I did it. And it was easy in the end.
Months ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. Why deactivate it and put myself in the no-man’s land of leaving my data on there while not enjoying any of the features? Well, I simply wanted to research how to save my data locally before deleting it. And then forgot.
Today, I remembered, and realised that the data I actually need to keep – photos, names and contact details of real friends (not Facebook’s zombie army of old primary school classmates and former work colleagues and people who kinda know my family, but actual people with whom I have at some point socialized in person, and with whom I plan to continue to socialize in the future) – all of *that* data is actually already in my possession and is only duplicated on Facebook – and probably in turn on the servers of every sociopathic extremist political hack-job group on the planet.
So I pulled the plug today and sent a delete request. Fudge them. Fudge those Facebook motherfudgers. And was told that my data would be deleted, like, I dunno, within the next 30 days, I guess. Very GDPR-compliant.
Why have I done it? Well, I don’t think you have to be as prominent as a politician or an Oscar ceremony host for social media to bite your ass. I could lose work if someone sees a politically tinted comment or misinterprets one of my (many) off-colour jokes. I could – and *have* – fallen out with friends who don’t deserve crap from me over things that just don’t matter. I could – and *have* – been deeply upset by posts about far-right politics or animal abuse that sometimes bleed into one’s feed.
And then there is the less direct harm that I am doing to myself, by damaging my community and the political and social values in which I believe. I grew up in a democracy. It’s flawed, like democracies are. It’s crap a lot, like democracies tend to be. But it is a democracy. People face accountability. People have a voice. People get to express themselves with relative impunity. Even before I read today how the former head of GCHQ views Facebook as a potential threat to democracy, I spent the months before deactivating my profile researching and watching documentaries about Facebook’s activities.
The links between Facebook and neuroscience research, dopamine, and addiction, the notion that it had stopped being a social site and morphed into an unregulated global utility, I found terrifying. I guess the Cambridge Analytica stuff, the alleged consideration of data links with banks, and Zuckerberg’s unbelievable arrogance in the face of government authority were the icing on the cake. I had to go.
So, I feel that deleting my account (if Facebook can even be trusted to do that – how the hell do I know?) is a victory for me. But is it a pyrrhic one? After all, nobody else seems too keen to go.
Well, I see it differently. There can be no army of ants without ants. So people like me who are anxious, or mad, or whose mental health or reputations have suffered on social media, or who have been bullied or harassed, or robbed of elected office, or defrauded… well, unless we, as individuals, take that step and leave, then it will just keep on keeping on. As things get worse (and there is no reason to suspect they won’t), more people will doubtless dump the major social media platforms.
But I’m not concerned just about that. In the short term, I am concerned about me, my family, and my friends first, and that second. Although, the two domains do tend to be confluent.
Would I use social media again? Well, I still do – not Facebook, but I do participate in other online communities – work-related, the OU, some photo and art sites, and I even have a dormant Twitter account that I passively log into as a non-speaking ghost to check soccer transfer rumours. Do I actively participate and live for feedback? No.
So how has it turned out? Well, six months after I quit The Site You Just Can’t Quit, guess what? I am still in touch with all of my dear friends and family. I have so much extra time each week I am doing a degree with the Open University. They have student Facebook forums. I declined to join but I do go to face-to-face tutorials, the ultimate social media experience. My relationships are, as they were in the 90s and noughties, once again based on coffees and biscuits, and phone calls, and emails, not on little thumby fists and smiley faces. I am once again actually communicating and not meme-ing.
In short, I have flourished, not shriveled.
Give it a try. You can, and I think you really should, live without Facebook.