Op-Ed

Deep Breaths… #DeleteFacebook

24 Mar , 2018  

It’s an addiction.

Back in the 1980s, early 1990s, I posited the idea of “online addiction” and got nothing but funny looks. Now, the inclusion of “Internet Addiction Disorder” is studied and its inclusion in the DSM is seriously considered (though as of this writing, it is not a defined psychiatric disorder – you can safely keep reading and surfing).

In December, I deactivated my Facebook account. Shortly thereafter, Houston experienced a rare and beautiful dusting of snow – enough to make a real snowman! I called my next door neighbor at 6AM, not wanting her to miss it as dawn broke and melted the fluffy flakes. “Oh, yes, I saw it,” she said. “I tried to message you on Facebook, around 1AM, and thought you’d unfriended me!” I sighed. I reactivated my account and posted a message there for Friends, with a link to where they could share with me the contact info Facebook wouldn’t let me keep, and another that was Public: “Gone Fishin’!”

I’d meant to deactivate Facebook for good at the end of January. Instead, I slowly got sucked back in. I refused to post, but I commented and turned my “Gone Fishin’!” post into a discussion thread on everything from birthday greetings to why I was leaving Facebook. I listened to friends say things like, “I admire your convictions, but I can’t leave Facebook because…” until the litany of reasons became a laundry list of excuses – the sort of excuses addicts make for why they drink, smoke, gamble, or take drugs they don’t need. And I heard my own mental gyrations in their words. We’re all addicts.

What are we actually getting from Facebook? We’ve long known and accepted that “we are the product.” We’re one big mass of targetable demographic information for businesses to advertise to. Okay. sure. Somebody’s got to keep the lights on, and most of us would rather see ads that are relevant to us than to be bombarded by ads that are not. God forbid we should actually have to pay to use Facebook – even though when someone suggests leaving it, we balk. But we didn’t think closely about the “privileges” we were granting to apps, games, and sites we used Facebook to log into. So why do we give a rat’s whiskers if Cambridge Analytica hoovered our – and our friends’ – data and mined it in order to manipulate our political opinions?

I think a lot of us – not all of us – are in denial about just how much impact propaganda has on us. Being easily manipulated is for stupid people. Not for us. And if we think that one side of this divisive political arena is composed mostly of the stupid and corrupt, then we, surely, did not succumb to the barrage of ads and posts and bot-attacks on social media. That’s for the sheep. Or the “sheeple.” We think we know better – that we will never forget the lessons of the Holocaust or Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda, that Orwell’s 1984 was merely fiction, not prescient social commentary. Think back to the things you’ve “Liked” or “re-tweeted” or shared with friends. Were these things you truly liked, believed in, and hoped would persuade your friends? Do they reveal who you really are? Naaaaah… well, maybe. Maybe not. If a statistician performs regression analysis on people sharing certain traits and finds a strong correlation to people who vote in the Republican primary or sign online petitions for MoveOn with “Liking” certain things, then yes. I don’t personally put a lot of stock in these signals; I was on Facebook back when you had to “Like” a page to engage in its conversations, so I “Liked” a lot of politicians I loathed. Your words, though, may reveal more than you know about your personality and the likelihood that you will be swayed by a particular argument or emotional appeal. Your words reveal a lot about who you are and what you believe and what you care about.

Don’t take my word for it. Gather up about 3000 or 4000 words from your own Facebook posts, stick the whole mess in Notepad, then post it here. What do you think? Given enough data points about our online habits, the things we buy, the sites we frequent (and how often, for how long), data scientists can make a lot of solid, educated guesses about how we’ll behave in various situations. That, like most technological advances, can be a tool for good, or a weapon of mass exploitation.

We could leave social media – go “off the grid” – stop writing or speaking.

But for some of us, that’s not an option.

We can choose, though, whether to continue enabling and facilitating a platform whose owners have shown so little regard for users’ privacy and security over the years. I finally concluded that, where Facebook is concerned, we made a bad bargain. For me, Cambridge Analytica wasn’t even the tipping point. It really was the rationalization of friends, joining with the arguments forming in my own brain for not shutting it down for good. In the end, it was about the addiction. I looked into the mirror and saw a hypocrite smiling back at me, whispering, “You can’t do it, can you? You’ve been trying to leave for three years now. You’re an addict. You can never leave.”

Oh, yes. I can.

#DeleteFacebook and #DeleteFacebookMessenger (and #DeleteWhatsApp and #DeleteInstagram – since they’re owned by and connected to Facebook.)

Yes, I can. And now I have.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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18 Responses

  1. Jack Yan says:

    Good on you, Holly. As you know, I stopped updating last year as well. The Facebook widget code is off our most popular sites. I began archiving groups. There are only three things stopping me going the same route: clients (pretty important, this one); one business I have a part-share in, which is heavily invested in using Facebook and Instagram; and one website I use a lot which never gave me any option to log-in other than Facebook at the start, and now I can’t merge my new email-based account with the original Facebook one. My friend count is staying steady at 2,344 (presumably it will drop after the 14 days are up when yours is deleted). I am happy to have been there busting Facebook though, especially over the malware scanner, finally getting them to stop after Louise’s article was published; and I still have dirt on them (nothing of the Christopher Wylie kind though) that I’d like to see get out there. If I can de-Google, I can de-Facebook, with a bit more effort.

    • It’s a little shocking to me how complacent people have gotten. The most common response I hear? “What’s the big deal?” And at least your “rationalizing” has a rational basis (you’re getting something important from the exchange, and you’re still actively trying to shed light on the issues).

      I got the same responses when people were all excited about getting their DNA tested for their ancestry (non-medical reasons) and I asked, “Wouldn’t Hitler have been excited to have easy access to genetic data like that?” (Sure, that’s extreme – but in light of issues with healthcare coverage, pre-existing condition exclusions/higher premiums, it’s still a relevant question. If white supremacists were in charge – okay, arguably a few of them are – it’s still a relevant question.) Maybe it doesn’t matter, given how easy it is to collect and analyze DNA these days, but at least make someone else pay for it if they think they can profit from exploiting it.

  2. Mitch Mitchell says:

    That explains the message I received; let’s see if it sticks this time. lol

    I’m not overly worried about Facebook and my privacy. I block a lot, don’t share a lot, and let’s face it, if someone really wanted to find me I’m all over the internet. Since I’m trying (badly) to turn myself into some kind of celebrity (cough), it behooves me to participate… on my own terms.

    Course, I’m already the odd duck. I’ve never had Facebook on my phone, never used Messenger on my phone… and though I love Instagram for the pictures, I have so few connections that it doesn’t really matter.

    Having said that, I’ve cut way, waaaayyyyy back on Google Plus. Only my videos show up there on purpose since YouTube is owned by both. Except for the occasional article that intrigues me enough to share, I rarely go there any longer; that’s the only site that’s on the downside of my interest.

    • Is your Friends list visible to mutual friends? Are all of your mutual friends as conscientious about their privacy, and their friends’ privacy, as you are about yours?

      We each control what we share online; we THINK we control who we share it with, but the issue as I understand it with CA is that they crawled their way through Friends and Friends of Friends and used the data in ways that were not approved by Facebook and were, at best, questionably ethical. Illegal? Maybe not. But it’s a little bit more than just advertising demographics – it’s personality analysis and emotional/ideological manipulation on a breathtaking scale. I’d think more people would be a little more concerned.

      Whatever.

      I’m not wringing my hands over it. I had LOTS of other, more pressing reasons to leave. I think I was just looking for one reason to leave or one to stay that would tip the scales – and this did it.

      More importantly, millions of people make these decisions based on incomplete information. It’s also the lack of informed consent that bothers me.

      • Mitch Mitchell says:

        No, I don’t share my friends list with anyone. I’m hidden as good as can be; people find me because they see something I share with someone I’m connected to, think I’m a fun guy and request a connection. I’ve met a lot of distant family members this way… though I’ve only ever talked to one of them. lol

        You’re being named in tomorrow’s post… again! lol

  3. Anklebuster says:

    Holly, I applaud your decision to take the actions you deem necessary to detox your mind. My Facebook Account lies dormant, simply because its never-ending, attention-snatching tendrils became more irrelevant as the algorithms pruned my friends’ posts and delivered fertilizer.

    Too little of the former, too much of the latter and you have nothing but compost. Add to that my naturally waning interest in the games on that platform (Words With Friends and Township) and there was no reason to ever log in.

    I tried to delete my account, once. There was a “tip” that required doing some technical and not posting for 20 days…FB laughed and kept me plugged into the Matrix.

    In the current version of FB, how were you able to accomplish the impossible?

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  4. Anklebuster says:

    Ah, that makes sense. Reminds me of the defensive domain purchases made by corporations.
    I used to use an app that would tell you to go check your permissions on all the sites. Most of the stuff I have on FB were stupid games from Zynga.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  5. Anklebuster says:

    Hmmm..auto-correct or Freudian slip? LOL!
    I think the mobile game industry as a whole is a money grab. Zynga didn’t seem so bad…at least the games I played didn’t pester me to buy stuff.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • Oops. 🙂 Zynga is it’s own brand of evil. I built an aquarium, filled it with lovely free fish, and one morning I logged on to find they’d introduced fish disease and were holding my fish for ransom. The cure cost real money. I thought about those kids losing sleep over Tamagotchis years ago, and imagined the emotional pleas they might regale parents with over this. Hell, I felt bad for about 3 minutes, before regaining my sanity, killing of the fish myself, and closing my account.

      • Anklebuster says:

        Oi! That’s primitive. The new breed of mobile games hi-jack your sense of accomplishment. They know people hate grinding and leveling and offer perks in exchange for real money.

        Notice how you felt bad, momentarily? That is the hook (no pun intended) upon which lesser-will folk are snared.

        Cheers,

        Mitch

      • Oh, I worried about and mourned those fake fish (how did Zynga know I have an overactive imagination and an overdose of empathy?). Fortunately I’m smarty enough to recognize how stupid that was, and didn’t give in to their emotional manipulation. It just made me angry. I didn’t mind them having fancier aquarium decorations and more exotic fish for a price, but what they DID felt like extortion.

  6. rummuser says:

    I am not addicted to the internet. I am however addicted to being in touch with my blogger friends and some facebook friends who otherwise are not in touch with me. I also depend on the internet to get and send emails and read some news from publications that I subscribe too. I hardly spend a couple of hours a day at my computer.

    I am however addicted to reading five newspapers and solving five crossword puzzles in them every day and when guests come during the time that I normally do that in the forenoon, I get quite testy!

    • Yes! I stayed on Facebook to keep in touch with friends. And then I remembered, I’m everywhere under my real name. Not hard to find, if they miss me. Door’s always open. Facebook should not be the only place where we’re friends. Unfortunately, I know that I will lose touch with people I honestly care about. That said, there are always a few – I have friends on Facebook I’ve known online for nearly 30 years, and we didn’t start out on Facebook.

      You’ve described the difference between using a thing and being addicted to it quite well. If any interruption makes you “quite testy,” it may be an addiction. I’ve always been proud of the fact that I could become addicted to Facebook instead of cocaine or gambling or shopping therapy or alcohol. (I’m convinced it’s the dopamine hit I really crave.) I can become addicted to reading, but I’m really more of a binge reader and binge watcher of TV than a true addict. I go through spurts of total immersion, but then can put it aside for a long time. You might think these are “healthy addictions,” but is there such a thing? People become addicted to exercise, too, and either overdo it to the point of hurting themselves, or simply become annoying about talking incessantly about it, and run off all their friends who don’t have a gym membership. (At least with book clubs, there’s wine and an endless well of diverse topics to cover!)

      Moderation in all things. Even breathing, lest we hyperventilate and pass out!

  7. Mike says:

    Facebook is certainly getting a lot of attention these days. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with it. It has certainly gained more power and influence than I ever would have thought. I believe, though, that it’s less than the media would have us think.

    I “do” Facebook in moderation, checking in once a day, usually, for up to a half an hour or until I’ve had all I can stand, whichever comes first, mostly scrolling past all of the inane things that people seem to want to share. I spend a lot more time going through my RSS feed and email. Most of my computer time, though is working with my photos — I am currently “curating” my photos on Flickr, organizing them into albums for future use.

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