Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Breaking up with Facebook Is Hard to Do . . . but Worth the Effort?

I've had an uneasy feeling about remaining on Facebook for some time now.  For others there might have been specific events that prompted them to raise the #DeleteFacebook flag.  Perhaps it was the ever growing saga of how Facebook sees user data as a commodity?  Perhaps the Cambridge Analytica scandal in early 2016 was the turning point?  Many of us on the progressive left were sickened by the irresponsible role Facebook played in the 2016 election as a source of disinformation and as an outlet for Russian propaganda.  I know I was, and I was just as much disturbed that such disinformation found a ready audience.

Like many in the baby boom generation, I first opened a Facebook account some ten years ago as a way of staying in touch with my son.  He had stopped using e-mail, and Facebook was all the rage for his age group.  The irony is that he has long since moved away from social media.

I became a large scale user of Facebook after gender transition in 2010-11.  I was in Romania at the time and had become well known in the Romanian lgbtqi+ community.  Everyone was on Facebook, and before long I had more Romanian Facebook friends than I did American.  When I left Romania in 2013, Facebook remained a window into the lives of those I had left behind in Romania.  The same has been true of my friends in Kazakhstan.  For a foreign service officer, Facebook allows at least a glimpse into the lives of those we have known and sometimes loved in the countries where we have served.

But does that glimpse have substance?  I lost count of how many Facebook friends I have a long time ago, but I believe it is now in the 1000 range.  How many glimpses do the Facebook algorithms give when the number of friends has grown that large?  Where do the glimpses that populate our news feeds come from?  I can search for a friend and find out what she or he is up to, but when one comes down to it, isn't it also possible to do that by a simple e-mail to that friend?

If there was a specific time when my relationship to Facebook soured, it was in the crowd tuition funding campaign we undertook for Sultana Kali.  During that campaign we collected more than we had any reason to expect, but almost none of the contributions came via Facebook friends.  The bulk came from outside the social network, a network that turned out to be hollow.

Facebook played a foul role in our 2016 election, a role made all the more foul by its attempts to cover up or belittle Russia's use of social networking as a means of dividing us as a people by playing on our worst instincts.  Without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking platforms, perhaps we would not live in a world today where the occupant of the White House is dangerously unhinged and the U.S. role in the world is in rapid decline?

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook knows that I have published little there since leaving Kazakhstan in 2017.  At most, I spend perhaps 5-15 minutes a day on the platform to glance at the news feed and look for any personal messages.  Even as a messaging platform, I have found Facebook wanting.  WhatsApp is a better way of staying in direct touch with specific individuals and groups of friends.  Kazakhstan as a country seems to run on WhatsApp.  More recently I learned that Telegram is a better, more secure messaging platform not under Facebook control, and I plan to move there.

That brings me to my 2019 New Year's resolution to move off Facebook.  I deleted my Twitter account months ago, and I've never really been a user of Instagram.

Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face?  Will the loss be worth the gain in control over my own data and a clearer conscience?  I don't know.  I've toyed with this decision for months, dancing around it without coming to a firm yes or no.  In the end I've decided that the only way to know is to try.  Rather than deleting my Facebook account outright, I'll deactivate it for a half year and experience what life is like without Facebook.  If the loss outweighs the gain, I can reactivate the account.

I did say New Year's resolution, didn't I?  Let's make that Old New Year, the beginning of the new year by the Julian calendar, January 14 in our Gregorian system.  That will give those who wish to stay in touch with me time to copy my non-Facebook  contact information, which is:
e-mail:
msrobyn-alice@usa.net
robyn.aja.mccutcheon@gmail.com
WhatsApp:  pegged to my Kazakhstani telephone, +7 771 164-0368
I also pledge to write more often in this web journal, perhaps not much more at first due to work and travel schedules, but more with time as we move into the year.  I am also still on LinkedIn.

As an experiment I've also opened an account on Diaspora*, a decentralized open-source social networking platform.  There are not many people on Diaspora* yet, but perhaps we can change that together?  If you want to follow me there, you can sign up at https://joindiaspora.com/ and look for me as robyn_alice_mccutcheon@diaspora.dev.facil.services.

That's my #DeactivateFacebook challenge to myself for 2019.  Forward I go into a time before Facebook existed.  Happy New Year, С Новым Годом, and Happy New Networking to all!


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