In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Do Not Disturb.”
So a month ago I deleted my facebook account.
I didn’t do it, because I found no merit in social media. On the contrary, I really liked the possibility to reach out to a lot of people, that I know. Some of them, I met only briefly, others a long time ago and some of them I meet on a daily basis, but for the social network it is all the same and that seemed to me as a good thing, it even does so now.
When I first posted about the intention to quit facebook, I got some nice and friendly comments, telling me, that my shared links will be missed. Also I worried about keeping in contact with distant friends who I seldom get to meet in person. Facebook at least kept the illusion, that I know what they are about.
My life is no real secret and I do not hesitate to use my real name on the profiles of the different online servieces that I use. While I do not think that the “I have nothing to hide”-philosophy is valid, because there is an important difference between having dangerous secrets and having some privacy, I do not really think that there is much of interest about me that would be worth spying upon.
With these thoughts, it might seem strange, that I wanted to get out of facebook once and for all (even after deleting the account it took some time until my name vanished from the network), so I would like to tell you my reasons.
The shortest explanation would be, that I read the articel “Get your loved ones off Facebook.“, but that would only provide common reasons and not really my own.
There is a political reason
Maybe it’s because I’m german and we have seen two governments who used secret spies as a means to subjugate their people in one century, maybe it is because I read to much dystopian science fiction when I was younger (you know, Orwell, Huxley, Samjatin and the like), but I never liked the idea of companies and governments spying on ordinary people. Many people seem to think that one of these is OK: some market liberalists say that the corporations will do us no harm when they spy on us, they will only be better equipped to sell us exectly the things we need and only the state is evil, while some others think that the state is there to protect it’s people from harm and has to have any information, that it wants to do it efficiantly, but that private information is no business to corporations who only use it to maximize their profits on the cost of ordinary people. But I think both is equally wrong. One of the foundations of modern states is that they limit their own power by issuing laws that bind them (only in writing this did I notice that this seems to be something from german law theory), called constitutions, that ensure the civil liberties of its people. The reason behind that seems to me to be that any agency that has to much unrestrained power, will be a threat to liberty. If that is the case, it applies to corporations also. So there might be a difference, but both options are equally bad. But in reality, there are no two different sides interested in collecting data. When a private corporation has some information, the governent, that rules the state, where this corporation resides will also have this information and governments on the other hand are known to share their data with other interested parties (for example the governments of the European Union).
And then there is the personal reason
While the political reasons I stated above would have been valid and reason enough to not use Facebook, I retained the illusion, that I had some amount of control over the data, that I allow others to have from me. I knew better of course, but it was a comfortable illusion. The most important part of the illusion was to think that I choose about my information and others about theirs, with everybody being responsible for their exposure or privacy. Of course that is false and it is so in two ways:
- You can not opt out: When someone posts a photo of a group of people, all the people will be found by facial recognition software, when someone registers and lets FB use his or her email adress book to find contacts, all the adresses will be processed, not only the ones connected to other facebook accounts. So you do not only share your data, but also your friends, relatives and workmates, without them even knowing.
- It’s not really about your intentional actions: The illusion to control about what is shared about me and what is not, is tied to the possible actions that this “social” network permits: posting texts, photos, links, liking webpages and status updates etc.. It is to easy to forget, that these are only the tip of the iceberg. Every visited webpage, that has the famous “Share on Facebook”-Button, will allow FB to gather a little bit more data about you and the people you know (without clicking the link), every single bit of data can be used in conjuction with other data to get to an even more complete transparent view.
So while I knew these things on a theoretical level, I ignored them for some time, until I read the article mentioned above, which does a good job of summarizing the problems with facebook. Reading this article made me feel somewhat similar to the feeling I had ten years ago after reading The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, there was no real new information, but the known information in concentrated form had the effect of stopping my comfortable illusion.
One valid thing to ask, when contemplating quitting Facebook is: are there any viable alternatives? To this question, the short answer will be “No”, but that is not the whole answer of course:
Facebook is so great for sharing things and staying in contact because everybody is there. Twitter might also be popular, but not in any way on the same level as Facebook. There are of course still other social networks, but they all have the same flaw: not enough people.
Decentralized Social Networks
One network, that I especially like is Diaspora*. It is a social network with the usual functions, but without a central corporations or even server, where all the data is stored. Instead it works across many different servers, if you like even on your own. Without a central control, there is no way someone could misuse that control. You can find me there under this adress: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A similar concept, but with a network that functions like Twitter is GNU social: no central server, but still one network. I am trying that also under this adress: quitter.se/doxanthropos. Of course it is possible to post to Twitter from GNU social.
Both have only a handful of users compared to Facebook and Twitter, but that may change and I would like to be part of that change.
Just using the Web
It has become so easy and common, to share thoughts, pictures, videos and stuff on social networks, that we forget that there is a whole world wide web out there. The tools to use it are there for anyone to use. For example bloghosters like WordPress.com and others of course.
That’s by the way another reason for me to blog.