I decided to leave Facebook
I joined in April 2007, when it was "thefacebook" and still all about connecting people. My first posts were about a drunk all-nigther in Japan. Innocent, culturally slightly oblivious, fun. My membership ended in 2020, after a large number of political comments, a friend list full of zombies, small and large echo chambers and with a longing question:
How could something so good turn so bad?
The short and sad answer: It never was good. The long answer starts now.
Facebook, the offspring of money and horny intellect without ethics
Born as a lovechild between the necessity by a Mr. Zuckerberg to objective girls via his hacked together "facemash" and the idea of two frat bros to create a dating platform, "thefacebook" saw first light unburdened by ethics, but with one major upgrade for young Zuck: With thefacebook, Zuckerberg promoted from hacking websites for collecting photos to making people simply give him what he desires.
His "users" gave personal details and photos in return for the promise of connecting to friends and increased chances of copulation. It's a famous anecdote how Mark Zuckerberg reacted to this:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don't know why.
Zuck: They "trust me"
Zuck: Dumb fucks
Early Facebook IMs 1
From day one Zuckerberg called all of us "Dumb fucks".
A business model was build and expands to this day on the basic premise that Zuckerberg regards all humans using his products as dumb fucks. We are mere means to an end. Zuckerberg is rightfully the proud winner of the "Medal of Fear":
"[Mark Zuckerberg] values his privacy much more than he values yours". Steven Colbert, 2008 2
His loving denomination of his users was just the beginning. His continued reassurances that his intentions to build the best platform for people to interact on are not a lie, but the reasons are not the betterment of society, but just profit and power.
It is common knowledge how Facebook influenced, maybe even manipulated, the 2016 federal elections in the USA. No hacking was required, nor did Facebook actively manipulate the election, foreign and domestic interests merely used tools Facebook happily provided. Created, sold and supported as part of their monetization and growth strategies.
Facebook is blind on the eye of ethics and social fabric because it's primarily goal is growth. Growth to please shareholders. Facebook, as a very raw product of unregulated capitalism, is a good example of how such unregulated thrive for reach and profit collides with rules and regulations we require to keep our society in one piece.
A bit of Genocide and a whole lot of profit
Facebook has repeatedly been a multiplicator for hate speech which has driven genocides: Myanmar being the most "famous" example, but Ethopia currently developing. I know this last fact thanks to the great podcast of Robert Evans called "Behind the Bastards".
Facebook as a platform and its executives as people have blood on their hands. All to please the all commanding god of the market.
Facebook pretends, after intense international pressure to address hate speech, but I can confirm from personal experience that it does not fully follow local definitions of hate speech. I reported several instances of hate speech only for Facebook to state these do not go against their community standards. Facebook only acts when public pressure, aka bad press, mounts. Their intrinsic interest in social peace of civil discourse is zero.
When you sign up with the devil ...
That I saw such postings by the same person over and over again is another reason I am leaving: Facebook learned that I engage with such postings. They trigger me. Other people might get triggered by people being more beautiful, more sporty, more interesting - I get triggered by right wingers. So Facebook tuned itself to be my "two minutes of hate" instead of a place where I connect with remote friends and family.
My feed is not there to update me, but to emotionalize and engage me. And that affected me emotionally many times. In the past eight years I went to very rough patches. Every time depression grabbed me harder, my engagement in social media increased.
Compulsive consumption was a pattern of distraction, feverish discussion with strangers a valve for projected emotions. None of this were positive, healing experiences. And no aspect of the experience was designed to help me break the pattern. Why would the dealer cut the supply? So many little mechanics to keep you going. The constructed reality presented by my peers pulled me deeper into despair. The ex, so close and yet out of reach, the forbidden fruit always kept in sight. Devilish tools, devilish design.
... the devil gifts you a dating website
This is not just facebook, dating sites are using the same mechanics. Their effect on our psyche and relationships is horrible: A better match is just one swipe away. Why compromise? This mutual consumption of self-prostituting humans can be detrimental to self worth and the willingness to compromise. You turn yourself into a disposable stage for projection of self-worth or pity.
I speak from experience, I both suffered and perpetrated. You can't sense the mental state of the person on the other side, maybe I hurt a number of people by ignoring them, I know I suffered from benching and ghosting. When I felt down, it made me feel better to read messages and see likes by girls that I felt below my standard. When I matched with a girl that I considered to be above my standard, I felt good for myself, but at first did not care more about that human than about the ones I deemed too ugly. Often, it wasn't about the other human, it was just about self-esteem.
Luckily, the time I was active was still driven by profile creation and questionnaires. It was less swiping and visual prostitution.
LinkedIn. You'd think it's better ...
Now there are also those "professional" networks, which one might consider to be above prostitution and manipulation. But they aren't. LinkedIn devolved to become just like a hybrid of dating and facebook. Nearly useless for professional networking. I'm following a guy on LinkedIn who has decided to built his self-esteem and his personal brand upon LinkedIn recognition. I can see him struggling, his business model is built upon algorithms he can't control and he has not much else to offer than very obvious home made growth hacking. Every post seems like he's diving deeper into the hole of unfulfilled narcissism. The dealer has cut off his supply.
Influencers, the scum of the earth
"Adolescence can be a period of increased vulnerability for the onset of depression and anxiety, and poor sleep quality may contribute to this. It is important that we understand how social media use relates to these. Evidence is increasingly supporting a link between social media use and wellbeing, particularly during adolescence, but the causes of this are unclear." Dr Cleland Woods, 2015 3
Luckily, I am not a 13 year old girl which is peer pressured onto instagram. Those poor kids which are caught up in this, no wonder that they develop unrealistic expectations of their life and bodies, only to find a perfect stage to project their expectations onto: Influencers.
Influencers, the human form of a disgusting business model. The latest evolution, the incarnation of a manipulation which started by tuning your feed for engagement.
Influencers, who tell you that, yeah, you can be that person if you do this and that or buy this and that. Or who show you that you will never be good enough to enter, but that you can buy a piece of heaven. Creating a fake reality, pretending to be real but being coached con-artists. Honey traps for teenagers.
It's not enough that teenagers have their brain chemistry altered into little dopamine addicts, now they must also deal with fake role models, that pretend to be one of them but really are just lobbyists for commercial, or sinister, interests. Influencers which taunt material and mental riches gained from commercial offerings.
Disgusting. Useless waste of earthly resources.
A Digital Twin to find you
The algorithms of Facebook knew and most likely will still know more about me and my skills, interests, secrets and emotions than I do, even when I have left the network.
The documentary"The social dilemma" created a nice visualization of what Facebook and other tech giants do: They use their massive computing power and pool of the smartest people in the world to create and run algorithms which create a copy of you. A copy which evolves alongside you and gets better and better in being you. A, true, digital twin.
Such a digital twin is used to predict your behavior. Simulations are used to find the optimal next move by a network to keep you engaged. Even before the Snowden leaks I was sure that state players like the NSA would be using their untapped data access to create such twins for every citizen.
In terms of Facebook et al knowing me, I might have one tiny advantage: Ads targeted for me often did not reach me, because I have an effective ad-blocking in place which also protects outside my home network. They can't say that they earned much money with my ad impressions. But I am really sure they knew that.
A Digital Twin to bind you
Facebook et al. use digital twins to maximize your engagement for profit. Government actors could us them for other goals. They could notice deviations in behavior, signalling growing resistance to matters of interest. In a free society, this could be a hint that someone is radicalizing. In an fascists dictatorship, it could signal the same thing, but with a much lower threshold and yielding a very different response.
An unchecked left- or right-wing government might quickly grant itself access to both data and tools of these giants. As long as commercial interests outreach regulatory boundaries, nothing would stop a social network to bestow the desired powers. If it comes to this in the US, where all social networks of importance are located, they couldn't even escape. Therefore lowering your footprint might prove vital to freedom in the near, dystopian, future.
A Digital Twin to heal you?
Yet, it could be so different: My digital twin could be used for good: As a very effective vehicle to design an incremental and streamlined therapy for all kinds of psychological disorders. Addiction being the primary. Maybe one day we get there: Maybe one day Facebook needs to release all their data, including the digital twin they have created of every user. If their powerful AI systems could be re-tuned to provide therapeutic effect, the monster that is now could become a utopian, drug free path to enlightenment. But right now we are on the path to the opposite.
Keep your kids offline. Fucking seriously.
Another aspect which I want to briefly touch upon is what the engagement optimization does: It changes our brain chemistry.
We are being manipulated. The aforementioned documentary goes into detail on how this works, but we all know it by heart: Their apps and sites are finely crafted to get us addicted. Even we adults get caught up. Now imagine how this affects the brain of a child. A device made to allow frictionless interaction with the digital domain. Apps and Sites designed to keep you engaged. Algorithms designed to predict and manipulate the behavior of adults.
Every minute of calm you gain by parking your kid on front of the phone you lose later to arguments, to worry and maybe to disappointment. Authoritative parental control both in software and talking do not help, in fact they could make things worse. By engaging your offspring early with smart devices you are setting yourself up for a losing battle. It's you against trillion dollars in commercial interest. Again, "The social dilemma" drives this point home. It's one brain against a supercomputer programmed to reprogram you, to make your kid a commodity, a future which can be sold.
“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication. If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.” Yalda Uhls, UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles 4
Your child will not have been given the chance to develop to its fullest capability. During the time of their life, when they were vulnerable and dependant on you, you did not take the care you should have. You did not help them develop to their fullest. Instead, you exposed their brains to a rewiring. Now, it's in the very nature of childhood development that brains are being wired for the first time. But it is in your hands how does this initial braiding. You & the nature, or an armada of supercomputers driven by programming to find them and bind them.
"Children need to be bored sometimes because boredom is their imagination calling them to turn inside. If they see a parent always going to their phone in moments of boredom or solitude, there's no model, so they think when they have a moment of boredom, they should go to the phone." Amy Novotney, American Psychological Association, 2016 5
Combine brains addicted to instant gratification with a totally planned-out curriculum from Kindergarten until college graduation and you all but kill creative and critical thinking along the way. Such a generation may find little reason to care about oblique and non-personal topics. Any connection to the world outside the ego might be based on a mediated engagement. Humanism and enlightenment, true selflessness, actions not resulting in a benefit for the ego or tribe might die. Instant a never giving, never ending hunt for instant gratification and tribal validation is all that is left of society.
You did not just park your kid in front of a screen, you anaesthetized a young brain evolved to grow with input from all senses. It is a famous little factoid that the people in the tech industry are very careful about the screen time of their young. The more engaged in the digital business, the more controlled is the digital life at home. They know why, you have no excuse not to.
So, without much further ado:
In this post I want to chronic my last days of membership.
It's day one of my announcement to leave.
I requested a copy of all my data I have ever shared on Facebook.
I realized, to my shock, that it's been 13 years since I joined. My photos, links, comments, posts amassed 607 MB. Facebook prepared that file in a couple of minutes. The performance of their system is amazing. The job to compile this data must have been very low priority for their servers, the data is surely spread across the globe in different databases in different data centers. Yet it took them just a couple of minutes to compile a thorough collection of my data.
Facebook collected the following info for me:
- Photos and Videos
- Likes and Reactions
- Following and Followers
- Profile Information
- Payment History
- Saved Items and Collections
- Your places
- Apps and Websites
- Other activity (here they store the good old pokes)
- Facebook Gaming
- Short Video
- Ads and Business - I am looking forward to this one! Facebook states:
"Ad topics that are relevant to you, advertisers who have collected information directly from you, information you've submitted to advertisers and your interactions with businesses and organizations you visit off of Facebook."
- Search History
- About You
- Security and Login Information
- Your Topics - This one's also interesting:
"A collection of topics determined by your activity on Facebook that is used to create recommendations for you in different areas of Facebook such as News Feed, News and Watch"
- Voice Recordings and Transcription - Ok, "transcriptions" is scary:
"A history of your voice recording and transcription on Facebook"
So far reactions to my departure were interesting: One was envy that I was able to make the move, another person wrote me that I was the sole reason the platform remained interesting.
In the coming days I will sieve through that data mountain. I suspect looming exes, cringy posts form the early days and a whole lot of nostalgia. Hopefully nothing scary.
It's day two of my announcement to leave
I have inspired at least two others to follow me
First of: After a brief initial investigation into the depths of the data file facebook provided me with I found two things:
What's in the archive
Ok, so I really only spend a brief time with the archive consisting out of HTML files. I need to get this article out.
First: Message threads I deleted (hello, Ex-Ex-Ex-Ex) re-appear. She also blocked me, Facebook didn't care and stored all messages, all photos anyhow. Hmkay. Now it's all far away that this ok, but apparently deleting and blocking doesn't not mean to Facebook what I though it does.
Second: At least the "ad topics" they included were totally off. Either I totally overestimated their ability to create profile of me, or they only shared generated profile information about me based on information I knew I gave them by membership in certain groups, likes and follows. I bet there's a way more elaborate model, digital twin, of me they did not share - simply because it is not based on data I consciously shared with them.
Where do we meet again?
I am also looking for a new network, where the diaspora can gather again. Ideally it should be open source and free of a hidden or visible business model. So no, discord is definitely out.
There are people I follow, friends I do love to discuss with below their postings and just the random old friend that pops-up in my messages. I will miss this. This good part of Facebook must live on.
Getting a critical mass to join another social network is almost impossible, even more if it's not totally slick and adding a tangible benefit for the masses. The last two requirements are almost impossible for a non-commercial project. Yet, with all the other channels we have, the numerous messengers and specialized platforms like Steam, maybe a critical mass is not required. When just the members of echo chambers I interacted with join, then it's basically the same as what Facebook has become. Without the spying eyes and evil greed analyzing and predicting every move. It's still a bit sad. Most likely nothing will ever connect me to so many people I know, love, loved or barely know. Back to blogging and eMail, the wonderful world of asynchronous communication. Back to
I can't open this
The page won't load for me
Do I need to register?
mastodon, a candidate
One candidate for replacing facebook, which could be easy enough for many people and which is not too horrible to use is called mastodon. I am already a member on one server of the network, but my profile is a zombie so far. I will investigate this.
I remembered an episode which ran in parallel to my time in the online dating scene. For a time, Facebook offered its Facebook Graph Search to all its members. Graph Search was a semantic search engine, which allowed users to create natural language searches:
You could search for something like this:
People living in Munich who went to Gymnasium Schloss Hagerhof between 1994 and 2002
Facebook would spit out a list of such people, just as you asked. Given of course that people would have shared this info. This worked across all of Facebook, not just friends.
But of course they did. Why wouldn't they? It's public info. But what if someone were to combine certain public data points. Combine them in such a way, that they create a new piece of info that can only come to be by adding up data points that, by themselves, are no reason to worry? Well, Facebook Graph enabled just that. Horny users could create very specific, very pointing search queries:
Single girls between 20 and 26 living in Munich who attended IsarBass last Friday.
This really worked. It made stalking, let's say, scarily easy. Just one year after release, Facebook already removed public easy access to Graph Search. Facebook phased out Graph Search in 2019 for laughable official reasons.
British Psychological Society. "Pressure to be available 24/7 on social media causes teen anxiety, depression: The need to be constantly available, respond 24/7 on social media accounts can cause depression, anxiety." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150911094917.htm> ↩
Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming conversation: The power of talk in a digital age. New York, NY: Penguin Press., from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/02/smartphone ↩