Brent Walther

Why I deactivated Facebook

Tuesday, Feb 12, 2019


I signed up for a Facebook account back in 2008 when the platform was still fairly young. I was in high school at the time and it was a pretty trendy thing to do (having recently opened up from the previous exclusivity it had to university students). From the beginning, I’ve appreciated Facebook for the grand vision that Mark Zuckerberg had (has?) for it: To connect the world. I really enjoyed sharing photos, creating, subscribing, and joining local events, and keeping up with friends that I’ve made in life. Facebook is still the de-facto standard when it comes to connectivity with your ‘social’ network of friends, family, and acquaintances. More recently though, I began to feel like Facebook was losing personal value for me and I was seeing too much bad press: frightening news stories about the companies questionable privacy practices and academic publishings shedding light on some of the psychological effects Facebook has on society. So, I decided that I was finished (at least for now and it would probably be a tough sell to convince me otherwise) with Facebook.

Questionable privacy practices

It’s probably not (or at least, I hope that it isn’t) news to you that Facebook isn’t nearly as concerned about the privacy of their users relative to other companies with the same level of world impact. Some examples of just how terrible of a job Facebook has done at educating and protecting users:

  1. Exposing (or just handing over?) data of nearly 50 million U.S. based users from to Cambridge Analytica [1] “as a way to identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.” [2]
  2. Allowing Russia (and probably others) to produce and disseminate fake news and propaganda to over 790,000 users via “nearly 500 pages and accounts” and $135,000 worth of ad spend on Facebook. [3]
  3. Until mid-2015, allowing app developers (for example: Farmville, Candy Crush) to suck in all of an individual’s friends data if that individual gives “basic” permissions to an app. The implication here is that there are countless companies (even bad actors) out there with your information because your friend logged into their app. [4]
  4. The long-held conspiracy (I describe it as a conspiracy only because I’m unable to confirm that it’s true) that Facebook is listening to your conversations as a means of picking up keywords to use for advertisement targeting. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from numerous people and even had it happen to me. Did you know that Facebook (Oh, and don’t forget that Facebook owns Instagram and Whatsapp too) requests (and very likely has) microphone permission on your phone? Many people don’t. If you never intend to talk to the app, why is it enabled?

The list goes on, but what has become clear to me is that Facebook is unable to handle the scale at which they operate. What’s worse is that most people are apathetic to these facts and simply don’t care. I may not be able to convince you to care about protecting your own data, but it’s flat out reckless for a company having the data of billions of users to not protect it properly. Just so we’re clear - I’m not claiming that Facebook isn’t trying to improve this situation, just that they’ve done a terrible job up until now and their platform is still growing.

I do acknowledge that I may have bias against Facebook because I currently work at Google who as a company I consider to be much more conscious of user data privacy [7]. Still, I feel as if there are too many bright people working at Facebook to display such negligence. If you’re building a product for billions of people, you need to do the due diligence to protect them.

Facebook’s value to me

These privacy issues were very concerning to me but they are not the only reason that I decided to deactivate my account. As I mentioned above, I have historically found a lot of value in Facebook and do honestly still appreciate their overarching mission. I enjoyed seeing what some of my old friends were up to and being able to share my own updates (which have been almost 100% pictures for the past few years). However, I slowly began to see too much junk in my news feed: tagged photos that took me long moments to figure out who I knew in the picture, random clickbait or news that friends had shared that I didn’t care about, and people fishing for likes and comments on their latest and greatest everything (I’ve been guilty of this too, more below). As a consequence, I started ‘unfollowing’ people so that their content would no longer show up in my feed but we’d still stay friends. It started with just a few, but it grew to 10s, and eventually became over 100. I had to ask myself: “If I don’t care about what over 100 people I’m ‘friends’ with have to say or share, why am I still on Facebook?”

Hiding people was only a bandage on the bigger problem of Facebook for me. Despite having ‘hidden’ tons of people, there were still a lot of folks that were in that grey area of “I still enjoy seeing what you post, but only about half the time.” For many people, Facebook has become the easiest and most powerful soapbox they have access to and they feel the need to use it to blast their opinions to every single one of their friends.

Am I somebody that wants to curtail freedom of thought and opinion? No.

Am I somebody who thinks that people don’t deserve to be heard? Also no.

However, Facebook isn’t the right platform to do it - most of the responses you get are either people vehemently opposing you (but without the power face-to-face conversation has) or reinforcing you. In either case, it doesn’t have real social perspective. Many people say things they would never out loud in public physically standing there next to other people. Plus, what value does making the entire conversation public to all 1000 of your friends have?

It goes further than just opinions. I’ve begun to see (and indeed, many academics have published studies related to this) a lot more people base their own personal value on the quality of their online profiles. Every picture has to be perfect. Every post needs to make people think that I’m cool and do cool things. “Throwback Thursday” becomes re-posting some of your most cherished experiences so that people don’t forget you’ve done it. Most people’s profiles become a giant facade where somebody’s opinion of them isn’t based on who they actually are or what they actually do; it’s based on the image their profile portrays.

I understand and sympathize with people who’ve fallen into this trap because I’ve been there myself. Everyone seeks to be confident and validated and what easier way to do that than post something you’re proud of and have people ‘like’ it. The more likes, the better, right? Yet, a big list of people that have liked your content ends up being pretty meaningless in the end when you realize that all they did was scroll past it, read it or look at it, and click or tap a button. It’s not a valuable validation in my opinion and it isn’t very genuine. I didn’t like feeling these things when I posted stuff (and it’s hard not to) I took the method I know best: Resisting temptation by removing it.

I was getting tired of crummy privacy standards, easy-mode soapboxes, echo chambers, and insincere social interactions so I decided to deactivate my Facebook.

References / Footnotes

  1. The Cambridge Analytica Files - The Guardian Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  2. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: What You Need to Know as Fallout Widens. Published 2018-03-19 by Kevin Granville. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  3. Facebook Identifies Russia-Linked Misinformation Campaign. Published 2019-01-17 by Adam Satariano. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  4. Facebook Is Shutting Down Its API For Giving Your Friends’ Data To Apps. Published 2015-04-28 by Josh Constine. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
  5. Encryption at Rest - Google Cloud Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  6. Encryption in Transit in Google Cloud Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  7. For example, we encrypt all data at rest [5], transit [6], and engineers like myself are unable to access user data and would be fired for user data misuse. Data stays internal, where it belongs.