By: Lydia Crow
I’m not sure when certain developments started to change how I felt about social media, but it was certainly several years ago now. Whereas once it was something which brought more joy than not, now it seems its primary function is to offer us platforms upon which to stand and watch horrific or terrifying world events unfold in slow motion. Worse, these very platforms are providing the opportunity not just for amplifying the negativity, but for global events to be manipulated and shaped by those with ulterior motives. It is not true that the world is worse than it has ever been, and it is not true that every hope raised is shattered by social media; but it is hard not to feel some degree of those sentiments as we watch helplessly from the sidelines.
Only, we’re not stood on the sidelines. Whether we like to think of it like this or not, we are in the thick of it all: not just absorbing but participating in all this activity.
Increasingly in this day and age, don’t we need to start to consider at which stage our use of certain platforms for our own personal convenience or gain mean, in effect, we are complicit in the wider substantial moral issues surrounding the platforms in question?
At this point we need to put aside, for a moment, the issue of those who abuse social media platforms for their own nefarious ends: not for any other reason than the fact that, in most cases, they’re not actually abusing platform functionality. They are merely taking advantage of poorly considered or defined ethics in order to make use of the soapboxes various platforms provide, or to tap into the big data these platforms offer.
This is something I have been thinking about more and more in recent times, especially since the revelations came to light throughout 2018 relating to how personal Facebook user data has been used for various political purposes. The revelations themselves would not surprise anyone who was keeping half an eye open, but the sheer breadth of their reach was, and remains, outstanding. And I suspect we’ve only just scratched the surface.
And, yes, here I think we need to single out Facebook. That’s not to say that it is the only platform which is allowing these kinds of activities to take place, but it is certainly the largest platform that has allowed this kind of activity to this extent, and whose very algorithms, structures and business remain opaque or outright suspect to a large degree. Above all this, there is clearly an unwillingness on the part of Facebook to take real, honest responsibility for the damage that it has inflicted on the world at large.
The reason it has taken me this long to decide to make this move is simply because of how much inconvenience it will cause me, and what I will miss due to deleting my account. I know there are people with whom I will lose touch, and this makes me sad.
I have had three personal Facebook accounts over the years, and, whenever I have deleted an account, I miss the updates from those friends I only seem to keep in touch with on Facebook. I miss the photos, the merriness, the daftness. However much I’ve tried, I have naturally drifted away from some people when I haven’t had a personal Facebook account – only to be back in touch when I started a new account. And this is how they ensure we stay on the platform: because Facebook has convinced us to believe that, in some instances, not only is it the primary way to communicate, it is the only way.
I have also had two more accounts for work and research over the years, meaning I have not been altogether without a Facebook account at any given point since I set up my first personal account in 2006. As I have said, it would actually inconvenience me to delete my account, but isn’t that also sort of the point? I’m not doing this as some kind of impotent protest, though, I am doing this because I don’t think I can any longer be associated with a platform and company which operates as Facebook chooses to. Recently, researching various issues and developments relating to social media, I have been forced to pay attention to all the evidence I was turning a blind eye to: not to say I wasn’t aware, but there comes a point when we have to ask ourselves to what point we’re happy participating in a culture which represents the opposite of what we consider to be some of our most dearly held values. Given events happening and creative ventures planned for later this year and early next, it would suit me to have access to Facebook as a platform. In fact, it would probably disadvantage me not to have access to Facebook as a platform. But I am increasingly finding myself reluctant to show any form of support for Facebook’s business model and the way in which it approaches ethical considerations relating to the (unprecedented?) level of personal data it should be safeguarding.
It is one thing pretending I am happy with how my data is used (face recognition, anyone?), but there are increasingly wider concerns at stake: not least, how reliant upon the platform so many people have become. Have you ever considered what would happen if Facebook ever went offline completely, or held your data and networks to ransom, demanding money for you to access them? Just think of all the relationships which would be affected: because ultimately, you have no power over any data which you input into Facebook.
I can see a situation whereby it is soon required that people have a Facebook account to access certain services: already, when logging into various sites, this is the preferred and default method. Potential security issues relating to logging into third-party applications across the web has recently been highlighted in the latest (publicly known) substantial data breach.
Isn’t it funny? I wonder how many people who insist of having their landline ex-directory (or did, when they had one) are quite willing to download and utilise various applications on their mobile phones. The sheer breadth of the data we merrily hand over to applications so we can access them at our fingertips is reckless at best. Again, we make our peace knowing it is a lesser evil for the sake of ease: but where might that lead us – where will that leave us – in the next few years?
As part of my research focussing on social media data, collated and analysed over a period of five and a half years in total, I have been paying particular attention to the development of the platforms of Facebook and Twitter. I have ensured that I am sufficiently aware of key changes and data implications (oh, the joys of the ethics of analysing and discussing online data freely available in the public domain!). Now that my thesis is complete, though, I no longer need access to Facebook as a platform per se. My last moral justification to maintain an account (or two) has now expired.
I am fortunate. I can delete Facebook knowing that it will not substantially alter my quality of life (possibly even, in many ways, improve it). I have other platforms upon which I’m more comfortable conversing (none of them perfect, either, incidentally: but I can make my peace more easily with their approach to management of data). This isn’t the case for everyone, and here I must stress that it is important for everyone to base their own decisions on the platforms they use on what they personally gain from certain communication methods because, above all else, it is important – now more than ever – that we continue to communicate with each other. I have no doubt there will be others who look askance at my preferred platform of choice (Twitter) and wonder how I can continue to use the platform given its inability to respond to serious complaints about some of the content posted there (incidentally, I don’t use the standard Twitter timeline – I have a saved search function showing me the real-time posts of those I follow, without any advertisings or algorithmic monitored content: life on the platform has been infinitely more pleasant since I started using this technique).
I also predict – whether it happens next year or in several years – that there will be some form of watershed moment, not just in terms of Facebook, but in many of the larger (social) media companies that run our society (and yes, they really do run our society in many ways). I’m keen to develop, while I can, my own contacts that will survive any version of a Social Media Armageddon. I will be blogging, and I will be starting my own mailing list with recaps and updates. And, though I’ll likely be changing my personal email address and mobile telephone number over the next few months, I’ll do this in a staggered way so I can get in touch with everyone to let them know (if you think this is overkill, you should read up on the planned linkages between Facebook’s various companies, including some of the targeted advertising plans expected for WhatsApp using blended data).
It’s exhausting living in the twenty-first century, and each and every one of us needs to make our own decisions about how we survive in this brave new world where social media dictates so much.
And in some cases, it will be those decisions which personally disadvantage us – those decisions we don’t really want to have to make, because they’re a nuisance or would make our lives that little bit harder – are the ones where, maybe, we should be seen to make a stand. It’s too easy to retweet or share or like something in this day and age and feel like we have done our part. But we need to do more. We need to draw our lines in the sand.
For me, I have finally decided that this means deleting my Facebook account. I have already deleted (or set to delete) all my Facebook pages – one of which has been live for many, many years – and will leave my account live long enough with my forwarding details for anyone who is interested. By the end of the year, I’ll be gone.
This is it, Facebook: my final farewell. It’s been emotional.