In light of the alarmingly high number of news reports on privacy violations, data breaches, and scandals à la Cambridge Analytica, I am convinced that many people are as outraged as I am, by what they’ve seen. Whenever you read shocking — yet unsurprising — headlines like “Another Facebook privacy scandal — 3 million users’ data exposed by quiz”
or “Facebook’s 2-Factor Authentication With A Phone Number Isn’t Only For Security, It’s Used For Ads”, you cannot help but notice that irritating, little voice in your head saying :
“You do realize you are on Facebook yourself, don’t you?”.We read those articles, we watch the news, we share the most terrifying of them on — you guessed it — social media, and then we…we what? Usually, after we’ve thrown a brief tantrum, followed by lamenting about how we’re being abused by the big tech companies and our personal data gets sold to the highest bidder with our best friends over coffee, we take the train home and we get bored i-n-s-t-a-n-t-l-y. Whereupon we trivially produce our smartphones and clandestinely start launching our various social media profiles to combat the tedium of a never ending 7-minute ride home. I have been there — more than once — and every single time I could not help but feel a certain uncomfortably nagging feeling in my gut: conflict.I was enraged about how little respect Facebook has for their users and their data, especially since I am an adamant advocate for privacy and personal data autonomy. Even though I am not part of the “I don’t care who watches, I ain’t got nothing to hide!” crowd, I still use(d) social media. Constantly and fervently I retweeted anything related to the data breeches and leaks of all the major tech and social media companies. (That is, until Twitter had locked me out of my account for the 5th time for NO reason. I cannot access my profile anymore because I stubbornly refuse to give them my cell number to “verify” my account. This makes Twitter the social media equivalent of that creepy, overly confident guy at the gym with the smelly breath and ghastly fashion sense who keeps asking for “your digits, baby” — But that’s a story for another day.)
[Photo titled: “Ire-inspired feminist punching Zuckerturd in the Facebook.”]
One of the latest videos about privacy policies that I’d watched was one by privacy consultant and advocate for digital rights: Dylan Curran (dylancurran.net @iamdylancurran). His new series of privacy reviews is great, because those short and concise videos give you all the information you need about how exactly the world’s most popular tech companies (ab)use your personal data. Watching the privacy review on Facebook will make you cringe and I claim that no individual in her or his right mind could confidently state that these policies and practices are justifiable or ethical in any way. Here’s the link to the video about Facebook:
No one has the time to or cares about reading those hundreds of pages of “privacy policies” that apply to the various services we’re using. According to an article by The Atlantic from 2012:
“Reading the Privacy Policies You Encounter in a Year Would Take 76 Work Days”.
However, after all that I had read and watching Dylan’s review, the lack of personal congruence ultimately became too intense and I decided that I’d finally had enough of my Nr.1 target of Internet related ire: Facebook. I had wanted to do this for a long time already, since the very beginning of the public outrage about all the privacy violations that this company has committed and keeps on committing, yet some things always held me back. For the most part I had thought that there were still some ways in which I “needed” Facebook. Some of those reasons included: to reconnect with old friends, stay updated, some Facebook-groups (I moved my group for women_* interested in crypto & blockchain to Telegram), to reach out to people in case I would lose my phone etc. (and yes, I ashamedly admit maybe also to stalk people a little bit). But the more I reflected on it, the less it made sense to give up so much of my valued privacy and valuable personal data and to be exploited by a big corrupt tech company just to be able to see if my ex-classmates were still fatter than me or similarly ridiculous reasons.I’d finally had enough and instead of a like-button I clicked on the delete-profile-button. And I can say, it really was as easy as that. Click delete and rest easy. Maybe my cortisol levels really went down, who knows, but it felt great. I was proud of myself and I have not missed Facebook at all. Then I called my mother and she was proud too. When I texted a friend about it, she told me that she admired how I finally went through with it because she just still isn’t ready, even though she’d been considering deleting Facebook for a long time as well. I knew that if I wasn’t going to do it now I probably never would.So, if anyone of you reading this needs the final little nudge to #DeleteFacebook: here you go — Now’s the time!
[Here is your nudge — You’re welcome ]
The Reasons Why I Deleted My Facebook Account — An Overview
If someone collects personal data, they do it for a purpose — and that purpose is profit maximization. This should be clear to anyone by now. It is NOT to benefit the users and to “optimize” your experience. It is to exploit you for all that you’re worth and more. And the best part for those companies is that you give all of that info away constantly and for free. Your online behavior is big tech’s 24/7 candy store. Since I am not a big fan of exploitation of any kind, whether it concerns me or others, that was reason number one.
(Again, just watch Dylan’s video)
The countless scandals! Here’s a great timeline and comprehensive overview of Facebook’s scandals from 2007–2018:
“Facebook data privacy scandal: A cheat sheet”
3.) NO USP & RISK/REWARD IMBALANCE
I eventually realized that there was nothing that I could get only from Facebook and nowhere else, at least nothing that truly matters anyway or that cannot be replaced. Considering all the above-mentioned scandals and exploitation, the cons started outweighing the pros by far, in my view.
4.) MORE TIME & LESS DISTRACTION
I wanted more time to spend on productive things rather than scrolling timelines. The less time you spend on social media, the more time you have to spend with loved ones or exciting projects — or to pet cats.😺
5.) NO MORE CRAPPY CONTENT/TROLLS/RAGE-QUITSJust like reading the comment section under newspaper articles, being on Facebook can mess with your mental health and your emotions. Comment-wars, rage typing, drunk messaging, stalking people etc., all of those common social media behaviors are highly toxic and detrimental to your sanity and overall health and happiness.
6.) USE AND RAISE YOUR DIGITAL VOICE
Being congruent matters to me, if I believe privacy matters, I should try to act accordingly. No one is perfect and reaching 100% privacy in this day and age is practically impossible (You can read all about that in Jameson Lopp’s great, recent article on the topic), yet that doesn’t mean that one cannot put up a fight.
Since points number 1, 2 & 3 seem rather obvious to me, I want to discuss the others, and my personal experience of them, in more detail.
Let’s start with 4) MORE TIME & LESS DISTRACTION:
The 25-hour-day: What would you do if someone gave you an extra hour each day?We spend an incredible amount of time on social media, dwelling on countless selfies, cat memes, food-porn and other intellectual regalement. Three articles I found about social media usage state that people spend almost an hour every day using Facebook’s Social Media services (WhatsApp NOT included, sources*). Now let’s consider the following thought experiment:If you deleted your Facebook and Snapchat profiles right this second, you would have an extra hour every day.
Hence, your go-to excuse for anything — “I’m too busy” — would lose all credibility. But here’s the good news: That kickboxing class you’ve been wanting to take for 3 years, that friend you have not met for coffee in ages, that book that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand for months, that MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about blockchain and cryptocurrencies*** you said you’d like to take — It’s all possible within that free hour every day (~7hrs/week, 30hrs/month, 365hrs/year) thanks to showing Mark Zuckerberg et al. the digital middle finger. If you hit the gym as hard as those like-buttons, you’d have a biceps like Ronda Rousey too. As another example, you could also learned how to code and start launching your own privacy focused platform. The possibilities are unlimited once you leave the social media maze and focus on your actual life.
“Why do I have to delete Facebook completely — I could just use it less!?”
Well, yes, in theory. But experience tells us otherwise. There have already been lots of studies conducted that show just how strongly social media affects our brain chemistry (watch for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HffWFd_6bJ0 & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z79IdQuNSSQ).
One study indicated that:
Even if you stay off Facebook for only five days, your stress level decreases significantly.
(cf. Eric J. Vanman, Rosemary Baker & Stephanie J. Tobin (2018) The burden of online friends: the effects of giving up Facebook on stress and well-being, The Journal of Social Psychology, 158:4, 496–507, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2018.1453467)
Trying to use a platform like Facebook less, is usually equivalent to trying to eat “just five Nachos”. You will most likely fail and then feel even worse than before. I’d also like to point out that Facebook, once you’ve deleted your account, gives you the opportunity to access that account for two more weeks and restore it. That means, if you log in during those two weeks your account will be reactivated. This might sound like a pleasant feature for the ever-undecided, yet I consider this a malicious attempt to keep you hooked and undermine your decisions.
“But there are no alternatives!”
Firstly, why would there be? As long as people keep using the same platforms like happy sheep, there’s no demand for other forms of social media and communication. No demand = no supply, that’s a simple equation. (If you want to hear a bit more about ethical versus unethical app& media design, watch this short video)
Secondly, there are alternatives, although their user numbers are in no way comparable to those of Facebook. If you’d like to try them — here are two alternatives: Diaspora and Minds .But what if I told you there’s another, ancient way to communicate, the way our forefathers- and mothers did. No, I am not talking about pigeons, smoke signs, or Myspace, dear readers. I am talking about good old-fashioned text-messaging, calling (for the extra pinch of privacy: add encryption to taste, using apps like Telegram, Signal, Threema, RedPhone etc.) and yes, even sending letters. Do you know how delightful it is to receive an actual letter from a friend in the mail along with stacks of bills and garbage? Try writing a pen-and-paper letter to your bestie or send your grandma a postcard, trust me, you won’t regret it (In case you’re extra paranoid you can add a seal to make sure no one other than the designated recipient reads your letter)! At the next party, instead of snapchatting your drunk friends embarrassing themselves, take a polaroid picture and send it to them with snail mail once they’re sober. After all, people did have a social life before 2010 too, just ask your parents.
Number 5) NO MORE CRAPPY CONTENT/TROLLS/RAGE-QUITSIf you’re still not 100% convinced that Facebook is highly problematic, maybe you should also watch the following video by John Oliver:
“Connecting billions of people does sound great but it’s also important to remember that, when it comes to the Internet, a certain number of those people are then going to say
‘JEWS CONTROL SHARKS WHO DID 9/11’
and you really have to think that through.”
Watch the whole video here:
Personally, I have never encountered any anti-Semitic, selachophobe conspiracy theorists in my Facebook timeline, but I have seen similarly disgusting things and there’s one story I want to share with you. I had almost forgotten about this incident, until I started writing this article. The account “history” I downloaded from Facebook, before I’d deleted my account, came in handy for the purpose of uncovering that particularly irritating online encounter. Using the search function, I was able to find that exact post and photo from over a year ago in my saved Facebook ZIP files. This is also a perfect example of how permanently the ghosts of social media past can haunt you. In a way, social media has almost become a public Blockchain (=truth value record) of “everything you drunk-texted and never ever wanted your granny and boss to see”.
Let me show you what kind of white-male-privileged chivalry you will find on Facebook:
[Raffael Gerhofer, November 2017 on Facebook]
The latter part in red underline says: “(…), but those shit feminist whores just make me angry. burn them. .witches..”[SIC]
(Just to give you some context, this comment followed a post about the #MeToo movement.)
This particular violent display of misogyny was a comment by a “[Facebook]friend” of a “friend” of mine. Usually I have engineered my personal bubble so neatly and comfortably suited to my psychological needs, that I do not even see such asinine hate speech diarrhea anywhere unless I start reading newspapers and their comment sections. But in this case, I had to witness it. And while it is important to be aware of how other people think, it might also cause acid reflux and ruin your mood, and that’s not good. Instead of looking at gruesome comments all day, I’d rather spend my time more productively, trying to find ways to fight all the cruelty in the world together with like-minded people, instead of occupying myself with endless and pointless comment-wars on Facebook.Furthermore, this also highlights something else, on top of hate speech and questionable contacts, namely: Publicity. If I am so strongly advocating for privacy, why do I publish this screenshot with that poor excuse for a grown man’s full name, you might wonder? That’s because the imbecile posted this on Facebook publicly, for everyone to see and screenshot. Therefore, him now serving as a bad example of sexism and hate speech on social media, well, it’s what you get for using platforms that are not private by default.
If you confidently boast about your horrendous views IN PUBLIC AND ON THE INTERNET (And yes, public groups and public profiles are in fact — let’s repeat it one more time for the slow people in the back — P U B L I C — Just because you sit at home in front of a screen does not make the Internet any less public than a town square, if you do not fully grasp that, you should research how the Internet works.), then it’s very possible that one post, like, comment or picture will plague you at a later point in your life. We all need to be aware of this, if we’re using those platforms, and we should be teaching this to our children (and our parents).
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
[probably misquoted or falsely attributed to Søren Kierkegaard]
6) USE AND RAISE YOUR DIGITAL VOICEENDGAME. You have a voice, you are a customer, a user, a target. Believe it or not, YOU MATTER, and so do your actions, your data, your preferences and your usage patterns. They matter politically, economically and ethically. So be sure to make that voice count, raise it whenever you must and withdraw your consent (be it actively or passively) according to your personal beliefs. Because we all matter, and the more people start taking a stance, the more the big players will be forced to listen and react. Platforms like Facebook are based on the same principle as blockchains: the NETWORK EFFECT — which in turn means: no network, no effect (Remember Myspace? No? — Exactly!). If you count them all together, our actions could be equivalent to a huge social DDOS attack. If we start denying the use of certain services we can achieve real change.I will not tell you what to do, however, I will encourage you to take action and stand up for whatever you really believe in and what truly matters to you. Should it be the case that privacy and personal data autonomy happen to be among those things, then you might want to reconsider some of your online activities.
P.S.: Should you really #DeleteFacebook too, leave a comment below, let’s celebrate!
* src — Daily amount of time spent on FB:
** Presearch Privacy Reviews feat. Dylan Curran are a quick, easy and comprehensible way to get an overview of the most relevant privacy policies out there, like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn etc. I suggest you check out all the awesome videos about the platforms you use to stay up-to-date about privacy. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLKkZZ0_S9HH059KhWaOhhMdkWtpBWWta
*** The free MOOC by the University of Nicosia is absolutely amazing, I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the topic: https://digitalcurrency.unic.ac.cy/free-introductory-mooc/