Last weekend I suspended my FB account. During the months of the pandemic I increasingly felt the irritation with FB build up again. Two years ago I deleted my previous Facebook account, after having stopped using it half a year before it. I did it then foremost to delete the existing history, and created a new account. I told myself it was the only way to connect to some people in my personal and professional network. That isn’t false, but it’s also not true in the sense that this is an overwhelming effect. FB is not without use, I’ve been able to keep up with the lives of various people I care about, and have been able to respond to their life events because it’s easy to share for them, and easy for me to respond on my own terms. That is a valuable human connection. Yet, when you’re having fun in a toxic swamp, you might be having fun, but you’re also still in a toxic swamp. I cherish the interaction with people around me, but rather do that in a pleasant environment which FB is most definitely not.
My original intention this weekend was to leave the account suspended for a few weeks to see how that felt and to maybe get back in later. I realised that that is basically to let the skin irritation of the toxic swamp fade away for a few days and then expose myself to a next batch of irritants.
Then today two things happened.
Om Malik wrote about FB’s toxicity as a company, and to vote with your feet. One vote in itself isn’t much. Yet “If you don’t make good use of your vote, you enable those who would … destroy what we value. Facebook is no different. You might be one person with just one account, but you are not powerless. Being a part of Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithmic empire is a choice. If you believe that Facebook is causing long-term damage to our society, and you don’t agree with their values or their approach to doing business, you can choose to leave.” He left FB half a year after me, but still maintained his Instagram and Whatsapp account. He’s ditching that now too, because of FB the company. He’s right. If you think you’re in a toxic swamp, why stay at all within its vicinity?
The second thing was that the mail man came. Bringing a lovely hand written note from Peter. With kind words about our friendship and how our blog writing and adjacent interaction crosses the ocean between us. His card was a great example of having fun outside of the toxic swamp. Not that I think that I should return to sending postcards only, it just points to the spectrum of other channels we have at our fingertips that aren’t FB.
So, like two years ago I deleted my FB account again today, and in 30 days it will be gone. FB is betting I will try to log in within that time. I know I won’t. Because unlike two years ago I have no hold-out reason left to go back into the toxic swamp. On top of that, if I did then I’d have to return here and eat my words 😉
Interestingly, my choices during this period are the opposite – I started to write and to be more where the people are, valuing the connection and conversations more than my feelings about the space where it happens. Moving away from FB now feels like moving from a toxic neighbourhood in the city, just because you can, instead of staying and doing something to make it less toxic for everyone else or helping others to create better spaces.
Yes, voting with your feet is a way to make an impact. But, thinking about all the friends in physical places with toxic leadership, I wonder how much it is also a privilege.
I did that, with my Facebook account in the past two years, making a point to only post constructively. The issue with FB is that that won’t fix things, not like it might by becoming a constructive force in your city neighbourhood. If I am in a physical place with toxic leadership I probably can’t pick up and leave but can vote. If I am dealing with a toxic company the only way available is to not give them my business. I won’t be able to vote against Zuckerberg after all. FB is not a political entity, and has shown in the past 14 years to not be willing to learn to be a constructive place, right from the original “dumb f*cks” comment. Leaving Facebook is not privilege, anyone can do that. Leaving Facebook and expecting everyone to follow or to run their own blog would be. I have no such expectation. And yes I do have my own blog, but if I hadn’t there are still plenty of spaces out there that are free and currently not as toxic as FB is that offer similar options. Fact is, all of the people I interact with on FB, I also interact with in various other channels. I don’t need FB for it, I just thought I did for a long time. Rather, I’d turn it around, that it’s a sort-of privilege to be able to afford having fun in a toxic swamp, thinking it won’t be affecting you otherwise. As that seems to be ignoring the active damage the company is doing, while we’re having a friendly chat on one of their platforms. At worst it may become a sort-of codependency.
I guess most of our American friends are dealing with the question “what can I do when voting is not enough”…
Most of the people I have on FB I don’t have in any other places (and with some of them, like family and close friends I tried that for years). I’ve seen how Dutch homeschooling community has moved from hardly working mailing lists to FB and how many other channels were tried and didn’t work for that despite the fact that many of the same people have concerns about the digital presence and surveillance. I see similar processes with permaculture and gardening people.
I do not see FB as something “for fun”, it became one of the baseline communication infrastructures that work for the mainstream public and not only tech-savvy people. Yes it is far from free, but way better in terms of access to information than TV, newspapers or relying on email and phonecalls from friends. Only people who have their own indieweb tools or can afford lack of connectivity can leave big platforms like FB or Google.
May be “privilege” is not the right word, but let’s say it is a choice that serves personal interests of not being part of toxic environment and does little for those in the community who can not afford that choice. It is similar to choosing for homeschooling our kids – we can afford it and shields our family from what we see as toxic in the system but does not do much to make education better for those who do not have that option.
I disagree with that comparison, Facebook is not like the schooling system, and not like a troubled neighbourhood. There are many tools out there, which are free, where you could communicate with others like you do on Facebook. There’s a cost in moving there, and activating others to join, but like there was nothing holding back people to come to Facebook from whatever YASN they were before (remember Hyves, it imploded in months from like 80% penetration), there’s nothing holding you back to go someplace else. It’s a company, a company with a crap proposition (which they make easy for you to ignore because they gloss over the crappy parts, and have the convenient parts alwasy facing you). Which is why a comparison with the schooling system is false imo. That is a public service system, that you can escape if you can afford to, but which you could work to change as well. Founding a school is among them. Facebook is a company, not a public service and thus fundamentally different from the counter examples you give. There is nothing you can do to change FB other than become a deciding shareholder. Your only choice is to not do business with them if you think they’re crap.
And yes that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Which is a signal I think of having gone too far down the rabbithole.
And yes, like you I see convincing others to come away with you is hard. I suspect mostly because it was viable to assume that if they don’t move I wouldn’t either. Going away is the one piece of information that lacks in the equation if all we do is suggest to go someplace else.
I guess the main difference is that I do not see that in terms of change and accountability governments are much better than corporations. Not in theory or by definition, but in practice.
Founding a school within the rules and laws defined by the state (= political parties in power) does not change the system any more than creating a group on FB. At least with FB you are free to leave and come back as you wish, which is not the case with Dutch educational system.
But I guess we operate in different worlds. I wish I would be convinced that leaving FB is a path to a better world. But there is an internet consultation for a new homeschooling law right now and it will bring little good, sold to the public under the labels of “public service” and “right on education”. Homeschooling community uses FB to mobilise whatever instruments they have next to voting to make a difference. So, choosing between toxic of FB or toxic that families with kids experience just because their interests deviate from outdated and politically loaded “public interest”, I go for the lesser evil.
“But I guess we operate in different worlds” is precisely my reason, as FB is an active instrument in creating a situation that might make people feel that, because it deliberately and continuously decides what you see in their platform (which thus isn’t a platform anymore), including what you see if you go to the timeline of a friend. Of course public interest is politically loaded, I suppose it is the very definition of it. Thinking FB isn’t, is the crux imo. It very much is, although it will deny it at every turn, and that makes it toxic and malicious. In short, as someone said to me in some other channel “Facebook *appears* necessary to Facebook users because Facebook makes it very difficult to see the world outside Facebook, but there *is* such a world and anyone can live in it.” With FB and Whatsapp now deleted from my channels, I’ll see how that plays out.
Well, it is a bit naive to assume that for me and many others on FB it is the main lens to see and experience the world. There is a lot that wrong with it and a lot of people using it are aware of that. They usually have other reasons than being blinded by algorithms to stay there. Echo chambers exist not only on big platforms and recognising them is important regardless of where your data sits.
Anyway, good luck with your indieweb journey. I hope to see more posts on using those tools for connections outside of the tech crowd and for working on good causes next to doing business. The world can do with inspiring examples and practical how-tos of making a difference without relying on corporate monsters – at least with this one we should be on the same page 🙂