Earlier this year I committed heresy or, maybe, apostasy. I deleted my Facebook account.
(If you want the tl;dr, scroll to the end.)
I didn’t just delete Facebook, I’ve left all Meta properties including Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. In this post I want to explain why. In another, I’ll explain how this impacts the Church because, as the Church’s lead pastor and chief technology nerd (not my official title), it does have an impact.
Many of the following criticisms apply to other social media properties but Facebook is the biggest gorilla in this jungle. Globally, almost 1.8 billion people access the service everyday. Facebook is second only to YouTube, which is a different animal, and nothing else comes close.
(Note that Facebook recently changed the company’s name to Meta. Facebook is only one of Meta’s properties but since most people still know it as Facebook, we’ll go with that.)
Facebook is neither a community service nor a public utility, it’s a business that makes its money primarily from advertising. This isn’t a problem in itself, but we need to understand what it means: you are not the customer. The businesses that pay for advertising are customers and what Facebook is selling them is you — your attention and your spending potential. Every minute you’re on Facebook, Meta is making money. When you’re not there, it’s ‘loosing’ money. Guess what Facebook’s goal is?
To achieve this goal, Facebook collects an enormous amount of information about you. We all know Facebook tracks your browsing habits online but it can also track your physical location through your phone, and facial recognition through the photos you and your friend’s post. It then matches that data with your contacts, which it’s also been tracking. Where they’ve been, what they looked at online, who else they’ve been with, etc.
In my case, I assume it was when a tradesman who came to my house. If he had the Facebook app installed on his phone with location permissions on, Facebook could match his location to my address. Voi la! “Are you interested in carpet, Alex?” “Why, no I’m not, I just had it laid.”
Facebook constantly tracks every data point it can to figure out the best way to keep you online and show you advertising you’ll click on.
While Facebook can’t see what you post in WhatsApp (it’s end-to-end encrypted), it can see your Messenger chats unless you turn on the optional privacy setting (you can’t leave it on, it’s only per message). Facebook has said they have plans to inject advertising into both platforms. (Privacy experts recommend the Signal App which is owned by a non-profit organisation, protects your privacy, and is very secure.)
All of this data makes Facebook a lucrative target for hackers and it’s been subject to ongoing data breaches and scandals over the years. You probably know someone who has had their account hacked. That’s not because a teenager was after LOLs, someone was trying to steal their money or worse, their identity.
The problems go beyond privacy issues, though.
Of course, no one at Facebook knows all my information. They don’t know I exist. It’s all about computer algorithms designed to manipulate my behaviour. The advertising industry learned how to manipulate us a long time ago, and social media is no different. That addictive quality to social media (as well as many games) is informed by psychology and carefully cultivated to keep your eyeballs on their page. Computer algorithms are constantly tweaked for maximum effect.
But it’s not only marketing manipulation we’re suckers for. Because of all that data and its desire to keep us online, Facebook is a powerful tool in the hands of bad actors who know how to manipulate the platform, and us. Whether it’s stealing our bank details, influencing an election, or spreading conspiracy theories, we are manipulated in more ways than we realise.
The good thing about social media is that it brings us together. The shadow side is that it divides us.
Because we’re only interacting with words on a screen it’s easy to forget there’s a real person on the other end. With none of the social-cues of face-to-face communication, we find ourselves saying things in problematic ways we never would in person. (Maybe it’s just me, but it’s still a reason I felt I had to quit.) We don’t mean to and I don’t blame Facebook for this, it’s the nature of social media.
Given the polarising nature of discourse today and the aforementioned dehumanising tendency of online discourse, I found myself having to block people who were posting extreme content. I’m talking about friends who I can still have a civil conversation with in person along with so-called ‘Facebook friends,’ aka complete strangers. It’s weird.
While it is complicated and social media does have benefits, there are plenty of articles highlighting the downsides to our mental health, as well.
For a long time none of my friends have posted much of interest. Cat photos, stories of children I’ve never met, you know the sort of thing. Ask anyone under 40 and they’ll tell you Facebook is for old people. (They’re on Messenger but not Facebook.) Half of our church doesn’t even use Facebook! This is evidenced by the lack of engagement in our Bentley Baptist Online Facebook group. None of us (including me) seem to care.
I also found the user experience was becoming frustrating.
On a long thread, Facebook would tell me there was a response to a comment I’d made but when I clicked the notification I couldn’t find the thread. It was there, just buried.
The kicker was when I was trying to join a Facebook Live event. I had RSVPed and was constantly refreshing the page thinking the host was late. Nope. Facebook was determined to keep me from that stream. When I did find it, it was almost over. At that point I realised that Facebook won’t even let me do the things I want to do, so I deleted my account.
I will admit that I miss a couple of the Facebook groups I was in, and not having messenger is sometimes inconvenient but In the end, my reasons for leaving came down to three main concerns.
Of course, the church still has a presence on Facebook. It is, after all, the street corner or town square of the internet. It’s great for public facing stuff but for in-house ‘friends and family’ interactions we have better options. In fact, in light of the many concerns I’ve highlighted, I have come to consider it something of a moral issue. How can we require people to have a Facebook account when we have our own private and secure tools? I’ll post more on that another time.