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Monday
Feb252013

CNN: Unlike - Why I'm leaving Facebook

I used to be able to justify using Facebook as a cost of doing business. As a writer and sometime activist who needs to promote my books and articles and occasionally rally people to one cause or another, I found Facebook fast and convenient. Though I never really used it to socialize, I figured it was okay to let other people do that, and I benefited from their behavior.
 
I can no longer justify this arrangement. Today I am surrendering my Facebook account, because my participation on the site is simply too inconsistent with the values I espouse in my work. In my upcoming book Present Shock, I chronicle some of what happens when we can no longer manage our many online presences. I argue - as I always have - for engaging with technology as conscious human beings, and dispensing with technologies that take that agency away.
 
Facebook is just such a technology. It does things on our behalf when we're not even there. It actively misrepresents us to our friends, and - worse - misrepresents those who have befriended us to still others. To enable this dysfunctional situation -- I call it “digiphrenia” -- would be at the very least hypocritical. But to participate on Facebook as an author, in a way specifically intended to draw out the "likes" and resulting vulnerability of others, is untenable.
 
Facebook has never been merely a social platform. Rather, it exploits our social interactions the way a Tupperware party does. Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network of connections, brand preferences, and activities over time --  our "social graphs" -- into a commodity for others to exploit. We Facebook users have been  building a treasure lode of big data that government and corporate researchers have been mining to predict and influence what we buy and whom we vote for.  We have been handing over to them vast quantities of information about ourselves and our friends, loved ones and acquaintances. With this information, Facebook and the "big data" research firms purchasing their data predict still more things about us - from our future product purchases or sexual orientation to our likelihood for civil disobedience or even terrorism. 

 

The true end users of Facebook are the marketers who want to reach and influence us. They are Facebook's paying customers; we are the product. And we are its workers. The countless hours that we - and the young, particularly - spend on our profiles constitute the unpaid labor on which Facebook justifies its stock valuation. The efforts of a few thousand employees at Facebook's Menlo Park campus pale in comparison to those of the hundreds of millions of users meticulously tweaking their pages. Corporations used to have to do research to assemble our consumer profiles; now we do it for them.
 
The information collected about you by Facebook through my Facebook page isn't even shared with me. Thanks to my page, Facebook knows the demographics of my readership, their emails, what else they like, who else they know and, perhaps most significant, who they trust. And Facebook is taking pains not to share any of this, going so far as to limit the ability of third-party applications to utilize any of this data.
 
Given that this was the foundation for Facebook's business plan from the start, perhaps more recent developments in the company's ever-evolving user agreement shouldn't have been so disheartening. Still, we bridle at the notion that any of our updates might be converted into "sponsored stories" by whatever business or brand we may have mentioned. That innocent mention of cup of coffee at Starbucks, in the Facebook universe, quickly becomes an attributed endorsement of their brand. Remember, the only way to connect with something or someone is to "like" them. This means if you want to find out what a politician or company you don't like is up to, you still have to endorse them publicly.
 
More recently, users - particularly those with larger sets of friends, followers, and likes - learned that their updates were no longer reaching all of the people who had signed up to get them. Now, we are supposed to pay to "promote" our posts to our friends and, if we pay even more, to *their* friends. Yes, Facebook is entitled to be paid for promoting us and our interests - but this wasn't the deal going in, particularly not for companies who paid Facebook for extra followers in the first place. Neither should users who "friend" my page automatically become the passive conduits for any of my messages to all their friends - just because I paid for it.
 
Which brings me to Facebook's most recent shift, and the one that pushed me over the edge. Through a new variation of the Sponsored Stories feature called Related Posts, users who "like" something can be unwittingly associated with pretty much anything an advertiser pays for. Like email spam with a spoofed identity, the Related Post shows up in a newsfeed right under the user's name and picture. If you 'like' me, you can be shown implicitly recommending me or something I like - something you've never heard of - to others without your consent.
 
For now, as long as I don't like anything myself, I have some measure of control over what those who follow me receive in my name or, worse, are made to appear to be endorsing, themselves. But I feel that control slipping away, and cannot remain part of a system where liking me or my work can be used against you. The promotional leverage that Facebook affords me is not worth the cost. Besides, how can I ask you to like me, when I myself must refuse to like you or anything else?
 
I have always appreciated that agreeing to become publicly linked to me and my work online involves trust. It is a trust I value, but - as it is dependent on the good graces of Facebook - it is a trust I can live up to only by un-friending this particularly anti-social social network. Maybe in doing so I'll help people remember that Facebook is not the Internet. It's just one web site, and it comes with a price.

 

 

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Reader Comments (32)

i was just contemplating closing my fb fanpage and this pretty much seals it. This post is so spot on. "Facebook is not the Internet. It's just one web site, and it comes with a price." is a quote that bears repeating!

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterchandraisgreat

Douglas,

I never thought about Facebook from the perspective of "misrepresentation" before. Thank you for the eye-opener.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Ratliff

Coincidentally, app.net just opened a free tier today.

http://blog.app.net/2013/02/25/introducing-a-free-tier

Free tier notwithstanding, their business plan is that you are the customer rather than the product.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

And don't forget, Zuckerberg warned us a long time ago where FB was headed by calling his initial users "dumb f*cks" for trusting him with their personal info.

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler E. West

They have your data up to this point in your life.

Why not simply skew their database by being duplicitous with your "likes"?

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFiniteBeing

Welcome to the club. It's a good thing that you're leaving Facebook for ethical purposes. Here's a man who's been saying for years that it's a bane to the Internet. http://stallman.org/facebook.html

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterredbaptist

FiniteBeing has it right: Anonymous suggested the same thing on their Twitter feed.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnonNonHkr

I sympathize. I use the tools provided at http://fixtracking.com/ to stop Facebook, Google, and many, many others from knowing what I'm searching, what sites I visit, etc. I too support the idea of sticking to your guns, and also adding a lot of noise to the signal to which marketers are listening in the form of random likes and unlikes, random searches in search engines. It won't work unless enough of us do it so the traffic can't be 'normalized' away.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPB

There is a new Democratic Social Website on Development, You must give it a try
It's not like Facebook or Twitter, the very main thing that makes it different from Facebook is the Democracy.
You will come to know by yourself what I mean when you give it a try.
Currently it's in beta version and joining is possible through Referral link only

You can join through this - www.zurker.in/oneandonly

Give it a try

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHemendra Singh

Facebook: The Nixon Administration of the internet.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmerson Dameron

Hi,I wanted to add something else to this,I know f/b has been going down hill for quite sometime now,and for Mark Zurkerburg to charge $100 dollars to leave a message is a little crazy and its not like he needs the money.Mr.Rushkoff,I personaly want to invite you to the all new social network zurker,its what facebook isnt,and has the best kinds of people you'll find anywhere at no cost's to you,please come on over to zurker,and join us all.I would like your personal feedback on some things in zurker. network.I have just so many bad things I can say about facebook today,its nothing like it was just a couple years ago.One of the boggest problems I see in facebook today is Hackers,zurkerburg has over 5,000 people working for him,and yet none can fix this problem.
Please give zurker a chance,you will find more than your looking for in zurker,and if you will just give it a chance to see for yourself what everyone else is doing,Im sure you will be sticking around for years to come,looking forward to seeing you in zurker social network tommrow,Thank you for your time in this matter.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDale Kerr

Would love to see an essay on how CNN uses the data it collects on your internet usage. You might need to leave CNN, too.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYoff

Instead of skewing with false searches, I use Facebook to value socially responsible pages such as the Tar Sands protestors which I find very inspiring. Some of my friends and myself share articles about social issues such as gun control and criticize unjust politics. The potential to use FB for some good exists. We must just be not too afraid to do so.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjaynu

I don't have a Facebook account. I never signed up for one. Right from the beginning I knew Facebook was going to be trouble and so I instinctively stayed away from it. I'm glad I didn't let myself get sucked into that. Now I see the tide starting to turn against Facebook. The wave has crested in my opinion. More and more people are going to start experiencing what I call "Facebook Fatigue" and ask themselves, "what am I wasting all this time for?" and "what am I getting out of this?" and "what is this thing called real life"?

In the novel 1984, George Orwell introduced the concept of "Big Brother" watching over its citizenry and collecting information on them at all times without their knowledge or consent. Well here we are, except that "Big Brother" is Facebook, and the big corporate and government interests are collecting and analyzing the information on us that we so freely provide to them by spending all our time on Facebook. It's rather insidious and worse than even George Orwell could have ever imagined.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarc Tardif

I have been reading several articles lately why people are leaving Facebook. I was one of the early adopters but have also become increasingly disappointed with how it has evolved. Thanks for the article. It was enough to push me over the edge and decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I can say that Facebook did offer many positive things in the past, but just like my free things on the web, they eventually turn to a way to make money. I would have preferred to pay a subscription to use Facebook and not have them sell my data or throw ads my way. But that was never an option. The mobile version of Facebook has become almost useless, with the News Feed filled with ads.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFranz

Just don't use it. People can profit by going pro or against pretty much everything. Readers come here to verify their ideologies so there's just no room for debate.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCrs

The function of all media is to deliver users to advertisers. You know this. I know this.
Your title for this blog was chosen along the same way.
Leaving Facebook is like arguing how you will not get a cell phone because you have a home phone........

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter00__00

We all know about the commercial shit about facebook. But despite this WE are the consumers, nothing MAKES us buy thing we buy them because we want to, if you believe some tool will make you buy shit you don´t need or transform you into a mindless consumer the problem is YOU, it is how weak you think your mind is. I buy what I need o want. Besides that, we all know about how distorted things get on facebook because of the interpretation barrier and the lack of body language that communicates way more than we think, so we ALL know that there is a degree of psychological projections on how we see other facebook users or freinds. DEPITE that I and many people have met good friends and even romantic partners through facebook that have a relationship i where we erroneously call "real life" (face to face would be a much more appropriate expression). This so called "genius" author is just another paranoid pseudo intellectual that fails to make an objective point, he makes the same laughable mistakes as past critics. He blames the TOOLS, not how the tools are used or who uses them. Sometimes we forget we are human beings, not machines.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJP

Thank you for the thoughtful and revealing piece on Facebook (Why I'm leaving Facebook). I am not a user and have from the start been highly suspicious of how the data that we as individuals, freely provide, is used or misused. Facebook, as is the case with all of the social media sites, has wonderful potential, but lets not be fooled, at the end of the day the information we provide will in fact be used to market products and services we not only do not need, but which lead to mindless consumerism for its own sake that any thinking person knows is not sustainable. If there is a fault I have of Mr. Rushkoff's excellent essay, it is that it does not explore the enormous carbon burden associated with these social media tools. The fact is Climate Change is being expedited in no small way by the explosion in all of the data that we collectively put on servers without a second thought to the environmental impact that they have. We think nothing of sending huge files of video and picture albums to our "friends", giving little thought to the energy needed to sustain the servers they sit on so our content can be instantly available to our followers anywhere in the world. Some of us refuse to participate in Facebook simply on the grounds that it is an environmentally irresponsible activity for us to participate in. I believe the reversal of the looming threat of Climate Change can only be accomplished if many more of us choose not to participate in an activity like Facebook, which is really providing very little social benefit to society at large. Opting out of this media is a good place for each of us to start making a difference.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHans Wegner

With the ridiculous amount of possibilities technology has, I would rather my personal ticks and habits be in the hands of Facebook whose heads seem to be in the right place:

They're a free service.
They like to connect people to the world.
They build things from the data gathered about connecting people to the world.
Other people build things from that data.
Some people get fabulously rich by being clever.
Sometimes clever comes across as evil.
Sometimes clever is just clever.

Your information is always going to be collected, logged, and stored on a server somewhere. It's an eventuality some people realized years ago. Facebook's just got more servers because they're clever enough to reach a mass tipping point. People may be drawing lines in the sand now, but it'll take a while for everyone to wean off Facebook unless something sufficiently game changing comes in to steal the show, and with the amount of casual ubiquity Facebook enjoys now because it's been smart about quietly integrating/becoming a necessity or at least an idle pleasure/past time it'll take a decent amount of time to die, if it will indeed "die" - MIT did an autopsy of a social network, Google it sometime.

Quite frankly, if I wanted to spend money, I'd rather trust a vaguely intelligent algorithm that's been paid for by ad revenue - because the only people who survive in marketing are the ones who stay intelligent and do what any other science or studious endeavor requires to evolve or else it stagnates and rots by the wayside: innovate.

Innovate or die.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Vox

When you first attempted to leave Facebook, did it offer up one of your best friends as bait for you not to leave? Almost fresh in terms how how diabolical that really is. Forget all the technical hot air about the Singularity, it's here: plain, simple, and ugly.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdd263

A well thought out post. Leaving aside the machivellian residue, I would challenge you (who appear to understand the situation better than most) to help the world find a solution - there are several (I put them here somewhere and .... darn where did they go?) Free beer and free speech are both great. Paying one's bills with currency from one's contribution to commerce is also a darn good thing. You mention in program or be programmed the potential need for a rework of the financial operating system. It seems (and I appear no help) that sufficient puzzle pieces are in place for the gensis of a solution. (How do the people at FB get compensated and or given raises for good behavior?) Asuming for the moment (for no good reason) that the pressures of growth, competition etc rather than greed are the foundation of what you appear to identify as facebook flailings? I would suggest that in evaluating the pressures to monetize that there are far more commercial interests pressuring facebook for these developments than grocery bills. Like an ugly beast consumed by a virus (kinda has a ring to it no?) - anyway the challenge is there - hope I beat you to the answer....
For reference I am not a face book user or supporter (more likely the opposite).

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Roberts

I notice that critics of this article focus on the justification of data driven marketing applications. As if data is only applicable to marketing. What about data driven applications for government and social engineering? Its funny, some people are willing to give up their sovereignty, but not their guns.

March 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteryebed nunny

Thanks for all the good thoughts, here. You have to remember, though, I'm leaving Facebook less as a person than as an author. While Big Data is scary and mean, I understand there are a whole lot of big data repositories and sellers.

I'm leaving as an author, and very specifically because I don't think it's right for me to solicit "likes" from people on a platform that will then use those likes to advertise with those people's identities and pictures. It's one thing to use FB as a person, communicate and make friends, and so on. You use at your own risk.

It's another thing to use it as a media ethics writer, promoting his ideas on a platform, soliciting Likes from the people he is supposedly educating.

March 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterDouglas Rushkoff

Solutions, yes. I'm looking at a few right now. I will probably post in a month or so when I find my favorite. I'm also considering the implications of a Big Data Commons.

March 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterDouglas Rushkoff

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