I can still remember how it began. In the autumn of 2007, I suddenly realised that pretty much everyone I knew under 30 was using this new thing called Facebook. I got the feeling something big was happening, looked into it and, of course, had a go at getting stuck in myself. But I have been thinking about leaving Facebook for a while and am now taking the plunge. For me, it has done its job now – I’m off.
It seems I’m not the only one – numbers using Facebook are falling in the UK and US. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons here, and various people have written about why (I particularly like this post) but for me they come down to two.
Firstly, put simply, giving my personal information, photographs, updates and communication to Facebook makes me uneasy. Facebook’s business model is based on persuading me to share as much personal data as possible so that they can make large profits from selling it to advertisers. There has been quite a lot of comment about the way advertisements are getting more prominent in the timeline. So, in order to make more money, Facebook must encourage us to “share” as much as possible, as widely as possible.
And, when all is said and done, who controls all this personal information that we share? Here is an extract from Facebook’s terms and conditions:
“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
I’ll come back to that point about “privacy and application settings”, but just recognise the default position. All those photos, updates, everything – you have given Facebook permission to do what they like with it and sell or licence it to others to do what they like with too. Hmm. And I’m not going to rely too much on the privacy settings. As has been commented many times around the web, Facebook has an ingrained habit of introducing new features which, by default, mean making more information public, and issuing confusing privacy policies. Of course – their business model depends on you not keeping things private or within a restricted group. And, famously, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t appear to believe in the concept of privacy anyway. Not reassuring.
Of course, all social media involves making things public, but I think there is major difference between Facebook and others (at least the ones I am happy to use). They do not pretend anything is private at all, which makes a big difference to the sort of information I will share. I will not put anything on Twitter, LinkedIn or WordPress unless I am happy for the world to see it. Anything I am not happy for the world to see is not going on the web at all.
The second reason is the sort of interaction that seems to me to dominate on Facebook. I get a buzz from a meal or a drink with one or two people and a conversation that lasts for a while (this partly reflects the fact that I am an introvert, an admission that seems to have become more acceptable following the success of Susan Cain’s recent book “Quiet”). This sort of interaction doesn’t really happen on Facebook, which reminds me much more of a large party where everyone is making small talk, admiring each other’s outfits and showing each other photos of their latest goings-on. Lots of people love parties like that and I guess they are the ones who really like Facebook, but they aren’t my scene at all. Even for catching up on what has happened to people I don’t see much, I very much prefer the thoughtful annual “Christmas letter” to a stream of mini-updates.
I still find social media an invaluable tool. Twitter is great for sharing thoughts and resources, without the need to disclose anything personal and with the freedom to pick those you follow from hundreds of millions of users and, at least for the time being, low on advertisements. LinkedIn is good for maintaining and sometimes communicating with my work-related network. I blog because I like writing and it helps me get my thinking straight on issues that interest me, or relate to my studies. As an added bonus, some other people also like reading it and sometimes comment, just as I read many valuable blogs and sometimes comment on them too. But these are different contexts. Ideally, I would like communication with those important in my personal life to be, well, personal.