Leaving Facebook

Exodus Complete

Yesterday was January 12, 2020, the day my Facebook account became unrecoverable after a thirty-day purgatory, beginning with my deletion request on December 13, 2019. So I did it! Thanks to readers who have followed along with me through this process and thanks especially to Wade Roush who set an example to follow, and who gave me the chance to participate in an episode of his Soonish podcast on leaving Facebook.

So what am I going to spend my time trying to extricate myself from now that I don’t have Facebook to struggle with? Well there’s no shortage of things, but my eyes are on my cell phone. Wouldn’t it be nice if data brokers hadn’t captured my location history over the past decade, didn’t know every place I’ve been and how long I’ve spent there, weren’t profiting from this extreme privacy invasion, weren’t applying the stolen data to opaque purposes, and weren’t still collecting it with impunity? How do I know my location information has been compromised? Well, I don’t really, because there’s no way to find out who might have it, so there’s no way to see what they have, and there’s no way to ask for it back. But my freaking out is not unprompted. I was persuaded to freak out by the One Nation Tracked series in the New York Times where they show how data brokers have amassed enough location pings from “leaky” mobile apps that it’s possible to track the minute-by-minute whereabouts of secret service agents and senior pentagon officials and celebrities, not just folks like me. They talk about how this data, bought and sold by political campaigns, governments, and malicious actors could be used for blackmail, election influence, and other stuff that compromises democratic life. So you might want to read the article. I’ve been keeping my phone in airplane mode more often, and otherwise trying to keep location services off, with no illusions that this will make a dent in the problem — but it makes me feel good!

 

 

Leaving Facebook

Exodus Almost Complete

Imagine I told you that I could flat-out solve the problem of staying in touch with the people you care about? I know that you know hundreds of people from different times in your life, and I know that you can’t keep track of their contact information, let alone find time to check in with them periodically. Well I’m going to make it easy for you; I’ll take all the work out of it. I’ll apply my secret powers to serve you as your one and only social information broker. I’ll make information about your friends’ lives flow to you, and I’ll make information about your life flow to them. It’ll be great. You’ll know what they’re up to, all the time, and they’ll know what you’re up to, all the time. But there’s a catch. Without explicitly requiring it, I’m going to encourage you to check in with me a few dozen times a day. Without explicitly demanding it, I’m going to persuade you to dedicate hours and hours of your week to me. And while you’re coming to me for information about your friends, I’m going to show you a few advertisements and notifications. Yes, I’ll let you know how your college classmate’s cancer treatment is going (second round of chemo for Stage IV cancer) but before I tell you that, I’m going to ask you if you want to buy a wristwatch, and after I tell you that I’m going to see if you’re interested in taking a trip to the Bahamas. I’m going to tell you about the death of a beloved former co-worker (tragic heart attack while on vacation) and give you a chance to say something about it, but while you’re grieving, I’m going to flash some notifications in your face (a few people are sending you messages right now, someone else “likes” a joke you made earlier, and I’m still wondering if you want to buy that wristwatch or go to the Bahamas). I’m going to give you a chance to read a friend’s review of a fascinating book about the future of democracy, but while you’re reading that thoughtful and lengthy review, I’m going to give you the opportunity to watch a video of a boxing match, if you prefer; or a video of some models on a catwalk, if you prefer; or a video of cats being silly, if you prefer. I’m going to show you a photo of a beautiful cake that your loving grandmother just baked, but before and after I do that, I’m going to show you some hateful and false things a few of your friends are saying (meanwhile, I hope you’ll consider that wristwatch). And as all this is happening, I’m going to keep careful notes about everything you do and say in my presence. Every time you ask me for more information about something, I’ll make a note of it. Every time you react to something I showed you, I’ll make a note of it. Every time you say something to a friend through me as your broker, I’ll make a note of it. I’m going to take all those notes about you and sell them to some friends of my own who are very curious about you, but don’t worry about them, I assure you they have your best interests at heart. Are you interested in that wristwatch, by any chance?

That’s why I left Facebook. I closed my account on Dec 13, 2019, two days after my Farewell, Facebook post. I was going to keep it open for a few more days but a friend posted a playful comment questioning whether I was really going to leave. I took this as a challenge. Of course, Facebook tries its best to lure users back and doesn’t make an account deletion permanent for thirty days. So I’m still in purgatory as I type this. That’ll end on Jan 12, 2020.

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Addendum: the reason why I chose to use a wristwatch ad as an example in this post is because I recently learned the tongue-twister “I wish to wash my Irish wristwatch” and challenged a friend to say it. Shortly after he said it aloud, he started seeing Facebook mobile ads for wristwatches, for the very first time. This suggests a new tongue-twister:

I wish to wish to wash my Irish wristwatch, risking not my wishing’s watched.

 

Leaving Facebook

Farewell, Facebook

Dear Friends,

If we were connected on Facebook, I will miss our connection there.

Some of you might remember that my New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to permanently end the exploitative relationship that I’ve had with Mark Zuckerberg since 2009 (hint: I’m not the one who’s been doing the exploiting). I gave myself until December 31, 2019 to close my Facebook account, and that date is rapidly approaching.

I will honor the resolution in the coming days. I will do so with great relief, but also with a sense of loss. I’ll be losing a way to stay in touch with many of the people I care about most, and a way to connect with many of those I’d like to know better. Perhaps I will be losing more than I gain, and certainly it would be easier to cop out and keep my account open, but that’s where resolutions come in handy, and I know I made this one for good reasons.

I’ve been preparing for a while. I’ve seen a lot of people get fed up with Facebook and abruptly close their accounts, an action that I fully understand and support. But I wanted to be more deliberate about my own departure. I wanted to take some time to review my decade of Facebook history, clear it out post by post, and try to preserve a bit of it here on this blog. You can find much of my old Facebook material by clicking here (all of it all has the #facebook tag). I’ve also written a bunch of posts about my departure process. These posts can be found in the Leaving Facebook category on this blog.

How to stay in touch? Since you’re reading this blog, you can of course message or follow me here on WordPress. I have a gmail account and my address follows the format first.last@gmail.com — send me a note. I’ve created an account on MeWe. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it, but it’s there. I’m @rudiseitz on twitter. My music is up on my Bandcamp page and there are a few other tracks on my soundcloud. I’ve got some random photos up on my flickr and a few videos on my youtube. I contribute limericks to OEDILF under the username Rudi, and I once founded a wordplay website called Quadrivial Quandary that’s now somewhat dormant and awaiting a revival. That’s my online presence in a nutshell. I live in East Boston, MA, USA overlooking Boston Harbor and listening to planes take off and land at Logan Airport. If you don’t know me: I’m a self-employed software developer and musician.

Facebook has given me a lot. Thinking only of my musical life, there’s so much. It was through Facebook that I met the collaborator who would perform my canons on harpsichord and clavichord. It was through Facebook that I learned about a Dhrupad retreat with Pandit Nirmalya Dey that I attended in India, leading later to the maestro’s performance in Boston. It was through Facebook that I learned about a workshop on composing with Indian percussion that led me to write a concerto for tabla. And it was through Facebook that I heard of the New England Songwriter’s Retreat with Ellis Paul, the event that made me realize I want to be a songwriter.

Facebook is where I’ve connected with friends and classmates from my distant past and in some cases, where I’ve received in disbelief the first announcement that someone I cared about had passed away. Facebook is where I’ve gotten to witness my friends brainstorming, quipping, sharing intimate thoughts, details of their recent meals, travel adventures, reactions to world events, advice on life and where to get a good drink. Facebook is where I’ve come across the best articles, the best music clips, the best local events. Facebook is where I’ve followed some great and inspiring activism like Warren Senders’ Man With A Sign project to raise awareness about climate change.

But I became paralyzed on Facebook. I couldn’t post anymore without thinking about how my data was being collected, packaged, monetized in ways not transparent. I couldn’t click the “like” button without thinking about how my likes were helping Facebook build a better profile of me, not for my own benefit but for that of third parties unknown to me. I couldn’t scroll around without remembering that Facebook tracks my mouse movements. I couldn’t give myself to Facebook without thinking about how the platform has become a conduit for misinformation and hate. I stopped posting, but I kept reading. And yet it didn’t feel right to see my friends pour their hearts out there while I remained silent, too suspicious of the platform to engage with even their most impassioned posts. It was time for me to leave. It is time for me to leave. I’ve written about this here and I spoke about it in an episode of the Soonish podcast with journalist Wade Roush, who left Facebook earlier this year and inspired my own departure.

There’s got to be a better way for humans to experience connection and community in the digital age. A better way than the one Mark Zuckerberg has sold us. Here’s to finding it.

Rudi

 

trail-blaze.png

I started photographing trail blazes a while back. As I looked for an image to accompany this post, the one above struck me as right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Facebook

For Bloggers: How To Leave Facebook

One of the hurdles you encounter in leaving Facebook is figuring out what to do with all the content you’ve accumulated there over the years. If you have a blog, the answer is simple: move your Facebook content to your blog. But maybe it’s not that simple, because you still have to review all your old posts, decide which ones to keep, and then figure out where they belong on your blog, how to handle discussion threads, and so on. I’m going through this process right now, and here are some strategies I’ve come across that might be helpful:

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Leaving Facebook

Facebook Miscellany

One of the purposes Facebook served for me over the years was to be the place where I could share little observations, quips, links, and other things that I had no where else to put. It was my repository of miscellania, and my discussion group for the same. Now, as I clear out my Facebook account, I’m converting my most memorable Facebook posts into entries here on my blog. But what to do with all the material that doesn’t seem weighty enough for a blog post? The idea of discarding all that stuff makes me sad, even though I’m not convinced it has much value when taken outside its original context on Facebook.

I’ve found comfort in the idea of gathering my remaining Facebook scraps (I say “remaining” because I’ve already deleted much of my Facebook content over the years in previous attempts to escape) into a little anthology that I’ll publish here on my blog. Hence what follows is a selection of random bits and bobs from Facebook that have stuck around.

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Leaving Facebook

First Post

Looking over my earliest Facebook posts I find one from October 22, 2009 where I wrote that I “stumbled into a Daumier exhibition at the Boston Public Library and saw the most vivid depiction of a headache ever rendered.” It wasn’t technically my first post but it was the first that received any comment, and in a way it was my introduction to the promise of social media. Before I became active on Facebook I would have expected that only a small fraction of my contacts, the ones with the most bookish inclinations, would want to hear about a nineteenth-century lithograph that I had seen in a library. If I chose to share a Daumier image with anyone, it would have been someone I thought of as an art history buff: no one else would care, I assumed. But when I posted this image on Facebook, the museophiles among my friends ignored it while some acquaintances I considered to be pop culture mavens found it hilarious. Suddenly I was having a conversation about a kind of thing I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss, with friends I hadn’t known would care. It was slightly thrilling, and it was a little reminder for me of a big lesson: to not assume how others will respond to an image, an idea, a piece of music, anything, and to not expect people to conform to whatever categories I might have assigned them. And it was the first moment when I saw the potential of Facebook and other social media to change my life, allowing me to not only share my own observations more freely, but to discover unexpected points of common interest, helping me know people better and feel more connected to my friends and the world at large. All I had to do, it seemed, was keep sharing Daumiers! Ten years later, the practice of instantly broadcasting any random tidbit one encounters has become so standard that it’s startling to remember a time when I would have hesitated to post this image for fear that no one would care. (Now the question would be: what hashtag should I choose and what group should I share it in to get the most likes?) But ten years later, has the promise of knowing people better and feeling more connected been borne out? I can now bump into someone I’ve only met once or twice and I can recall that I’ve been seeing his food pictures on Facebook for the past five years and that he had spaghetti last night and that his aunt recently passed away. I can also recall that he’s one of those people who has two thousand friends on Facebook and I’ve never liked one of his posts so he probably doesn’t even know that we’re connected there. Do I feel closer to this person and are we more likely to get into an in-person conversation because I have data on him, as if acquired by surveillance, and he might have the same on me? Certainly Facebook isn’t all bad and it isn’t all good. The point of resurrecting one of my earliest Facebook posts is just to remember a time when it seemed that Facebook could become something amazingly wonderful and transformative, so I’ll leave it at that.

L0019753 Devils besiege a man's head; symbolising headache. Lithograp

Credit: Wellcome Library, London, via Wikimedia Commons.

Earth, Leaving Facebook

Window Insulation

If you asked me which topic I care most about, music, photography, or window insulation, I would list them in that same order, with window insulation being in a very, very distant third place. But if you asked me to identify the Facebook post of mine from the past ten years that has given me the greatest personal satisfaction, I would probably pick this post from 2014 about window insulation. It was satisfying because it had a result: in the weeks after I posted it, I learned that a handful of friends and acquaintances, including many who never liked or commented on the post, had seen it and had proceeded to insulate their windows because of it. Think about it, there could be cold air streaming through crevices in your windows right now, keeping your heating system in high gear and leading to unnecessary carbon pollution in a time when the existential threat of climate change is coming into ever clearer focus, and you can stop it (the air, at least) with some plastic and some tape.

January 7, 2014

I’m inspired to make a rare public service announcement. With this week’s weather in the U.S. you will definitely know if you have drafty windows. Insulate them! I did 3 of our leakiest windows at the beginning of the season and just completed another 5 last night (it took around an hour). The kits by 3M and Frost King are under $20 for five average-size windows and you’re likely to save many times that amount in heating costs. I can confirm that both products work as advertised, though 3M’s plastic looks clearer to me. I don’t want to presume that you haven’t already considered this, but in case you require a nudge to action, here it is.

 

 

Leaving Facebook, Life

Leaving Facebook

I’ve been on Facebook for ten years now and this year will be my last. Instead of closing my account all at once, I’ve chosen to go through a deliberate process of reviewing old posts, commenting on a few of them, copying some of them to my blog, and gradually reducing my Facebook content to zero. When I see an old post that had received a lot of likes and comments from friends, I feel some reluctance to vaporize the material without saying a final “thank you” to those who had engaged with it, even though I know that with a torrent of new posts constantly arriving in their feeds, most of my friends will not be particularly concerned by the disappearance of something they had seen five years ago. The posts that never received any likes are the easiest for me to delete because I figure that no one cared about them in the first place. But seeing these rejects, these items that went unacknowledged, or that Facebook’s algorithm simply never chose to show to anyone, seeing them reminds me of the basic quandary of being on social media. Whatever selfless motivation I might have had to share an interesting tidbit with my friends, thinking they would enjoy or otherwise benefit from it, the act of sharing it on Facebook inevitably caused my ego to entwine itself with the outcome. While I never expressed any particular concern for likes, and while I might have told myself they weren’t important, I always secretly wanted them and I always expected to get at least a few of them, and when one of my posts received no response at all I was always disappointed. It is unsurprising that I, along with so many other users, would develop a fixation on likes given that “liking” is one of the main things you can do on Facebook, people there are constantly asking for likes and thanking each other for likes, and Facebook is constantly tallying likes and beeping about likes and flashing notifications about likes so as to train you to crave them and believe in their urgency. (I knew I had a problem when I was out hiking with a friend and he took a snapshot of a scenic vista. I said “That vista is worth fifty to seventy-five likes.” It was sort of a joke, sort of not.) But whenever one of my posts did receive a lot of likes I can’t say I felt any deep satisfaction. What I felt was a combination of relief in not being ignored and a greed in watching, waiting, checking, and checking again to see how many more likes would come in. Would this post break my record of 80 likes and 60 comments and 10 shares? I don’t mean to discount the joy of seeing a thoughtful comment from a friend I hadn’t spoken with in a while, or the value of learning something new from an acquaintance who was willing to challenge something I said, or the satisfaction of knowing that people I cared about all over the world were appreciating what I had shared, and I certainly don’t mean to discount what they shared, and how many pieces of art, music, and writing, how many cooking ideas, how many local events, how many jokes and cartoons and quips I got to enjoy because they offered them up. I just mean that these feelings of connection and community, while present and real, were often eclipsed by darker feelings: by a sense of frustration at the arbitrariness of how attention is distributed on Facebook and by a grim recognition that even when a post “succeeded” in the social media sense of achieving high engagement, something in the experience was missing. Failure was disappointing but success was also disappointing. Did I simply want too much from Facebook? It occurs to me that social reality has always been a crapshoot. Way before Facebook was even conceivable, it was true that frivolous things sometimes received undue attention from society, and valuable things were sometimes inexplicably ignored. You could go to a cocktail party, fail to strike up a conversation, and feel disappointed on returning home, or you could strike up a dozen conversations and still come away with the sense that people talked at you without listening to you, and feel disappointed on returning home; but every once in a while you might go to a cocktail party and strike up one really deep and satisfying conversation, and feel energized on returning home, or strike up a dozen light, quick conversations that were nevertheless rewarding, and feel energized on returning home. So how is Facebook any different? Much of the time, Facebook sucks, but being there creates the possibility of interactions that can often be fun and might occasionally be wonderful. If there are pros and cons to Facebook, the same is true of any other social context, so why not embrace Facebook as an available tool, one of many? There are three reasons why I have to leave. The first reason is that the level of intellectual contortion necessary to maintain my self-respect while gifting my time and data to an unethical corporation has grown, with every new breach, too extreme to sustain, but that’s a digression because I haven’t really been talking about Facebook’s business practices in this essay. The second reason is that no matter how much I might want to consider Facebook as just one social context among many, it is hyperstimulating in a way that crowds the others out. It’s the place where I’m connected to the most people, where I’m most likely to receive quick feedback on what I say, and where the news comes to me the fastest. There’s no party or club or other real-world social arena that can match it in scope. While I might try to restrict my time on Facebook and downplay its value in my life, Facebook always coaxes me back into accepting it as the locus of social reality. And while it might seem that a craving for attention is my own problem to resolve, not one that Facebook created, I think Facebook greatly exacerbates the problem in its role as an inscrutable and manipulative attention broker. The third reason is that Facebook has made me into an unresponsive friend. It’s only fair that I reciprocate the attention my friends give me on Facebook, right? If I’m hoping for likes and comments when I post something, I should do the same for my friends, and indeed there’s much in what they post that I greatly admire and enjoy. But whenever I’m tempted to react to something I see on Facebook, I can’t get it out of my mind that reacting is what Facebook wants me to do, since my reaction is a piece of data that can be sold or fed into algorithms to increase advertising revenue, and can be broadcast to other users to increase engagement. I’m torn between wanting to recognize my friends’ material and wanting to defy the wishes of surveillance capitalism. Call me old fashioned, but I’d like to be able to socialize without my every interaction being tracked and monetized. Of course, people have been raising this objection for years. Most of the friends I have on Facebook would agree that yes, the company is deeply problematic, and no, it should not get to own our social lives, but they keep using Facebook, just as I’ve done for ten years. Things are not going to get better there though. If you really agree that Facebook should not get to own your social life then you have to quit Facebook. I wish the answer were more comfortingly nuanced and soothingly relative, but it’s simple and clear.

rudiseitzflight

Leaving Facebook, Life

2019 Resolution: Leave Facebook

My resolution for 2019 is to permanently leave Facebook. I’m giving myself an absolute deadline of December 31, 2019 to do this, but I’m hoping to achieve it sooner. I say “achieve” because it’s going to be hard. I don’t want to lose my connection to my friends but I can’t maintain my self-respect if I stay.

It’s been said that leaving Facebook is an ineffective form of protest because Facebook doesn’t need any particular user. Leaving Facebook hurts the departing user more than it hurts Facebook.

I look at it differently. The power you wield when you leave Facebook is more than the power to deprive Facebook of your own future content stream. It is the power to help others make the same decision. The reason we’re all on Facebook is because all our friends are there. Your friends are the bonds that hold you in place. If fewer of your friends were there it would be easier for you to leave. So, when you make the decision to leave, you’re paving the way for your friends to do likewise in the future. This is not to say that enabling your friends to leave should be your primary reason for leaving, but just that it is a powerful consequence of your choice.

What if you’re not ready to leave? I would offer this New Year’s message: Be faithful to the people in your life, but please cheat on corporations; specifically, please cheat on Facebook. Let me explain by asking you a question.

Is Facebook the only place online where you offer your favorite recipes, your music recommendations, your travel photos? Is Facebook the one giant corporation to which you contribute your wit, wisdom, and humor? Is Facebook the only advertising behemoth with which you share your dinner plans and your deepest secrets? Is Facebook the only place online where I could go to find out what’s happening with you, what’s important to you, what’s funny to you?

If the answer is yes, my next question is why does Facebook deserve your fidelity? Why have you let yourself enter into a one-way exclusive relationship with Mark Zuckerberg’s profit engine where it receives everything you’ve got while only pretending to keep a reciprocal commitment to you, to your privacy, security, and well-being?

If you’re not ready to leave Facebook yet, at least consider playing around with other platforms. Next time it seems to you that the easiest way to share a thought is to post it on Facebook, try tweeting it. Maybe start a personal blog. Want to share a photo? Experiment with a photo-sharing site other than Facebook or Instagram.

You don’t have to leave Facebook to take action towards reducing its grip on all of us. You can do that by avoiding one-sided monogamy with Facebook. You can do that by turning to Facebook less, depending on it less, and sharing outside it more.

I’ll be delighted if you join me in leaving Facebook this year. I hope you’ll copy my New Year’s resolution. But for those who aren’t ready to leave, please resolve to start cheating on Facebook in 2019 if you aren’t doing that already. Meanwhile, stay good and true to the people in your life – they’re the ones who deserve your faith. Happy new year!

See also: The Myth of the Guarded Facebook User

Leaving Facebook, Society

The Myth of the Guarded Facebook User

When I heard that Wade Roush is planning to leave Facebook, I took note. Wade is a veteran technology journalist and the host of the podcast Soonish. He is not the first person to take a stand against Facebook, but when someone who follows technology and thinks about the future as a profession makes such a decision, it’s a big deal. Wade’s announcement reminded me of my own plan to get off Facebook, a plan that’s been in the works for, oh, five years now. It made me wonder if there’s anything I can contribute to the “Fexit” discussion, so I’ll explore that here.

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