I deactivated Facebook on June 24—the first time I have been without it in my adult life. After going almost three months without seeing the sickly blue logo or having a red notification alert invade my online workspace—and consciousness, I can definitively say that disabling Facebook was the best thing I could have done for myself this summer.
I was an “early adopter,” and once sang the praises of a technology that had the potential to connect strangers who should be friends. After all, technology pulled me out of depression at a time when I was almost completely isolated from my peers. I owed a lot to the concept of its ability to connect humanity, distracting us from the inevitable conclusion to life which is dying alone. But the way Facebook has been developed to abuse and manipulate the public over the past decade has stirred such a deep disgust in me that I can’t ethically continue to use it, regardless of how large my “audience” is there (a term marketers use to describe the people they can force their product in front of).
On a more personal level, I recognized that Facebook was contributing to the distressing form of sensory overload that I regularly face when returning to the US from long journeys abroad. It is a form of PTSD, and quitting Facebook did more to ease its negative symptoms than any pharmaceutical intervention could have done. Simply put, being connected to Facebook made me feel like a tea bag, being steeped in America’s myopic bullshit, over and over again.
Several people have told me that my travel posts were something they continually looked forward to viewing on Facebook, and it did feel a bit as though I was punishing my readers by disconnecting in this way. But I think I did us all a favor in the long run, because I am a better writer and thinker, a better me, without Facebook in my life.
Though I will post this link on Facebook today (my account was reactivated without my direct consent when I updated my credit card information on Spotify, a service that uses Facebook’s API for login purposes), I won’t contribute my writing to this corporate silo the way that I have in the past. You’re going to have to click that extra click, or even search from scratch to find my words on the internet. Publishing on Facebook is the equivalent of unpaid labor, and often the people who are the loudest on there are the ones no one would pay for their writing otherwise. So I will be quiet on there, but loud on platforms that appreciate my professionalism and experience as a writer, and invite my contributions to the public sphere.
From an ethical standpoint, Facebook is among the worst of the worst of tech companies manufacturing technological addictions. It incepts into thinking that the only way to live without it is to suffer alone, out of the loop, out of the immediate reach of friends and loved ones. They make it seem like to leave Facebook is the equivalent of death. One Facebook employee even taunted me on Twitter when I expressed how nice it was to be without:
You don’t need it. Even their employees know it’s the worst, as many have personally told me they are only there for the paycheck and will leave as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. After all, they are making millions off your free labor, giving away the details of your lives for them to package and sell to anyone they want without you even knowing about it. The benefits of Facebook have long ceased to outweigh the costs, but we keep working for our dopamine drip of likes. Why? Your neurons aren’t so tainted that they can’t go back to finding release in the simple pleasure of the natural world again. The anecdote is simply deactivation, and redirection of your online attention to more worthy resources.
Life wasn’t hard for me without Facebook—the people who wanted to contact me chose one of several other pathways to do so. The danger is that if we continue to choose Facebook over alternatives, life will be impossible without it. They are already lobbying in Africa to make sure it is the only “internet” available to people who can’t afford cellular data plans, creating a dependency in a way most Americans can’t fathom. Right now, it’s merely inconvenient to not have access to Facebook, but if they have it their way in the future, quitting could very well kill you, perhaps by cutting off your primary income streams.
The exodus has begun. Right now, it may not seem like we have much choice about what social network to use, as the other options haven’t reached critical mass or have been deliberately squashed by Facebook and other tech giants. But soon choice will emerge once again, and you’d be wise to choose the option that prioritizes you as a user. There are thousands of people in the world working to build alternative mechanisms for people to communicate via the internet. I am one of them. By opting to use other platforms to carry out your technological tasks, you will pull your social currency away from Facebook to those other places and decrease the power of Facebook to act unilaterally and with impunity regarding your online experience.
So here is my challenge to you: Every time you have the impulse or feel a necessity to post something on Facebook, post it somewhere else first. Link to it on Facebook if you must, but let that content live somewhere outside the confines of a corrupt organization that has absolutely no obligation to preserve or maintain your content or privacy. Start to initiate the process of removing yourself from its death grip, because soon, there will be a viable alternative to the connectivity we crave, and it will be pure and unadulterated.
I still believe that the internet can set us free, but nobody in power has ever just given up that power because it was the ethical thing to do, and you’d better not expect Facebook to do that now. Just like all revolutions of the past, we will have to carve our technological freedom out for ourselves.