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Facebook Isn’t Mandatory

I was catching up with Slack one afternoon recently, when I saw some of my colleagues chatting excitedly about Firefox’s new Faraday Cage for Facebook users, a browser extension that Mozilla calls “the Facebook Container.

One of my colleagues who was talking about the extension shared a tweet from Andy Baio.

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Like many people around the world, I recently decided to delete my Facebook account. I’d deactivated it in January 2017, right after I read this news story in The Verge about Mark Zuckerberg’s Hawaiian adventures in 21st-century colonialism, so I didn’t have to suffer through the social media withdrawal symptoms that everybody else was going through. Deactivation didn’t go far enough, though. No, after the Cambridge Analytica debacle, in which Facebook was finally unmasked as the villain it has always been, the only acceptable course of action was permanent deletion.

But Baio’s tweet got me thinking.

“Leaving Facebook isn’t an option for everyone.”

Despite the apparent success of the #deletefacebook hashtag, Baio is right. Deleting Facebook isn’t easy, and not everybody can do it. I need Facebook for work. I can’t keep in touch with distant family and friends any other way. My business gets most of its leads from Facebook.

Except none of this is true. (Except maybe the lead-gen bit — maybe your business really does get most of its leads from Facebook. I don’t know, I’m not your mom.)

Giving up Facebook is hard, but it’s not impossible — and it sure as hell isn’t mandatory.

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Image via social@Ogilvy

When I quit Facebook, I wasn’t worried about what it would do to my career. Between the endless algorithm updates, changes to the News Feed, and the decline of organic reach, hardly anybody would even notice if I stopped posting. I wasn’t networking on Facebook, because that’s what LinkedIn is for. What little content I was interested in seeing was posted elsewhere anyway. The one thing I did miss (briefly) was sharing dumb memes on Reddit with my wife. Annoying? Absolutely. Career suicide? Hardly.

I was worried about harming my career prospects when I quit Twitter, however. I got my last full-time job through Twitter. I’d made valuable connections with author, speakers, editors, founders, other tech journos. Twitter was where I got 95% of my news, and where I wasted 95% of my time. But leaving Twitter was almost as easy to justify as quitting Facebook. (Pro tip: if your users report literal Nazis for threatening to rape and kill them, don’t ban the victims of the abuse, you stupid assholes.)

By saying that leaving Facebook isn’t an option for some people, we’re admitting that an unscrupulous tech company with absolutely no qualms about allowing third-party data brokers to undermine the very foundation of democracy to make a quick buck is literally required to succeed — or survive — in our society. We’re admitting that we as a society are so slavishly dependent upon a service that exerts such vast power and influence over information and media in the pursuit of profit, that the dissemination of propaganda and voter manipulation by a hostile foreign government are consequences that we have no choice but to tolerate.

We don’t have to tolerate it, and we do have a choice.

Next time you’re tempted to think you can’t quit Facebook, think about how Facebook allowed your personal data to be sold, collected, and manipulated by a firm whose former chief executive bragged about helping Donald Trump win the race for the U.S. presidency. Think about how Mark Zuckerberg was ready and willing to use his immense personal fortune — a fortune he amassed by selling the most intimate details of our lives to advertisers — to force Hawaiian landowners to sell ancestral land that has been in their families for generations for a fraction of its value. Think about how Facebook scraped text message and phone call data from Android users’ devices without their knowledge or permission for years, then lied about it. Think about how Andrew Bosworth, a VP in Facebook’s hardware division that focuses on augmented and virtual reality technologies, wrote in a (now-deleted) memo leaked to BuzzFeed that Facebook’s pursuit of growth at any cost was justified — even if it means people’s deaths.

“So we connect more people,” Bosworth wrote. “That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned.”

That’s not to say that quitting Facebook is easy. If you rely on Facebook for work or career advancement, you’ll probably miss out on certain opportunities. If you only use Facebook to keep in contact with distant loved ones, you’ll have to come up with another way to stay in touch. If your business relies on Facebook, now’s probably a good time to start asking some hard questions about your marketing strategy. All of these things are difficult and a huge pain in the ass, but the alternative — continuing to use Facebook — is to be knowingly complicit in Facebook’s crimes. (Even the Bible agrees that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.) If we continue using Facebook despite everything we know about what Mark Zuckerberg and his company have done, we are making a statement that we either don’t care enough to inconvenience ourselves, or we condone Zuckerberg’s actions.

Facebook embodies the very worst excesses of not only Silicon Valley and the handful of obscenely wealthy white men who see the world as theirs for the taking, but of capitalism in general. Facebook’s naked contempt for its users and the law is abhorrent, but it’s far from uncommon. The only way we’re going to stop these companies from feeding on us is to refuse to let them, and the first step toward that is recognizing that we don’t need Facebook and we do have a choice.

p.s. If this post has inspired you to delete your own Facebook account, follow these step-by-step instructions.

 

This post was originally published on Medium.