My breaking point came over the summer of 2018. A series of
events happened that made me realize I could not morally justify being on
Facebook any longer:
- The Cambridge
Analytica scandal and realizing Facebook’s role in eroding
- Learning that the massacre of the Rohingya
people was fueled and encouraged by
fake news on Facebook and Facebook’s inadequate response to genocide.
- Facebook refused to take down videos
of child abuse even after they were reported multiple times.
I don’t know about you, but when child abuse, genocide and
upending democracies are the side-effects of a company’s business model, I can’t
continue to engage with that company if I want to sleep at night. The only way
to take a stand against Facebook was to stop giving them the one thing they
need to survive – personal data and information.
I admit that even knowing these disturbing truths about
Facebook, it wasn’t easy to leave. I did not immediately jump on the #deletefacebook
trend after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Deleting Facebook would feel like
deleting my life. All my friends and family are there. At least a decade of my
life is housed there. I promote my business and my writing there. Let’s say I
had an intense case of FOMO (fear of missing out) that kept me clinging to
Facebook even though some of their practices made me literally sick to my
For me, leaving Facebook started with a baby step. I deleted
the app from my phone. I assumed my productivity would improve once I stopped
checking Facebook notifications hundreds of times per day, and it did. What I
didn’t expect was how much better I felt mentally. I didn’t realize how
stressful it was to be constantly looking at angry banter or memes meant to
make me feel outrage at one thing or another. But not viewing negative news,
outraged posts and angry attacks across people’s pages was like lifting an iron
blanket off my psyche. I slept better at night. I was less agitated during the
day, and I started being a kinder person.
Oh sure, there were some fun times on Facebook and some
funny videos and memes that made me laugh. (I will always be grateful for the
“If Google was a Guy” video series.) But I didn’t realize the mental toll all
the bad was taking on me. So, I took the next step and de-activated my account.
De-activation is the pre-#deletefacebook step. You get to try out life without
Facebook, but you have the safety net that all your data is still there if you
want to reactivate the account.
I changed my Facebook status to let everyone know I would be
leaving Facebook on a specific date. I gave reminders and countdowns to the
final day. During that time, I downloaded
all my Facebook data so I wouldn’t lose all the photos and videos I
had posted over the years.
On D-Day, I de-activated my Facebook account. That’s when
things got interesting. There are numerous apps that I thought I had
disconnected from Facebook, but apparently, they don’t really disconnect. When
I signed onto my Airbnb app, I immediately got a notice from Facebook that I
had reactivated my account. Whoa! I didn’t mean to do that. Airbnb did it for
me. So, I had to re-do the disconnection and in the end, create a new ID for
Airbnb to fully disconnect from Facebook. To this day, I can’t use Airbnb
without it pushing me to re-connect with Facebook.
Over the past couple
of years, I’d noticed that I could no longer sit and write for extended periods
of time, which is concerning since writing is my profession. I was constantly
distracted by my phone or with my Facebook page online. After being off
Facebook for a week, I was able to concentrate for more extended periods. Sure,
it took time for my brain to accept that no one was “liking” me online or
“commenting” on something witty and brilliant I said. In fact, no one would
know the genius of my Facebook posts ever again.
Which brings me to the other thing I had to face –
narcissism. I used to take selfies and post pictures of my every move. Why? Was
I really delusional enough to believe everyone really wanted that much
information on my daily life, or let’s face it, my fake daily life because we
all know Facebook is really Fakebook. Only the good pictures get posted.
Rest assured, people won’t forget you if you’re not on
social media. I may not see updates every day, but my friends and I have
returned to the old-fashioned way of communicating. We speak on text or pick up
the phone and call each other. I haven’t missed any important news. I have not
lost touch with friends and family. In fact, people proactively schedule lunches
or dinners with me now, which I’d much prefer to a Facebook post.
Honestly, I was surprised to find that I haven’t been even tempted
to go back on Facebook. In September, when I heard of the latest Facebook
data breach, I was relieved that I’d left the platform. In November,
when I learned of a
child bride being auctioned on Facebook, I was proud to not be supporting
a site where such hideous activities could take place. During the mid-term
elections, I couldn’t have been happier to be off Facebook. All that stress of
the election season is mostly brought on by social media spats. I missed all of
it. Instead of reading memes and posts, I took the time to research the candidates
and measures. I used Ballotpedia to get an overview of all the ballot measures
as well as the candidates. I haven’t had such a stress-free election cycle in a
Just last month, I read about another new side-effect of the
Facebook business (and Google) – the AI-generated deepfake
porn which takes photos from Facebook or Google and generates a very
realistic porn video with your face on some actor’s body. The creators then
blackmail you for money by threatening to send it to your family, friends,
employers. But I suspect there will be new applications for deepfake videos,
such as political candidates creating fake videos of their opponents saying
hideous things or deepfake videos of people supposedly committing crimes. Soon,
the truth will be something we used to know, but can never quite capture
anymore, thanks to Facebook and Google.
I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m not still being
tracked. That ship has sailed. Facebook uses
profiles to collect data on users without their permission. That means Facebook
could still get my personal information through
my friends without me even having a Facebook account. Even if we put
in GDPR-like rules that say we have the right to be forgotten, the technology
is not that simple. You can’t take back algorithms that have already
incorporated your behavioral data. The times I uploaded my pictures and tagged
them allowed Amazon, Facebook and Google to build facial recognition algorithms
that have been sold
to governments, retailers, law enforcement and who knows who else. I
can’t undo that algorithm. But I can make it hard for Facebook and Google to
learn new things about me and trade on that information.
Don’t get me wrong. I value technology. I work in the
technology industry. Tech has done a lot of good. But the bad goes completely
unchecked. In no other industry are companies given a free pass to do whatever
they want without consequence or oversight. If a terrorist blows up a plane,
was it the airline’s fault? The terrorist did it, after all. That’s Facebook’s
argument. They didn’t sell a human being on their platform. Some evil person
did, so it’s not their fault. But in the airplane scenario, the airline must
take measures to ensure that plane is safe or go out of business. When it comes
to Facebook and the tech giants in general, there is no accountability for the
damage their products cause. It’s high time the tech industry disrupted itself
and incorporated moral intelligence into its technology design thinking. But
I’m not holding my breath.
So here is my New Year’s challenge to you. Try quitting
Facebook. Delete the app from your phone. Then, de-activate your account. See
what your life is like without it for just two weeks. Like any new diet or
exercise regimen, there’s an adjustment period but, in the end, you’ll feel healthier
and stronger. Ask your closest friends to join you on a safe platform like Idka
where there are no bots, trolls or ads collecting and reselling your
information. If your life doesn’t improve without Facebook, reactivate your account.
But I think you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.
If enough of us take this challenge, maybe Facebook will put as much development resources into fixing its platform as it did when it created a privacy gulping beast. Until then, I will vigilantly protect my identity online by using encrypted products like Duckduckgo (a replacement for Chrome) and Idka.