When the news about Facebook’s role in spreading fake news in the 2016 presidential election broke, my reaction was “finally.”
Finally, people will see how harmful it can be. They’ll leave in droves. Well, that didn’t happen, did it? You’re still on it, aren’t you?
I joined Facebook about ten years ago as an experiment. I had been on Friendster and MySpace, and Facebook was hot. I am a software developer after all, so I feel some obligation to at least try these things and know what they are. Heck, I even bought a Webkinz and built an apartment for my virtual pet one merry Christmas vacation. So I created a Facebook profile and forgot about it.
Then, a friend from work found me. Suddenly I had tens of connections on Facebook. I used it to play Scrabble and read about what was going on in my friends lives. I added my siblings. I added friends. I added acquaintances. I have one dear friend who moved to England years ago who had basically forgone email in favor of Facebook and I couldn’t reach her without it. I was neck deep in it.
So why did I quit? I think it boils down to three reasons.
- Privacy. For me, this can also equate to employability, because your “online presence” is so important for anyone in IT. You can be sure that someone will Google you when your resume lands on their desk. Even an inoffensive but goofy and unflattering picture can bias a potential employer against you. I want someone to see my work first, not my new hipster glasses or my dog’s new sweater. (Although it is freaking adorable.)
Facebook does have privacy settings, but historically they have been changed and broken multiple times, and that makes it your responsibility to stay on top of them. That means not just setting and forgetting them, but checking periodically to see if they’ve been revamped, and watching for news stories about them being broken. Of course, you can skip that step if you just delete your account.
Even if you are not looking for a job anytime soon, don’t you want to control your first impressions? Do you want someone to learn who you are from your actual, talking face or your online profile?
- Happiness. Frequent viewing of social media sites has been shown to make people depressed. I don’t think I need to go into this because it’s been documented. But what amazes me is the capacity for intelligent people to convince themselves that they are too smart to be influenced in this way. “Sure, it might make most people depressed, but I’m too mentally strong/use it too infrequently/know about the problem so that doesn’t apply to me.”
It applies to you. Awareness of the problem does not keep it from affecting you. Your rationalizations do not prevent it from applying to you. Why are you continuing to use something that makes you depressed?
- Fake news. Manipulation. The whole political aspect. Facebook did not set out to become an Orwellian tool for thought control. It just happened. But why would you choose to expose yourself to that? Again, intelligent people are so good at rationalizing their emotional responses. You may tell yourself these messages don’t affect you, but you’re not that special. Sorry. I’m not either.
So why are you staying? Lots of people are quitting, so you no longer have to feel like a weirdo for giving it up. Try it. I know there is some fear of missing out. I can’t see my friends photo albums anymore unless they email them to me, which is probably the worst bit. But if I’m not worth the email to them, well, maybe that album isn’t worth my time.