Reading tips: Actionable links (petitions, podcasts) and main points in paragraphs are bold. Check out my sources as you read if you have the time to dive deeper into the subject. I’ve added cover pictures of my favorite books, which are all referenced as well. I’ve spent a lot of time making this a fact-based piece to overcome the tendency to trivialize the role of Facebook in our daily lives and society. Using FB is not just a “personal choice” – it’s political and important.
I’ll be coming out with a post on FB alternatives soon, until then Information(1) and Wired(2) are good places to start.
You can download this as a PDF if you want to read it offline. This article is around 1600 words and should take you like 10 minutes to read. Here we go:
Despite its clear usefulness in our modern connected lives, Facebook (“FB” onwards) is now more an addictive burden than a community-building time-saver, and the company’s behavior is completely unethical. The goal with this post is to organize my own personal and political arguments for deleting Facebook, since it’s so difficult to delete (more on this later) that I must make it REALLY clear to myself why it’s necessary. Maybe this thinking effort can help you make an informed choice as well.
In Denmark, 65% of all Danes over 12 use FB daily and 70% of youth check social media (“SoMe”) at least once per hour(3). Many small businesses (including myself, a teacher of movement) rely almost exclusively on FB and its ads to direct attention to their services. Although I’m proud of never having paid FB for ads or anything else, the average Dane earns around 100DKK for FB pr. year(3). The platform is captivating, because it’s designed to optimize user's time on screen (NOT “build community”) in order to increase profit from advertisements (NOT deliver “relevant ads” – ads earned FB 22.000.000.000$ (22 billion/milliarder dollars) in 2016 and 38.000.000.000$ in 2018(4)).
This optimization strategy implemented by algorithms usually takes the form of things that cause outrage, things of interest or passion or things that are funny. It really works well on me: My FB-wall is littered with things I’m interested in like acroyoga, climate change and CPH-events and I use it to promote my teaching. But my girlfriend thinks I’m on the phone too much, I spend about ½ the time at lectures on FB and every time FB is in the news, it’s scandal after scandal AGAIN and AGAIN.
To organize this long rant, here are the categories of my motivation to delete FB:
1. The political SCANDALS
2. The lack of privacy & SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM
3. The psychology of ADDICTION
4. The DIFFICULTY of deleting FB itself
1 POLITICAL SCANDALS
Without FB (and Russian fake profiles), Trump would not be president(5,6). WHAT, really? Well, all over the world, the new norm in political advertising is using a technique called "micro-targeting" - which might pose a serious threat to democracy as The Guardian writes about in this story (7) and George Monbiot in this one(8) and that one(9). As I'm writing this, Trump is spending more than the democrats combined on FB and Google adds(10):
The BIG one is this: Facebook failed to keep data from 87 million users private in the Cambridge Analytica scandal(11) and this affected both the 2016 Trump election and Brexit. But other security breaches have occurred as well(12).
More locally in Denmark, Klaus Riskjær Pedersen has started his own political party by collecting the obligatory 21.000 signatures in record time(13) using only FB ads with the help of staff all under 28 years old(14). Neither the political parties nor FB wanted to disclose how much money was spent on FB ads during the last election in Denmark(15). FB, a new worldwide media-market, is disrupting the political landscape.
Mozilla, an organization dedicated to a “healthy internet”, has written this Open Letter to Facebook related to this subject, which you can sign if you want to add your voice.
Now, political advertisement is not inherently bad, but in the old-school medias, you couldn’t personalize and micro-target voters using data. With the new data-informed media, it’s clear that YOU DON’T WANT THE TARGET TO KNOW THEY ARE BEING TARGETED when you’re selling things or ideas – why? Well, when you want people to change their behavior, it doesn’t help that the targets are aware of this manipulative effort and how they are EXACTLY the most vulnerable people to this specific persuasion or that product. “Relevant ads”? No. Cheap, personalized micro-targeting of specific demographics according to who is most likely (read VULNERABLE) to change their behavior. Call a spade a spade. And it works best if it’s NOT transparent and you think that whatever “just popped up”. That’s the sneaky part. Somebody payed real money to show exactly that whatever to YOU.
As a final note on the political level, listen to this critical interview(16) with Mark Zuckerberg, who became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire at 23 years old in 2007(17). And who doesn’t pay the taxes he owes, by the way (18,19). In my opinion, he isn’t mature enough to deal with the responsibility and I don’t like him either.
2 The lack of privacy & SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM
They have even used phone numbers given from users for “security reasons” to target them with ads! You can tell FB that this crosses a line here.
FB’s entire income depends on user data. The more data about as many aspects of life the better. Shoshana Zuboff’s new book(20) summarizes the business model like this:
“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”(21)
Listen to this fantastic podcast(22) if you want to hear Zuboff break it down for you in 1 hour. Or you can let Wikipedia explain Surveillance Capitalism for you. I was convinced immediately of the importance of understanding this new marketplace (and not supporting it). Facebook is not “social” – it’s a market platform, where the customers are businesses and sellers, and the product is you, a potential voter, participant or consumer.
3 The psychology of ADDICTION
Imran Rashid has written an amazing book in Danish called SLUK, Kunsten at overleve I en digital verden(4) (TURN IT OFF, the art of surviving in the digital age). You should really just learn Danish and read that book, but the content is all about the mild version of Internet Addiction Disorder everybody has these days. Because FB has gamified our basic social needs and used the latest science of behavioral design, it’s succeeded in become the world’s most addictive platform, taking our time, our data and our privacy in turn for – at best – helping unite people with common interests, organize our real social life and maybe earn money.
The way this works is that your behavior, which you might think is autonomous and free, is programmed into the code of FB – its technology optimized to hack your brain.
Nir Eyal, a student of Fogg, wrote a book called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”(26). Doesn’t this just piss you off? Personally, I can’t stand the idea of being instrumentalized as scientifically and as commercially as this. I’m a HUMAN BEING, not a cog in the dataset of Machine Learning monsters with names like FB, Google and Amazon. This is what Douglas Rushkoffs great podcast(27) and book(28) TEAM HUMAN is all about:
“It doesn’t have to be this way.
Autonomous technologies, runaway markets and weaponized media seem to have overturned civil society, paralyzing our ability to think constructively, connect meaningfully, or act purposefully. It feels as if civilization itself were on the brink, and that we lack the collective willpower and coordination necessary to address issues of vital importance to the very survival of our species.
The simplest way to understand and change our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport. We cannot be fully human, alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our will.” – Team Human Podcast Description
And I haven’t even begun to cover the depressing tendency of FB to be correlated with all kinds of mental dis-ease like self-harm, envy, depression and stress(4,29). No time for that.
4 The DIFFICULTY of deleting FB itself
The primary reason FB is so hard to quit is the logic of networks:
All my friends who have tried to quit tell me of the onerous work it is to find other pathways for communication and information. Besides, there are good reasons not to #DeleteFacebook (30), like using it for the better instead of going dark and becoming irrelevant. If only the bad guys use persuasion technology, they will win the debates and the people.
But now it’s time to do the hard thing. Minimum 3 months. And if you know me, you know I intend to be part of the political circus of dialogue and debate and NOT just talk the talk. I’m doing it by following quality media like Information, The Guardian and Zetland and by writing this piece which could change your mind, perhaps. And it will give me some extra time in life to focus on what matters, write more on my OWN website and get my email-newsletter (SUBSCRIBE, FRIENDS!) rolling again.
See you IRL. And thanks for reading!
1. Elmelund, Rasmus. Skal vi slette vores facebookprofil? Og hvor skal vi så gå hen bagefter? Information [Internet]. Available from: https://www.information.dk/kultur/2018/04/slette-vores-facebookprofil-saa-gaa-hen-bagefter
2. Matsakis, Louise. Deleting Facebook? Here Are the Best Alternatives For What You’ll Miss [Internet]. Wired.com. 2018. Available from: https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-alternatives/
3. Opmærksomhedskrigen: hvordan en industri kaprede din hjerne og solgte din tid [Internet]. Kbh.: Zetland; 2018. Available from: https://butik.zetland.dk/products/opmaerksomhedskrigen-hvordan-en-industri-kaprede-din-hjerne-og-solgte-din-tid
4. Rashid, Imran. Sluk. Lindhardt og Ringhof; 2017.
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15. Tybjerg, Jonathan, Kulager, Frederik. Bevæbnet med dine personlige oplysninger fører partierne valgkamp. Politiken [Internet]. Available from: https://politiken.dk/indland/politik/folketingsvalg2015/art5577855/Bev%C3%A6bnet-med-dine-personlige-oplysninger-f%C3%B8rer-partierne-valgkamp
16. Swisher, Kara, Zuckerberg, Mark. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Recode Decode [Internet]. Available from: https://www.recode.net/2018/7/18/17575158/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-interview-full-transcript-kara-swisher
17. Mark Zuckerberg. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Zuckerberg
18. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Fact Sheet: Facebook and Tax Avoidance [Internet]. ITEP.ORG. Available from: https://itep.org/fact-sheet-facebook-and-tax-avoidance/
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20. Zuboff S. The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. First edition. New York: PublicAffairs; 2018. 691 p.
21. Naughton, John. “The goal is to automate us”: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism. The Guardian [Internet]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/20/shoshana-zuboff-age-of-surveillance-capitalism-google-facebook
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