Bye Facebook

published on April 21, 2017

I deleted my Facebook account because in the past three years, I barely used it. It’s ironic, considering I worked there. 1

More irony: I never used it as much as I did when I worked there.

Yet more irony: a huge portion of my Facebook news feed was activity by a handful of Facebook employees. 2

No longer useful

I used to like Facebook because it delivered on its original mission:

Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.

They’re clearly no longer true to that mission. 3

When I joined in November 2007, the news feed chronologically listed status updates from your friends. Great!

Since then, they’ve done every imaginable thing to increase time spent, also known as the euphemistic “engagement”. They’ve done this by surfacing friends’ likes, suggested likes, friends’ replies, suggested friends, suggested pages to like based on prior likes, and of course: ads. Those things are not only distractions, they’re actively annoying.

Instead of minimizing time spent so users can get back to their lives, Facebook has sacrificed users at the altar of advertising: more time spent = more ads shown.

No longer trustworthy

An entire spectrum of concerns to choose from, along two axes: privacy and walled garden. And of course, the interesting intersection of minimized privacy and maximized walled gardenness: the filter bubble.

If you want to know more, see Vicki Boykis’ well-researched article.

No thanks

Long story short: Facebook is not for me anymore.

It’s okay to not know everything that’s been going on. It makes for more interesting conversations when you do get to see each other again.

The older I get, the more I prefer the one communication medium that is not a walled garden, that I can control, back up and search: e-mail.


  1. To be clear: I’m still very grateful for that opportunity. It was a great working environment and it helped my career! ↩︎

  2. Before deleting my Facebook account, I scrolled through my entire news feed — apparently this time it was seemingly endless, and I stopped after the first 202 items in it, by then I’d had enough. Of those 202 items, 58 (28%) were by former or current Facebook employees. 40% (81) of it was reporting on a like or reply by somebody — which I could not care less about 99% of the time. And the remainder, well… the vast majority of it is mildly interesting at best. Knowing all the trivia in everybody’s lives is fatiguing and wasteful, not fascinating and useful. ↩︎

  3. They’ve changed it since then, to: give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. ↩︎

Comments

okay's picture
okay

I can see where you are coming from, but where are you headed? (mastodon, scuttlebutt, diaspora? sticking with blogs + linking?)

Also make sure to download a data dump :0

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

I’m not headed anywhere :)

  • Twitter for work-related things (that’s also been getting more annoying in some ways, but nowhere near as painful as Facebook)
  • This blog has been 99% work stuff, but yes, I think I’ll use that slightly more often
  • Just more real-world interactions/fun stuff. I’m fine with not knowing all the things about everybody’s lives! Less information overload.
  • e-mail! (I have been wanting to e-mail you for quite some time now actually — expect one soon!)

The data dump I have: a whopping six and a half megabytes!

Jesse Beach's picture
Jesse Beach

Keep a Messenger account if you can stomach it :) It’s at least a useful chat app.

dawehner's picture
dawehner

This is interesting!

dawehner's picture
dawehner

Great blogpost and decision!

Just more real-world interactions/fun stuff. I’m fine with not knowing all the things about everybody’s lives! Less information overload.

I actually believe because everyone is informed about everything people do, conversations these days are way less nice/easy to have. A lot of the conversation starter topics are already gone.

There is one aspect about “leaving facebook” is that you have to in mind that you are in a position where it is possible. There are probably a billion facebook users out there, which are not in the position to be able to … and well, the trick is to make the web accessible for them, somehow.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

conversations these days are way less nice/easy to have

Agreed! I wrote this at the end:

It makes for more interesting conversations when you do get to see each other again.

I’m not sure I entirely understand what you mean by many Facebook users not being able to leave? There’s discomfort due to the network effect, yes (Facebook Groups for school, Facebook Events for parties)?

Are you referring to people not familiar with the actual web, and who equate “Facebook” with “the web” (or “the internet”)?

dawehner's picture
dawehner

In our western worlds there are a lot of social groups using Facebook as a tool of organization, ranging from university to sport clubs. It feels like there is no other option for people.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

True! This is the situation my wife finds herself in for her medicine degree. Peer pressure + network effect.

Philip Van Hoof's picture

Facebook wall: use your blog, like you do already. What’s wrong with it, and why is Facebook’s wall any better? It’s not. Your blog is better. Facebook chat, messenger, etc: apt-get install ejabberd, set up let’s encrypt certificates and use them for ejabberd.pem and use your own me@wimleers.com as XMPP or Jabber UID. Encrypted and everything. Better than Signal, Telegram and Whatsapp (who all also use XMPP internally). Also set up s2s so that you can chat with other people who also run their own server. Give your wife and kids accounts on your own Jabber server. Facebook’s messages: use E-mail. apt-get install cyrus-imap, postfix and create your own E-mail account with IMAP and everything. Also apt-get install roundcube if you want Web E-mail. Also install PGP and configure it in your E-mail client for encrypted E-mails. Also give your wife and kids own E-mail accounts on your own E-mail server. If you want other people to trust and see your public keys: check out https://keybase.io

Having worked at Facebook, you know all this. You just have to do it. Nothing about it is hard. You can google for howtos. Renting a virtual machine for hosting all that software on will cost you about 15 Euros / month, if not for less. You already have a domain, so you know how that works. Configure the CNAME and SRV records for XMPP and the MX record for SMTP.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

I don’t disagree … but I think your proposal is not realistic. First: XMPP/Jabber are dead. Second: running your own servers requires a quite high degree of technical proficiency that cannot be expected from the general population (let alone keeping them up-to-date/patched).

I switched from Google Apps (for Gmail on my own domain) to FastMail. I’ll happily pay the ~€4/month so others A) maintain it for me, B) have the time to innovate (see http://jmap.io).

Philip Van Hoof's picture

Surely we can put together a appliance or device that people can turn on, and that provides all this. Well configured and ready to receive signed blobs as firmware updates. Having a public IPv6 IP address. Configured for their home and family usage. Distributed, a XMPP server per family. Even a SMTP server per family. Why not a web server per family? The Raspberry PIs of the world can run much more than an average webserver of ten years ago. People’s tablets, watches, cars and smartphones run on hardware that is more or equally powerful to the hardware that ran the Internet ten years ago.

Let’s turn them on, turn it on. A fully distributed Internet.

It’s just a matter of the specialists not turning lazy. Keep innovating. Although the innovation required for this to happen is really, really small. Almost everything is already in place.

Vicki's picture

I obviously love this post :). I struggle with something Maciej Ceglowski said in a recent talk (warning: long but excellent: http://idlewords.com/talks/build_a_better_monster.htm).

He basically said at the individual level quitting doesn’t matter because Facebook is a monopoly/oligopoly and actions from users won’t make a difference as much as from within tech companies. In your time working at Facebook, did you get the sense that most people thought it was an inherently good company? Obviously, it was a different time from now, but I’m curious whether there was any kind of this examination into company motivations.

How many people quitting and writing these posts do you think it will take? Obviously I am an optimist and even one person quitting/cutting back/thinking about usage is a huge ++ for me, but I’m not sure the scale of mass migration needed to move this thing forward. Thank you again.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

Maciej! Smart & hilarious. Every single one of his talks is beyond awesome.

I’ll try to answer your question:

  • American companies like to euphemize, and self-aggrandize, and they instill that sentiment in new employees. I experienced it at Facebook’s employee orientation day, but also at my current employer, Acquia. Every achievement is publicly called “amazing”, but failures are usually ignored or dismissed, public self-reflection isn’t part of American company culture as far as I’ve seen. The Marketing Machine is always working.
  • That being said, Facebook’s weekly open Q&A was definitely open for critical question. While I was there, some very sensitive things were called into question.
  • I think most people have the best intentions, but I suspect they often suffer from tunnel vision. Which is of course not at all exceptional, it’s just very … traditional. Pretty much every company, dazzingly cool start-up or boringly conventional, suffers from this problem.

The key difference is of course that Facebook is so deeply engrained in people’s lives: from personal data/communication, to habits/addictions. Companies dealing with similarly sensitive aspects (pharmaceutical, insurance and ISPs) are heavily regulated. I think unfortunately more regulation is needed because look where we are today.

Privacy is regulated much more strongly in the E.U. than it is in the U.S.A. But because Facebook is an American company, they IMHO try to dodge their ethical responsibility under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders”.

As for how many people quitting it will take: a good friend of mine quit Facebook a few months ago. Another friend told me today that they’re also quitting. I think it’s fairly simple: the network effect. So far, it’s been a positive feedback loop leading to exponential growth. The opposite is also true: once a negative feedback loop is achieved, it leads to exponential decay. I’m not sure exponential decay of Facebook’s entire social graph will ever happen, but I’m certain it’ll happen in certain subgraphs (i.e. certain communities/groups of friends). Once there’s no more critical mass of your friends on Facebook, the value is massively reduced, and you’re likely to ignore/delete your account.

Stephen Barker's picture

Good for you. I’ve been considering dropping myself. I’ve cut back a lot but I’m already such a hermit and it’s convenient for keeping in touch with some far away friends and family that it’s too tempting to just login to FB to connect with others. I fear if I cut that out, I might potentially drop off the radar entirely.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it, Wim.

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

Perhaps it’s more fun to just do a (video) call every once in a while — so many stories to tell then!

However, I totally understand where you were coming from. Back in 2007, I was in a very different social situation. I was also pretty isolated. My social network (not in the Facebook sense, but in the real-world sense) was limited, weak. I think Facebook made a big difference then — I had a bigger need for it.

But now, Facebook is something that gets in the way: it distracts because when you’re spending time with family/friends, you’re practicing your Facebook habits (are there new posts? did I get new messages?).

So, for me, Facebook has served its valuable purpose, but A) I have no more need for it, B) it’s gotten parasitical, and for me personally, it’s even become extractionist.

Thanks for posting this comment and helping me realize this :)

Wim Leers's picture
Wim Leers

I remember reading that a year ago! Thanks for writing it!

Choice quotes:

While my relationship with the world’s largest social networking platform has had its ups and downs over the years, I found that over time its continued presence in my life had slowly and subtly become an increasingly negative presence.

So recognizable!

But if there’s a single word that defines Facebook for me more than any other, that word is “addictive”.

Yep. And to me, after some time, and after some people began posting the most banal things, it felt like I had my own personalized tabloid.

When you realize you’re basically addicted to a personalized tabloid, it’s time for action.

And that’s no accident; Facebook’s very survival depends on as many people as possible spending as much time using the site as possible.

Indeed. This is why their news feed has become so utterly useless. It was personal, meaningful, useful. It became banal, noisy, spammy, wasteful.

designed to keep people on their properties and give them as few reasons as possible to go elsewhere. These efforts have been so successful that user loyalty experiments performed by Facebook engineers several years ago that deliberately introduced bugs into the Android version of its mobile app revealed that people wouldn’t abandon the site even when its app crashed all the time.

Wow, I totally forgot about that! That’s scary!

My personal Facebook habit was not only taking time and attention away from my real-life friends and family, it was also making me a less happy and centered person.

Yes!

The problems that I have with Facebook are largely ones that are natural consequences of the company’s need to attract and retain customers while supporting itself through advertising revenue.

Very much agree with this. See some of my other comments here.

larowlan's picture
larowlan

Welcome to the club. Plus 100 to what dawehner said about conversation.

Trouble's picture
Trouble

I don’t understand why some of your commenters find Facebook and other surveillance networks “necessary”. I briefly had an account on facebook.com about ten years ago. It was like drinking from a firehose and I deleted it. [It took me about three months to corrupt what little personal information I had in there before it felt safe to “delete” the account – I’m still cranky about that].

How difficult is it to simply keep in touch with friends by email? How does placing yourself under continuous surveillance improve your life?