Why I Quit Facebook

May 9, 2021

I’ve had a personal account on Facebook for well over a decade, but I’ve been inactive on that social media platform for years. During that inactive period I checked in a couple of times but considered my account dormant. I finally exported my photos and pushed the delete button.

Why? I lost interest.

Nostalgia for the pre-Facebook era

It used to be that if you wanted to socialize there were 2 options: by phone or in person. In person was always the preferred default. Only if your friends or relatives lived far away did you resort to phone calls.

Cellphones were used primarily for making plans: "Hey Eric, I'm picking up Arminda and we'll meet you guys at Dave & Busters. Are John and Marina coming?"

The more I’ve reminisced about this, the more I’ve questioned the value I get from newsfeed-based social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism reinforced my questioning. Interestingly, Newport has never had a social media account. He doesn't spend much time surfing the web either. "As a result, my phone plays a relatively minor role in my life," he notes. (The advent of social media occurred only a few years after the CEO of Ericsson promised to make the cellphone the center of the consumer's universe.)

For me, post-pandemic, I'm looking forward to prioritizing offline socializing.


Escaping the walled garden

When I last logged in, I noticed Facebook’s user interface (UI) had changed considerably. I didn’t care for the new design, which seemed busier.

Also, Facebook has become much more of a walled garden: a one-stop shop designed to contain you like a steel ball in a pinball machine. You ping about, setting off buzzers and getting rewards while they collect your behavioral data to sell to others.

"Whatever you’re doing right now is the best use of your time, according to you." - @shl

Make-work for underemployed journalists

Before deleting my account I caught my first glimpse of Facebook’s “warning” notes: correctives it dutifully pastes like a Victorian schoolmarm onto comments it deems problematic. These I saw on the newsfeed of a friend who blurted out: “fascistbook!”

Warning labels stuck like annoying Post-its on casual comments change the platform's atmosphere. It's not just you and your friends and acquaintances socializing anymore, it's you, them, and a phalanx of uninvited busybodies.

Interventionists and the lure of the transgressive

If people’s minds are really so feeble that they need professional assistance just to make their way through low-definition social media posts, then it’s a problem that Post-it notes aren’t going to fix. Indeed, outsourcing our thinking (and therefore agency) to others is an underlying societal fault line.

Even if the Post-it note is accurate (and that's a big 'if' given nuanced problems that have ensued), is there any evidence that these notes change people’s minds? Do they perhaps make people more interested in the comment, once it’s labeled — implicity — subversive or transgressive?

Does social disapproval, via 'warning labels' promote independent thinking or its opposite?

Truth and orthodoxy

Consider, Facebook fact-checker Politifact had to walk back a previous "Pants on fire" label regarding hypotheses about the origin of COVID-19. What their initial "fact-check" did, it would seem, was encourage viewers to not question the orthodoxy du jour. In doing so, it effectively discounted the views of dozens of scientists who believed the "lab leak" hypothesis was reasonable and deserved exploration. Those scientists included Philip Murphychief of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Unfortunately, there are many other stories, across the political spectrum, of fact-checking being used to mislead or spread disinformation.

From social media to social monitoring

Where objectivity or nuance in fact-checking is missing the results are censorship or suppression of speech nonetheless.

Taking on the mantle of "fact-checker" is a tall order, and requires, among other things, for each topic, a thorough grasp of related and multiple contexts; the nature, current state of, and history of contrarian positions among scientists and academics including in research papers; and an understanding of game theory and complex systems science. It also requires a precise understanding of what isn't known and therefore can't be "fact-checked."

And it requires an understanding of the one speaking: including their writing style, profession (edgy playwright?), and propensity for satire or dry humor, for example.

Unfortunately, Facebook's program has gone far beyond the stated mission of fact-checking, to squelching debate on topics like the one above.

This is ironic given Facebook's fact-checking journalists are well-versed in instances where the government has chilled speech.

Busybodies push Facebook into the Strait of Messina

Facebook has an opt-in, opt-out system. That’s the best you can get with marketing. Like it? Join and stay. Don’t like it? Don’t join or leave.

Facebook became powerful because billions of consumers said “Yes, we like this!”

Feedback is always important, especially if it's unfiltered and unmarred by "expert re-interpretation" or skewed assumptions. But the need for a political intervention always was questionable. Often, political interventions do more harm than good. This is something perpetual busybodies don’t understand. (The world would perhaps be a far kinder, better place if said busybodies attended to ridding themselves of their own hypocrisies and errors in thinking, rather than trying to police others.)

Antitrust, censorship, and narrative shaping

Now, I’ve criticized this “Post-it” note system for its flaws and for the lack of evidence that it produces a needed benefit, but my contention is it’s not designed to work -- at least not in the way you expect.

It’s partly a price extracted by the politicians who’ve pushed the social media giant between the Scylla of antitrust action (right and left) and the Charybdis of “Make people stop saying things we find abhorrent!” (on the left).

Facebook has struck a bargain with one which may not save it from the other. And then there's the threatened revocation of Section 230 (on the right) as well.

In the meantime, unfortunately, we'll be treated to the continuing spectacle of politicians on both sides grilling Zuckerberg in public Kabuki theater as they fight for greater control of Facebook.

The signs of this political struggle are strewn across media.

In sum

Mr. Zuckerberg, thanks for all the good times. I've had a lot of laughs and fun on Facebook, sharing photos and humor. I've played games and been entertained. I've enjoyed seeing my friends' updates and having conversations as well as learning things from my brainy friends' Facebook Notes. But this is not the best use of my time.

Besides, conversation fails to feel natural (or appealing) knowing every word you're typing is being watched and weighed, as a bureaucratic functionary or its algorithmic stand-in decide which posts warrant warning labels, suppression, and social disapproval.

No thanks.

Update: British Medical Journal raises "serious concerns" about Facebook/Meta's "incompetent" fact-checking

On Nov. 22, 2021, some six months after this article was posted, The British Medical Journal published an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg raising "serious concerns about the 'fact checking' being undertaken by third party providers on behalf of Facebook/Meta."

It's well worth a read.

How we lost social media to algorithms - Thomas Baekdal

Baekdal discusses why Facebook and Twitter are designed to deliver just a "micro moment for people on a break." And he reveals "why we end up with content that drives a lot of engagement and activity but which means very little."

Committee of Concerned Journalists: Principles of Journalism

The Antitrust Religion - Edwin S. Rockefeller

This short, accessible read argues that "everything most people know about antitrust is wrong. The orthodox view is that antitrust was created to protect competition." In practice, antitrust "has often benefited, not the public, but specific businesses that wanted to take down their competitors."

Rockefeller is a graduate of Yale Law School and former chairman of the American Bar Association's Section of Antitrust Law.

Why Facebook and Google Face the Most Risk in an Overhaul of Antitrust Law - Barron's

"Congress is pushing to crack down on the power of the megacap internet companies. But current U.S. antitrust law is focused on regulating abusive pricing—and in most cases, that’s just not the issue. Google and Facebook, for instance, don’t charge consumers anything for their most important products."

The Perils of Classifying Social Media Platforms as Public Utilities - Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center at George Mason University

10 must-reads on Section 230 from Adam Thierer