Why I’m Quitting Facebook
The threat to leave the almost ubiquitous platform of Facebook is practically a meme in of itself – but this time, I mean it. I’m getting off Facebook for good.
I joined Facebook just before my 18th birthday . I was a slightly nerdy and older millennial, and the internet of my childhood had been LiveJournal for my terrible Jane Austen fanfic and Myspace – with the much missed and beloved MSN messenger as my main communication method with friends. In her book ‘Because Internet’ author Gretchen McCulloch would classify me as part of the ‘Full Internet People’ thanks to my entry to the internet being these (now outdated) platforms.
I acquired an account in 2007 – three years after the site was founded, and only a year after it was opened to the general public (when it was initially created it was restricted to users with verified University email addresses). As you can see from the graph below, the site saw a huge explosion of users after it removed conditions on who could join.
At 27 I hit a bump in my relationship with the social media titan: I got divorced. In 2015 Facebook launched ‘On this day’ posts, which in 2018 were updated with Facebook ‘Memories’. I found the constant prompts about holidays, engagement announcements, wedding photos and so on very distressing. I was also suddenly aware of the enormous crossover of my digital footprint and my ex’s – we had shared friends, were tagged in photos together, were in groups and chats together. I made a decision to have a complete fresh start – I created a new account and permanently deleted the old one. This was a healing moment for me, a way to be rid of the digital hangover of my unhappy relationship.
Since beginning my new profile I was much more judicious about what information I shared, and how. While going ‘Facebook official’ used to be a key relationship milestone, I have never since had a relationship status. Academic research on use of this feature is thin, but a survey by Buzzfeed of 80,000 individuals found 40% of those in their twenties wouldn’t use the relationship status feature. Google Trends demonstrates the instances of search terms for ‘Facebook official’ – which peaks around the end of 2012 and gradually tails off from there.
So my relationship changed with Facebook, as did many others. But why am I choosing to get out now?
Enter: the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica were, until 2018, a little known political consultancy firm, or as one of their former employees called it a “psychological warfare firm”. Journalist Carole Cadwalladr first broke the story of how this business used our data to warp democracy and delivered two of the biggest political upsets of the last 10 years: Donald Trump and Brexit.
The firm had worked directly with both the American Republican Party and the ‘Leave’ campaign. The secret to their success? Data – and tons of it. They claimed to have thousands of data points on all 240,000,000 of the American electorate. They harvested it from various sources – some by purchasing data sets, some from Facebook itself and some from a ‘personality quiz’ which harvested the data of both participants and their Facebook friends from their profiles. In December 2019 the parent company of the firm pled guilty to illegally ignoring requests to provide US citizen David Caroll with a copy of the data it held on him. They were fined just £15,000 – the court heard how the firm made a profit of $2.3 million in 2016. They will be facing further legal claims, and so far Facebook has been fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for their role in the scandal in the US.
The scandal continues to rumble on – the Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack’ gives a chilling in depth look at how it impacted the US election in particular. We now know that Facebook set up shop within the Trump campaign’s headquarters, with Facebook staff working side-by-side with his team.
One of the greatest myths that social media managed to spread was that we, as users of Facebook, are in control of our data. It is our right and responsibility to post sensibly, to be aware of who is watching online – that the only surveillance we need to worry about on Facebook is the ‘social surveillance‘ of our connections. It turns out that we should have been watching for Big Brother all along, rather than being worried about protecting our ‘personal brand’.
That was then, this is now
We will hopefully see further legal repercussions for the actions of Cambridge Analytica. Their reach extended beyond the English speaking world – in fact, it seems they may have been involved with the election of President Duterte in the Philippines, who has encouraged citizens to slay drug addicts and has this month pardoned a US marine who killed a trans woman. The firm has effectively collapsed in the wake of the various scandals they have been held to account for.
Facebook, however, continues to grow. In June 2016 an internal Facebook memo was leaked, authored by Facebook Vice President Andrew Bosworth. Bosworth explained that as he believed connecting people was inherently good, growth at any cost was acceptable. He went on to say:
“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”
Since 2016 Facebook has been involved in a number of privacy scandals.
This month in San Francisco it has been accused of using our phone’s cameras and microphones to monitor us through it’s Instagram and Facebook apps on phones. In July it offered to settle a class action lawsuit in the US on it’s use of AI facial recognition technology for $650 million.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO has faced criticism from the media and his own staff for his decision on how to handle a post by Donald Trump that other social media sites removed for inciting violence. Zuckerberg has also been under fire for the response to the Kenosha Guard group who made open calls to arms in Wisconsin. Despite the group being reported several times for inciting violence it was left up by moderators. 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse went on to kill two civilians in Kenosha, leading to the group being shut down. In a heated internal meeting, which Facebook later released as a video, an employee asked the CEO:
“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate filled bile to spread across our services?”
QAnon – a far-right conspiracy cult which worships Trump and has been banned from Reddit – has found a new home on Facebook. The Proud Boys, a violent neo-Nazi militia group, promoted it’s rally on Facebook. Facebook approved and then later removed a Trump campaign advert after users highlighted it’s use of a Nazi hate symbol.
In a recent interview with Axios, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, denied that Facebook had become a “rightwing echo chamber” and was asked:
“How worried are you that history will record Facebook as an accelerant of social destruction?”
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem particularly worried – in fact he flipped the blame back on traditional “gate keepers”. But I am very worried. So worried I can no longer be complicit in providing my data to a company with this track record around human rights. I have permanently deleted my account – I invite you to think if you need yours too.