I (Rob) haven’t been using facebook for the last year and a half or so and somewhat surprisingly I have not missed it. After watching the Frontline specials on Facebook, looking through a downloaded copy of my data, and thinking about my feelings it was an easy choice to deactivate my account.
While the purpose of the service is to connect with people I almost always felt the opposite to be true as my posts and thoughts went unacknowledged in the vacuum of Facebook.
The service left me feeling like I was wasting my time. I would frequently let Facebook take me away from productive or engaged activities and this needed to stop. Cast in the best light it is a weak form of “connection” as if pushing a “like” button could possibly indicate care and empathy for others.
I’ve also harbored strong feelings about the practices of the company in ignoring privacy and pushing conflict to the front of the feed. In my experience, the optimization for “engagement” was often a proxy for conflict. Rather than connecting people, the service is optimized to push us apart. My feelings were amplified after reviewing a copy of my facebook data and watching the Frontline specials on Facebook.
My Facebook Data
Prior to deactivating my account I downloaded all my data. My intent was to save my posts and repost them on this blog. It feels good to have all my data in one place, in an open and add-free environment, on a site that I control, where we can thoughtfully post without danger of exploitation by advertisers.
It was fun to look through my posts and see how they changed over the years. My impression is that there was more engagement early on in the years of the platform. I could see playful banter and happy exchanges between me and some good friends. This waned significantly in the last several years as more and more of my posts went unanswered or unacknowledged (whether people were less interested in my thoughts or because of facebook’s engagement algorithm).
The facebook data download includes a list of my ad interests and another list of advertisers that have downloaded a contact list with a copy of my profile information. I participated in very few groups, “liked” very few items, hid or deleted most my personal information, and didn’t allow the facebook app access to my location data. Even with all my precautions, the list of companies that had accessed my data is incredibly long. I can only imagine how long the list is for people that like a lot of companies, play facebook games, and keep their profiles full of up-to-date information. Yikes!
Facebook prepared an advertising personality profile for me “based on your facebook activity and other actions that help us show you relevant ads” (or show me manipulative ads based on my interests, insecurities, and passions). The abridged profile includes the following:
- Action Movies
- Alternative Rock
- Various Bands and Musicians
- Lord of the Rings
- Consumer Electronics
- Various Religious Figures and Sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Folk Rock
- French Language
- Hiking Trails
- Fantasy Movies
- Lehi, Utah
- The Republican Party
- Rocks (Geology)
- Science Fiction Movies
- Star Trek
- Utah County
- Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
- A bunch of random people I’ve never heard of…
I have to say that paints a pretty accurate picture of my interests (not so much the republican party and the random people). It is definitely enough information to feed me relevant manipulative ads and posts.
Next we’ll turn to the list of companies that have accessed my profile data. Keep in mind that up until a couple years ago Facebook had no idea what companies were doing with this information and frankly didn’t really care. Each of these companies received my profile data and the advertising profile that Facebook created for me. The list includes 2,321 companies and that seems outrageous considering that I kept my settings very locked down. Unfortunately, I’m concerned my list might be comparatively small.
The Facebook Dilemma
I can’t really outline all the things I learned that were shocking, yet not surprising, as the combined run-time approaches 2 hours, but watching was well worth my time. The main themes that I took away from the show that greatly contributed to deactivating my account include, emphasis on growth above all other concerns, disdain for user data privacy, manipulation of users by advertisers (and political interests), the engagement model prioritizing controversial content (thereby pushing people apart), creating a ripe ecosystem for fake news content, and being “slow” to do anything but grow.
Deactivating my account means that all my information is hidden, just not deleted (I might still delete my account in full but I’m not quite ready for that yet). I will no longer be searchable on facebook and that is just fine with me. If you want to see what I’m doing you can keep reading here, send me a text message, or we can get some food together. I already know (as I haven’t been using the service of the last 1.5 years) that I’ll be happier without Facebook.