For years, Zuckerberg and Facebook have tromped through the technology landscape and demolished everything that stood in the way. This was done without any reprisal, without any consequence. In fact, each time the company destroyed a competitor, or found a way around traditional regulatory concerns, the valuation of Facebook would go up. But now, it seems that all of those actions are coming back to haunt the company, and social media as a whole. Facebook was always famous for the sign that hung in its offices, written in big red type on a white background, that said “Move Fast and Break Things.” And every time I think about the company, I realize it has done just that—to itself. But I think that Zuckerberg, and the people who work at Facebook, also realize that the things they have broken are things that are going to be very difficult to put back together.
I’m leaving Facebook. I wouldn’t normally write a whole blog post about it, but I think it’s helpful to talk about why. A lot of good people I know and think very highly of have either left entirely or deactivated indefinitely, and as I jump on the bandwagon I want to explain. I’ve considered quitting before because of how much time I have wasted on it over the years, but three things always held me back:
Living overseas. I wanted to be able to maintain friendships with people that I had met in my travels or at church back home, since we expect to come back home to the USA every few years or so. Living on support necessitates that one maintains these relationships and I once thought that Facebook could help facilitate this.
Promoting my own work. Facebook drives a lot of traffic to writing on the web, and I didn’t want to give up this means of sharing my writing with others.
Promoting what others have done. Facebook is full of drivel. I thought that I could improve this situation in my own small way and keep sharing writing by other people that was worthwhile – whether to help convince people that need to be convinced or to encourage people who need to be encouraged. More than a few people have said that they like what I share and a small handful have even mentioned that it has helped to change their mind about something important.
I also really enjoyed participating in certain groups and seeing what was happening with friends (new babies, etc). However, Facebook seems to be intentionally working against virtually all of these things.
First, Facebook isn’t designed to facilitate deeper relationships with other people in the way that is good for me as a person. It’s great to see the highlights of what’s happening with my friends, but I find out more than I really want from the people that overshare and I don’t connect more intimately with the sort of people who have the discretion to be more restrained in their postings. If I spent the time Facebook currently uses up on writing emails or letters to friends, I’d have much richer friendships.
Second, Facebook doesn’t give a rip about the quality of writing that I share (whether mine or someone else’s). It doesn’t want to help me promote what I’m writing and it doesn’t want other people to see interesting things that I share. Whether it is because more people are leaving Facebook or because Facebook’s algorithms don’t care for the sites I write for and enjoy reading, what I share seems to be getting less and less attention. I’ve grumbled for years about the fact that people in general ignore quality work in outlets like Comment or The New Atlantis in favor of trash websites like Breitbart, but it is now becoming clear to me that Facebook is not making this problem any better and is never going to.
Third, Facebook doesn’t want you to be exposed to good ideas or be challenged. It wants you to stay on its website and click on its ads and watch its sponsored posts. Facebook seems to have zero interest in using its power for good and will only try to reckon with misinformation or whatnot when it is goaded into it. The people who need to hear what I’m saying or what I’m sharing with others are going to be algorithmically removed from my audience unless someone from that camp gets into an argument with me.
I do think that sometimes arguments on the internet are valuable – not because you can convince the person you’re arguing with, but because you can convince people who are watching the argument. However, I feel like the arguments I am having are getting less and less fruitful – mostly because I suspect that Facebook is winnowing out potential interlocutors from seeing what I have to say in the first place.
These problems aren’t just for me and my 2000-word hot takes that would probably only reach a few hundred people in the best of all worlds; they’re affecting the American nation as a whole. Technology isn’t ethically neutral; it shapes the way that we think about ourselves and our world and I think it takes heroic effort to make Facebook work for the better. For me, that effort just isn’t worth it any more. Facebook doesn’t seem to take its responsibilities to do better seriously — even when it gets called out! Finally, it really isn’t fun anymore.
You’ll still be able to keep up with what I’m writing by signing up for our family newsletter, and I will still tweet all of the interesting articles I find. I also plan to keep sharing links with some commentary here on a much more aggressive schedule (every weekday, for now). Many of these links will be aggregated into the new Read In Case Of Emergency newsletter that my friends and I are starting, as many of you have asked for another way besides Facebook to keep up with the interesting stuff I’m reading.
As an incentive to get you to sign up for RICOE, we are giving away one free issue of Fare Forward and a one-year subscription to Comment Magazine to two randomly chosen subscribers from the first week! So go sign up now.
It’s been fun. Thanks to all who read and commented on Facebook. See you around!