I very quietly went on strike from Facebook recently. The news reported—for what feels like the 400th time but may officially only be the third major incident—that Facebook “accidentally” gave away private information. Not that the platform was hacked; that they “oops” let companies have access to photos, posts, and even direct messages that people had posted. Vast, unknowable amounts of information, and I’m supposed to believe that no one at Facebook realized it might be a bad thing to let companies have anything but a free-for-all. The company chafes at allowing users to actually control their privacy, then when we do, it “oops” gives it away. For millions of users.
So I just quietly stopped checking it. I didn’t say anything, just moved the app to a hard-to-reach folder on my phone to break myself of the habit, and stopped going (I’ve already stopped using the desktop site as the phone merges with my hand or at least my pocket, and I had never glommed on to the Messenger app).
I am an administrator on two groups, so I am unable to delete or otherwise hamper my personal account—Facebook doesn’t allow that, must keep your personal one going if you want any other kind of account at all. So I’m just going dark.
I figure I can’t stem the tide of the information that they already have on me, but at least I can stop feeding the habit.
(Sidenote: I have a friend who never got on Facebook, who is now gloating that she was right all along. But Facebook probably has a “shadow profile” for her anyway, as her friends have talked about her and posted pictures of her. She hasn’t stopped them from knowing about her or leaking her information, as she thinks…but at least she has helped stem the tide.)
But while I think this is the right decision, I’m frustrated, too. I joined Facebook when it was college-student-exclusive and called “TheFacebook.” It was a touchstoen and a great way to meet people. It was a way to keep in touch. Facebook is very good at two things that seem to be otherwise lacking in our increasingly digital-exclusive world: maintaining distant or passive social connections and organizing groups. Both things are proving hard even with Facebook’s influence, and may be treacherously hard without it.
For example, my cousins have never been very well-connected with me, but through Facebook I could see when they went on trips, or had new achievements in their lives. I could cheer them on from a distance, send a reassuring “like” or wish them happy birthday. Now, I’ll have to rely on that old-school technique: waiting for my mom to tell me a half-remembered snippet months later. It’s not a great swap.
I miss the old internet. Back before we all realized how cruel people could be, before countries had really gotten the hang of spreading lies and misinformation to harm other countries, before shitposting and cruel groups proliferated, it feels like there was this golden era of interest groups. I made genuine friends over some forums; sometimes we crossed over and sent real gifts. I even went to London and stayed for a week with a friend I otherwise knew exclusively through an internet forum (he is a dear man, and I am forever grateful he let me disrupt his life for a week!).
It doesn’t feel as likely for that to happen now. Several of those types of forums have closed forever, and the replacements—Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit—all seem far more surface-dwelling. The user bases are wide and so not very deep.
And here I am pulling away from those replacements, too. Will I be the only one still in the non-digital space, trying to meet people, connect, arrange groups? Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t want to be complicit in the wholesale theft of the information that is integral to who I am. So I have no choice but to leave the door open only the slightest of cracks, and do my best to muddle through.