the Cambridge Analytica story first broke, Facebook’s initial strategy was to minimize, lie, and deny. Don’t forget — Facebook threatened to sue The Guardian the day before they published the Cambridge Analytica story. In other words, they tried to bully the media so the truth wouldn’t come out. So, when they emerge from their panicked silence a few days later to say they’re sorry, when they now say they promise to implement change — why on earth should you believe them?
The security, autonomy and validity of democratic elections all around the world suddenly rest on the shoulders of a corporation that has proved its only interest lies in using us as collateral, as a product (we are the product, not the consumer, of Facebook) in order to enrich itself and grow its own power.
Let’s also be honest with ourselves about the effect that Facebook is having on our wellbeing. Study after study after study shows that Facebook is hurting us, in a bunch of different ways. Happiness is inversely correlated with time spent on Facebook, so maybe walking away won’t be such a loss, after all. Think about it: Facebook is polarizing us politically and worsening our lack of critical thinking skills. We pretend Facebook is helping us stay connected and informed — but what if it’s actually hindering meaningful information-sharing, hindering the real (complicated, nuanced, messy) conversations we should be having? Conversations about racism, about violence against women, about Trump, about happiness, guns, politics, poverty, kindness? We cram these big conversations into shareable memes, and then we send those memes out across Facebook-land, where they do nothing but enable a mean-spirited migration of us into polarized camps. And we sit in these little camps, sharpening our little pitchforks, ready for a fight-to-the-death against “the other side.”
This polarization is exactly what Facebook has leveraged, for its own profit. The platform has made itself fat and rich off of this deepening divide. It’s time to stop letting them.
Here are some resources to help you get informed, make decisions, and take steps to end Facebook’s ability to weaken democracy.
- First, The Guardian’s exhaustive coverage of the Cambridge Analytica story is collected here. Right now the collection of stories is six pages long, organized by day in reverse-chronological order.
- Here’s how to really delete your Facebook account. First, you might want to save all your Facebook data: here’s how to do that.
- Looking for an alternative to Facebook? There’s Mastodon, “the world’s largest free, open-source, decentralized microblogging network.” Vero, an app-based platform for Android and iOS, promises never to sell your data. Diaspora* is another option; it promises to remain decentralized, free, and private. I will likely have a presence on all three platforms, at least initially. (I’ll keep you posted.)
- For messaging, try signal. It’s uber-encrypted, secure and safe.
- If you’re not ready to leave Facebook, then at least lock down your privacy settings in order to protect yourself and your friends. A how-to from Wired is here. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has another take on limiting platform API sharing here.
- If you’re not leaving Facebook, another smart idea is to scrub your Facebook data by employing a browser extension like Social Book Post Manager. Here’s an explainer.
- For the love of god, please, I beg you, stop taking Facebook quizzes. Every time you take a quiz to find out which Backstreet Boy you really are, you’re giving an app access to your data and (even though Facebook says it’s no longer possible) your friends’ data, too. Look how we were warned, years ago! It’s time to start listening.
- Also: those “can this kid with cancer get 100 likes?” viral posts are bullshit, and you should stop sharing or liking them. Scammers make them, and you’re being had if you like them or share them. Again, we were warned years ago. You’re hurting your friends when you share that shit — so stop it.
- Learn to tell the difference between “fake news” and actual, real, verified news. A great guide on how to turn a critical eye to what you’re reading is here. And then, obviously, stop sharing fake news on social media. Want to share a meme? Verify the facts it contains first. Never share a meme without independently verifying that what it says is true.
- And finally, you can find out how to take other digital-rights-related actions here, or protect digital rights by making a contribution to the Electronic Frontier Foundation via the “Donate” menu, here. If you’re feeling even more radical (and awesome), donate to the Tor Project, here.
That all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Like I said: Facebook has made us lazy. It’s time to grow up and work harder. It’s time to elevate our national conversation, not kick it further into the gutter. We are all stewards of democracy, of the facts — of critical thinking, ethics, compassion and kindness, too. This is what it means to be a responsible citizen of the internet.
Let’s take this responsibility seriously.