After announcing or discussing my recent resolution to use other social networks and communication channels more often, people keep asking me this question. I am often momentarily dumbstruck, not knowing where to start. My general assumption is that people know at least some or most of the problematic (or even terrible) things about Facebook but choose to use it anyway because it is convenient. Of course, for people who get most of their news from Facebook, I guess I should not be surprised that they have missed a lot of important negative news about Facebook. And for people who mostly or even only use Facebook for online communication, I am not surprised they are blind to its failings. With that in mind, here is a list of reasons to rely on Facebook at least a little bit less than you do now:
Facebook tracks your online activity, even when you aren’t using Facebook. When you visit any page with a “like this on Facebook” button, Facebook knows, even if you don’t click the button. This behavior is widespread among major social media companies, but that does not make it appropriate or acceptable. It is probably mentioned in a paragraph buried on page 30 of the Terms of Service, but it belongs on the first page of a human-readable privacy disclosure. You can get around this by blocking those buttons, restricting cookie access, or using various Facebook-specific privacy browser plugins, but that doesn’t make them doing it in the first place any less egregious. By supporting a company that does this, you are normalizing invasion of our privacy in the future.
Facebook is addictive. Not only that, but they have teams intentionally working to make it more so. There are rooms full of people at this very moment whose only job is to make sure you spend more time looking at your news feed or messenger, by any maybe-legal-somewhere means available. This isn’t like other products that want to improve their functionality, incidentally leading to you using them more. Facebook will even go so far as to remove functionality or reduce privacy levels if it results in you looking at more ads. At one point Facebook ran a psychological experiment (https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/24/8788.full.pdf) on half a million users to show more positive or negative posts and measure how moods and emotions spread across the social network, all without informed consent of the users. They are exploiting psychological phenomena to trick you into scrolling one more page, clicking one more post, make one more comment, etc. Imagine you were a parent deciding whether or not to allow your children to be exposed to something like that, then apply that conclusion to yourself.
Facebook is eroding our sense of privacy. I often lament how quickly a lot of rights are being eroded in our society, especially in the digital realm, such as modern acceptance of the shenanigans surrounding college textbooks. Facebook is a large part of that in some areas. In 2006 when Facebook introduced their News Feed, something like 1/8 of all FB users protested it as too intrusive. Today, we mostly take it for granted, although I notice frequently that people are surprised by one of the many unusual facets of the system such as putting my public post on your parents’ news feed because you commented on it. Facebook benefits from people not understanding the privacy implications of its core features, and so we find ourselves as frogs in a pot of hot water, never sure if it’s boiling yet. Every time Facebook takes one more evil step and you think “That one thing isn’t bad enough to leave behind all the useful features”, you help normalize that step for other companies, and you don’t remember it when they take the next step.
Facebook has total control of your access to Facebook. That might sound obvious to you, but this is another one of those places where norms have been established over the last couple of decades that aren’t necessary. At the dawn of the internet, private sites were used by the owner of the site to publish content of some sort, and communication networks between many people were decentralized. No single person or company could deny you access to the whole of email or usenet or IRC or the ability to post your own content on your own site. Email is still pretty popular, usenet and IRC are hobbling along, and you can still host your own website… But we are now in an age where the most popular platforms are those controlled by single companies. One person at Facebook or Twitter or Google can press a button and deny you access to millions of other people that you might have been communicating with. A small company might suffer more from losing their Facebook Page or Twitter account than by losing their website. Or you might even be denied access up front, because you are from the wrong country or are the wrong age. This isn’t the only way. Multiple modern social networks are trying to bring back the “federated” model that makes email work, including Diaspora and Mastodon and GNU Social and Patchwork/SSB. A few are even trying more extreme models such as peer to peer, such as Aether. By using one of these networks, you are securing your access to those networks beyond the reach of any single company.
Not everyone is on Facebook. 10 years ago “only” “young” people were on Facebook and you either struggled to get your parents to use it or lamented when they did. Today, “only” “old” people are on Facebook, with 13-25 year olds more and more frequently choosing other platforms. Facebook is also less popular in certain countries, and with certain racial and other demographics in the US. By using only Facebook you are living in a filter bubble that won’t ever include those people. You think “all my friends are on Facebook”, but have you considered that this might be a self-reinforcing phenomenon? If you started using a different platform, you might make friends who aren’t on Facebook.
Facebook is an ineffective medium for serious discussion. It’s a great place to post baby photos and selfies and memes all day long, and passable for slice of life commentary, but when you need to talk to a bunch of your friends (or even strangers) about ethics or politics or other topics that Actually Matter In The Real World then I implore you to choose a better platform. There are many anti-features built into FB that encourage content-less comments and derailing of discussions. You will find better results on a platform with some subset of nested replies, inline quoting, convenient inline references, rich formatting (not blink or marquee, but lists and headings and such), and other features you might more readily associate with a forum or mailing list or blog.
Facebook is an ineffective medium for organization and planning. Attempting to organize a club or camping trip or charity drive via a Facebook group (or, worse, a single group message thread) is a recipe for disaster, or at least significantly suboptimal outcomes. You are sacrificing the input and participation of people who cannot filter out the noise inherent in using such an inappropriate platform. You are incentivizing subtle misbehavior on the part of people who want to amplify their influence in the group. You are effectively guaranteeing miscommunication in one of a dozen different ways that could otherwise be avoided in a more appropriate medium.
Facebook is functionally inferior in its core use cases. There are a dozen great feature of other social networks that you are missing out on by limiting your interactions to Facebook. On Dreamwidth I can subscribe to just your cooking posts, or ignore everyone’s baby or politics posts, instead of the all-or-nothing approach to following on Facebook. On Reddit and October I can make posts that show up both on my friends’ “news feed” and in topic-specific groups where strangers with shared interest might interact. On Dreamwidth and Mastodon I can choose how much of a post appears above the “read more…” link, which is great for summarizing long posts or hiding content behind a spoiler alert or content warning of some sort. On Google Groups I can have calendar events that integrate with attendees calendars for RSVP and conflict avoidance purposes. On Google Groups and Dreamwidth people without accounts on the site in question can participate in the discussions at my discretion.
I am sure there are more things that belong on this list. I expect some of my more privacy-minded friends will supply some in comments below. I hope that I have given you at least one new thing to think about and that you will at least consider using some alternative platform a little more and Facebook a little less in the coming year.
PS: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I hope everyone is staying warm and fed out there.