Next month will mark ten years since I opened a Facebook account, a powerful tool that has served me well, both professionally and personally. Relationships with old friends and family have strengthened, and new friendships have formed. I love to share, document, and dialogue, and am endlessly curious about the day-to-day lives of the people I know. I treasure photos of loved ones, their families, and their travels. I value all that they have to teach me about the work they do, their views on the world, and the things they’re passionate about. It’s kept me current, fostered new interests, and helped me stay connected to the organizations and communities I care about. Certainly there are things I find vexing about it, and issues related to my personal privacy aren’t among them. On the balance, Facebook has been a force for a lot of good in my life.
Over the past year, however, plenty of evidence has emerged that it is also a force for a lot of bad in the world. I admit that I’ve been trying for a long time to ignore it, holding firmly to the belief that if individuals took more personal responsibility for their digital privacy, the economy of Facebook would right itself. After forcing myself to do some long-ignored reading and watching Frontline’s recent investigative series, I’m reaching the conclusion that this tool I hold so dear has become dangerous. And that my activity on the platform is in itself a form of currency being used in some pretty frightening dealings that undermine our democratic ideals and, ironically, the important principles of free and open access to information. I’m deeply invested in Facebook, and don’t take the decision to deactivate my account lightly. It’s a utility that I rely upon in ways big and small, and leaving will have consequences. So I’m packing up carefully, and not burning any bridges on my way out.
I’m no Luddite. I sincerely hope to maintain as many personal connections as I can in real life, one-on-one, and via other online communities as well. I just joined Goodreads (finally). I’ll still be on LinkedIn (and maybe I’ll start to really use it?). I’ve updated my RSS reader, and added additional sources to my news app. I’ve maintained a few different blogs since 2007 – something I’ve always enjoyed, but have often neglected given the ease of communicating through microblogging platforms like Facebook – and hope this new page may serve a different means of sharing with my personal, academic, and professional connections. But at least for the time being, it looks my days on the major social media platforms are over. Instagram is owned by Facebook. I haven’t deleted my Twitter account, but rarely use it because I find the environment so unbearably hostile. I’m reading with interest about emerging social media platforms, and remain hopeful that a viable and safer alternative will surface. Perhaps it will be a reinvented, regulated version of Facebook itself. In which case I’ll happily return.
I’d love to hear any other ideas you have. How do you keep up with the world, and the people you care about who live in it?