Objects in the Mirror

Reflections on my experiences leaving Facebook

Day One:

Monday April 2nd was a day off work for me, thus a pretty good time to make the break. In recent days I’d seen a friend’s link to a video comparing leaving Facebook to leaving a party. Whatever. On Sunday I posted a farewell. Early Monday morning I unfriended everybody, backed up my data, cleared out my page, and sent the request to shut it down. Facebook says essentially that I have up to two weeks to change my mind. I read and wrote, ran some errands with the missus, did a little volunteer work and got a nap.

Rediscovered an excellent discussion of social media, what’s wrong with it, and the possibility of a subscription-based alternative to Facebook:


Day Two:

Stayed up much of my night off, which is not unusual considering my work schedule (I work nights). Got about six hours sleep. Spent less time than usual on my smartphone in the past 24 hours. Removed Facebook and Messenger apps from a couple older devices. Googled myself and found a bunch of Facebook profiles of people sharing my name, but not my own. This is encouraging.

I read that Facebook was retaining draft video uploads for reasons no one can explain. Considering that such videos may have consumed a lot of storage space, one wonders how they could escape attention. Is Facebook really that out of control?

Day Three:

Spent a little time weeding email during a break at work overnight. Over time, my email has become choked with crap and I have started opting out of distribution lists.

Found myself wanting to click “Like” on an actual email message written by an actual person I know and like (a cousin). Ever do that? I’ve wanted to click “Like” on text messages, too. It reminds me of a time after buying a car with a remote unlock button when I consciously found myself wanting to unlock my mailbox and apartment door with the remote.

Clicking “Like” on a Facebook post is an easy, almost passive, way of expressing approval. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. Thus, much of what happens on Facebook isn’t participation so much as observation — we observe and we are being observed.

Facebook users become stars of their own reality show and viewers of a bunch of others. The news feed is like channel surfing, with someone else choosing the stations, controlled by some inscrutable algorithm. We get posts by our “friends” and ads in an endless stream and we provide feedback constantly. We tell Facebook what we like and by extension what we don’t, because they know what we have been presented; Facebook is watching all the channels, all the time, and recording… well, we really don’t know what they’re recording.

And you thought you were just clicking “ha ha” on a cat video.

NBC News reported that Facebook is now saying that not 50 but 87 million user profiles, mostly those of Americans, may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.


Day 4:

Early Thursday the Washington Post’s lead headline read “Facebook: ‘Malicious actors’ used its tools to discover identities and collect data on a massive global scale”. It seems that personal data belonging to most of Facebook’s two-billion-odd users had been “scraped” and shared with outsiders.

Thursday evening NBC News was promoting an interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, scheduled to air during Friday’s Today Show. Sandberg says that users would have to pay to opt out of ads while also stating that user data is the lifeblood of Facebook’s service. First, I will pay, but not to Facebook. Second, if our data is Facebook’s lifeblood, why aren’t we the ones getting paid?

Day Five:

Today we learned that Facebook has deleted certain messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives via Facebook Messenger. The messages were removed from recipients’ inboxes. This option, of course, was not available to ordinary Facebook users, though the company now says it will be.

What was in those messages and why were they deleted?

“Unsending” a message is not a new idea, but it’s one that has largely been wishful thinking for most people, most of the time. Microsoft Outlook running within an organization on Microsoft Exchange, for example, allowed users to unsend messages which had not been read.

Once I worked for a large company where a disgruntled IT worker gained access to a high level user’s computer and aired his grievances with the entire organization. The message was especially critical of the chief information officer. The IT department scrambled to try to retrieve the mass mail. It was a spectacular disaster. While some unread copies of the message were deleted, if I recall correctly, the email system notified recipients that the sender wanted to recall the message. Nothing screams “Read this now!” quite like somebody important saying they don’t want you to read something they sent. The more the organization tried to limit the spread of the rogue message, the more widely it was shared.

Message to Mark Zuckerberg and his crew: what’s done is done. You can’t unsend or unsay. Yes, you can delete postings and messages and entire files and profiles, but you can’t turn back time.

It’s after 5 PM on Friday. Facebook has been in the headlines every day during a week when there was a lot of other stuff going on. Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the data scandal had no “meaningful impact” on the company.

It’s had a meaningful impact on me. I am happy to be off the platform. I don’t need to have every click recorded and analyzed for the sake of posting some thoughts online. I don’t need to be subjected to a barrage of ads intermingled with the random musings of hundreds of online acquaintances. I don’t need to be wired-in, 24 by 7, living on the Internet. I definitely don’t need to do business with a company I don’t trust. It had become a bad relationship and it needed to end.

It’s been refreshing to spend some quality time with my own thoughts and get some of them into words. I like the prospects for more of that.

There IS life after Facebook.

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