So long Facebook

On an average day, 250.000 new users join Facebook.

Every. Single. Day.

Today, I turned my back on on the more than 60 million users of Facebook, and the millions expected to join the social networking paranoia. Sorry guys, nothing personal.

Making money

Why, you wonder?

It all started here, where the Economist debates what changes social networking technologies will bring to education. Ewan McIntosh argues that social interaction is essential to learning how to learn, to lifelong learning – and that social networks offer a better chance than ever of encouraging independent learning beyond smokestack schooling. Michael Bugeja counters that social networks exist for revenue generation – and the fact that users continue to manipulate their own images without seeing that motivation should be proof enough that the change to education can’t be very positive.

This got me thinking. And reading.

I stumbled over Tom Hodgkinson, who analyses the politics of the people behind the site. The Guardian article reveals venture capitalist and futurist philosopher Peter Thiel as one of the key funders and figures behind Facebook and concludes that

Facebook is another über-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship?

I learned that one of my favourite musicians, Canadian human rights activist Matthew Good, has just recently left Facebook – caused as much by Thiel as by Facebook’s privacy policy. Which I began to read.

And let me tell you: it is as bad as rumours say, and worse. It essentially tells you that you don’t have much privacy. Two of my absolute favourites:

Fuck my data

«Facebook cannot and does not guarantee that user content you post on the site will not be viewed by unauthorised persons.»

«Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service … in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience.»

Thank you so much, very kind of you.

Check out this short video on youtube for more information.
And there is more Facebook criticism around.

But most importantly, I found this article by Danah Boyd, giving my own thoughts about the educational potential of Facebook a much-needed focus. Danah says that

«Social network sites do not help most youth see beyond their social walls. Because most youth do not engage in ‘networking’, they do not meet new people or see the world from a different perspective. Social network sites reinforce everyday networks.»

It’s true not only for youth: I have made that experience, too. My list of contacts consisted of colleagues, participants, school mates, and friends. Every single person on my contact list I had met before in person, and the only thing Facebook could do for me was to calm down my bad conscience for being such a lousy communicator.

But beyond that, I got very little – educationally and personally. Lots of invitations to be a vampire here, dance with someone there, test my movie knowledge here, find out who is smarter than me there… And lots of ‘IGNORE’ buttons to press – one by one.

It's all about the marketing potential

Danah puts forward another observation helping to explain things better. She writes that Facebook is about

«the kind of informal social learning required for maturation – understanding your community, learning to communicate, building and maintaining friendships, …»

When I grew up (not to say I am matured eh!), this still worked differently. Which is not to say that I think young people are silly today when joining Facebook. On the contrary – because we have, as Danah rightly observes, taken most opportunities for socialisation systematically away from young people, as so many other things.

«Youth are trying to take back the right to be social,
even if it has to happen in interstitial ways.»

And I wish them all the luck of the world. Take back your rights, but do me all a favour and, once in a while, keep your eyes open in the old-fashioned non-electronic world, where a couple of idealistic trainers try to create spaces for collective learning and socialisation that are, at times, almost as cool as Facebook – and less intimidating and commercial, at that.

For my own friends, I stick with Tom Hodgkinson’s conclusion:

«And if I want to connect with the people around me, I will revert to an old piece of technology. It’s free, it’s easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it’s called talking.»

Expect your phone to ring more often, out there.

And Facebook, eat your heart out!

Cartoons by Hugh MacLeod of gapingvoid.

If you really do need me online – find me here.

32 replies on “So long Facebook”

  1. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating Facebook’s data protection policies, following user complaints about being unable to fully delete their profile even after terminating their account. The BBC covers the story here:

    Facebook faces privacy questions

    I had exaclty the same problem, but managed to, cough cough, do it anyway. Don’t ask: the dark ways of secret geekery…

  2. That’s a brilliant mind teaser. Together with the article about blogging for youth workers, I made my self stuck here for a couple of hours (reading, also, a lot of what is linked) while I was planning to do that in the next days (too tired today). Some facts:

    1) I deleted facebook and myspace the 21st of January…and yes, without having read your article :). I just read your article, minutes ago…posted the 21st :)
    2) Facebook did it to me as well; I just need to click somewhere somehow and my account is back again; myspace (probably) did it as well: I received more friends’ invitations the last 2 days than the last 9 months that I have been using it! And yes, my account was deleted! (to be fair, with tiny letters they inform you “please give us 48 hours to fully delete your account”…but still, so many invitations?)
    3) I am maintaining a blog for the last year (see “website”) and I always wanted to be more active in blogging…A greek newspaper along with the Economist publishes every year an annual guide of things to happen so to say…major issue in this guide was blogging; and a couple of interesting people gave to me in simple words what has been decaying in my “blogging considerations”: writing freely and openly without expecting to be famous…which is a “becoming a mature blogger” process and state I think…and it is what makes it (or what should make it) different from social networking “pinch me, hit me, hold me, thrill me, kiss me” platforms…although I never started blogging believing that I would be famous through it, it came during the way…seeing all these people becoming famous through blogging, I said (subconsciously) “why not me”…and that was the beginning of the end (of losing my interest mainly). Now that I read the “blogging” article here, I am even more pushed…so thank you for that…aaa, and by the way, coincidences continue (unbelievable really)…I was asked to propose some topics for a “pool of trainers” meeting agenda a couple of days ago. Major topic suggested by my side: using new technologies to “speak for what we stand for” (anyone speaking Greek, I am ready to send the email!)…I mainly came with this idea in a line of thinking about recognition, and blogging can greatly contribute to recognition. Do we want recognition of our field? If yes, then this is maybe Point No 18…but I never said in my suggestions that this should be “Point No18” because by that time I hadn’t read your article :)
    4) And there is another coincidence (about participants jumping out from the parties and wiring up to the world of digital friends or friendly digitals…) but I will comment it in the appropriate article.

    Thanks a million.

    Web 2.0 is dead. Web, too, is dead. Long live the web of living beings (hell yeah…and I am using the Web 8 – 10 hours a day)

  3. Now I am curious, too bad I don’t read or speak Greek I would love to attend your meeting ;)

    Blogging takes courage, discipline, and time – among many other things. I wish you all of that and more for «all+all=1», Sakis.

    Drop me a line when you resume!

  4. Graham Attwell from Pontydysgu observes over on the «Wales Wide Web» that

    «there seems to be increasing disillusionment with Facebook – and the evidence against Facebook is mounting.»

    and quotes from the Labour Start Newsletter:

    «… In the trade union movement, there are differences of opinion about how useful Facebook actually is. Some of us are making a real effort to find out by using Facebook as an organizing tool. One of them is senior LabourStart correspondent Derek Blackadder, from Canada. Derek’s day job is as a staffer for the country’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He’s one of the people who thinks Facebook is potentially quite useful for trade unionists.

    Well, maybe not so much anymore. You see, a few days ago, Derek was banned from Facebook…»

    Because, hold on, he added to many friends.

    Right.

    Read the short story on Graham’s blog: The evidence against Facebook piles up.

  5. Josie Fraser argues that while

    «Facebook is bankrolled and directed by the Machiavellian neo-con Pay-Pal guy Peter Thiel, and others who can be regarded as ideologically dubious»

    this may not be enough to encourage people to opt out.

    I happen to disagree – not only because the article contradicts itself and does not, as it claims, “move the arguments forward”, but also because Josie’s stance is, different than introduced, defending one particular platform rather than looking at social networking and its potential. Where, then, are the alternatives, I ask?

  6. Ah, this is more to my liking! Graham closes his article quoted before (Evidence against Facebook) with this:

    «I am not sure we should encourage people to join Facebook. It may be time to campaign and organise against the platform owners.»

    Yes, yes, yes!

    And Stephen Downes says:

    «I still think we need a distributed social network, that is not owned by anybody, the way we have a distributed World Wide Web, that is, again, not owned by anybody.»

    Better.

  7. This was one of the most refreshing visits that I have made all month on the Internet. Even most of the comments were based on facts.

    Thank you for not resorting to the easy and sometimes personal arguments concerning my debate on The Economist web site.

    I think it is the public interest to assess the motives of revenue generation and privacy invasion, among other things, in the corporatization of academe.

  8. Wow.

    «This was one of the most refreshing visits that I have made all month on the Internet.»

    Thank you, and any time again.

    The online discussion around the Economist debate is a good example how influential, and yet one-sided, web-based discourses can be. Most social-and-web-technology skeptics simply don’t have a way to express their opinion online. So what we read is one side of the discussion, trying to present itself as the whole.

    I wish the blogosphere was a little more aware of its limits – in depth and breadth of opinion, and in representativeness. There is more to the world than what we can see online.

    But there are, beyond the Economist, some provocative and insightful reflections online as well.

    One worth the read, I find, is what 2¢ Worth has to say:
    «Two Clarifying (hopefully) Assumptions»

  9. Just to add a comment to this article that again, last week we had a discussion on Facebook with some training colleagues during informal time in preparation meeting for 3 training courses.

    key questions are the same as in the article but just to add more that with one of the last European Parliament decisions our email and phone conversations should be stored “just in case”. so I do not have illusions that in this “data based world” we will be able to have intimacy.

    this also shows for me that using our data for the purposes decided by someone else but not us is not only happening in business sector but also in governmental. i think it is getting institutionalized.

    and what about us who collect a lot of information about participants during courses. do we always ask them in advance if they would like to receive a training report, partner proposal or another invitation to the next training course?

  10. You make a strong point, Nerijus. Many institutions and NGOs increasingly often take advantage of participants. Often this is not quite kosher, if not illegal – after all, the European Parliament has also agreed on rules for electronic newsletters, for example.

    But do we see many NGO or EU or COE newsletters with pro-active registration, double opt-in and permanent opt-out? Nope. We don’t.

    How can we take ourselves serious, though, if we don’t respect the privacy of our own participants all the time and all the way through?

  11. I continued thinking on the matter and came with more questions and doubts. In line with leaving Facebook when we should also throw away our cell phones, not use emailing and even bus companies if we want to visit our parents. they make profit out of our relationships.

    yes, there is still a difference as we keep anonymous when using services. but is it so? being on the bus and talking via phone about our love relations. storing our data?

    or can we still be conscious when using Facebook and not signing any playful application they offer? how much will they know about me when? and what from that I would like to hide? and why?

    and why we strive for youth researches with an aim to understand young people better? maybe in order to provide better services! again, still it remains anonymous. But don’t we make profit out of what we get to know?

    I will keep using Facebook and see what it will bring me. new media makes us always confused.

    lately, I read a very good book by M. McLuhan “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. I strongly recommend it! it made me reflect a lot.

  12. Once in a while, I don’t have a cellphone for some time, simply because it annoys me that people expect you are reachable all the time.

    But there is a huge difference: people who choose to talk about their love life on a public bus on the way to their parents know who is listening, and that someone is listening. They may have no idea about the consequences, and they may have no respect for the rights of others to travel on the same bus without hearing about last night’s boringness.

    With Facebook, it’s different. You don’t know who is listening, and you don’t know who will have access to your records. It goes even further: Facebook reserves the right to collect information about you outside of Facebook. For what I know, one of them could be sitting on the bus, so that afterwards on Facebook they can offer me an advertisement link to the book I talked about on the phone. Thank you very much.

    And that is where it goes too far, for me anyway. I am not confused by Facebook, I find it useless for myself and my work, and see no reason why I should accept any intrusion from their side for no return at all.

    While the saving of communication data in relation to cellphones and emails is an intrusion of privacy and a violation of individual civil rights as well, the context is a different one.

    In some European countries, including the one where I live, the «EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications» has been heavily abused.

    Its original intention to safeguard the «right to privacy in the electronic communication sector» has been ridiculed – in Germany all data is now stored for six months, just in case.

    Because I cannot choose to opt out of email and telephone usage (different to Facebook, which I do not need), I have become politically active about these issues, already a long time ago.

    Not that it has changed much…

    Isn’t it amazing how McLuhans classic essays from more than 30 years back still make people think today? Another thought-provoking book from recent years: «Mediated: How the Media Shape Your World» by Thomas de Zengotita.

  13. Stephen Downes starts out from McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” to observe that “the medium is the meaning.”

    Stephen argues, for example, there is no zone of shared meaning (unlike what millions of communication theories tell us, I might add). At best, he says, there is an intention of the sender.

    Good food for thought, also for our training practice in which we often tell participants there is a zone of shared meaning. Is there?!

    PS: Whatever intent Facebook had, it certainly arrived different where I stand… Sorry, couldn’t resist :)

  14. This was a great article and a great debate.

    What are the effects of social networking with regards to the next generation? will they constantly keep logging into sites such as Facebook and Bebo just to see if something has changed, or someone has ‘poked’ them?

    I wonder whether in 5 years times, facebook or similar ventures will be integrated into all our daily applicances e.g. TV, radio, watches (heck it’s on our phones already!)

  15. Hey Paul thanks for stopping by! Hate to say it, but your (horror?) scenario of connectivity is happening today already!

    Take Twitter for example,

    «… a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected.»

    You can send your updates via text messages, and receive an sms back with any updates from your friends. Up to 250 a day or something like that.

    What do people write there, you ask? One example:

    «Why are the buses always five minutes too early when it is coldest? Next bus: 10 minutes. How not to start a day.»

  16. I am still keeping wondering:) I found another resource on the issue:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/

    Maybe the programme itself mostly represents parental-care-approach and individually-painful-cases but still were are young people who express themselves.

    Especially I recommended to read the interview with a youth researcher C.J.Pascoe who is specializing her researches in the field of youth culture and new digital media. I like her ‘youth attitude’

    Give a chance to Facebook!:)

  17. The discussion, happily, goes on. Here, there, even in my friend’s house when we meet during the weekdays; in fact, only some of us meet, while the rest are so “body,mind and soul” connected to their “research” for global “gimme five-make me famous” friendshits (sorry)…And it’s their attitude that makes me sound like a representative from the UFO Association (United Facebook Objectors :) )…”Shut this down and let’s go grab a beer”!
    Can’t reveal more of the story, cause anyway, after that, it is silence…keyboard sounds prevail…
    By the way, thank you for keeping it going. Besides what I said above, the topic has been troubling my mind (in a good way) ever since I read the article and comments here. One lovely trainer colleague once said “I open the television, I go to the toilet, I read a magazine, I am standing out of a toyshop, I talk with the right-next-to-me passenger in planes, I look for symbols in the streets e.t.c and always keep in mind how whatever happens in me and around me can be connected to my training delivery”! Same goes for me the last month but the topic changes from training delivery to “facebook” and its implications or similar-content different-title platforms. To be honest, I am negative to its use and its obvious I guess. But at the same time, I am wondering how “to enjoy it once “we” can’t avoid it”…How to use it so that it brings something to the work we do. How we can balance our inevitable “loss” with “benefits”. My ideas so far are not well processed and I am not sure there is a positive answer to the above questions.
    But when answers are not coming from within, are coming from without. Reading a participant’s application form for a forthcoming training course, I realized that this person is explicitly making use of this platform towards the achievement of a sort of networking and cooperation among a specific group of the society. Sorry for not making it more clear but I haven’t asked the person if s/he would like to have this information published. But it keeps my interest high and I hope that during the TC I will get some sort of don’t-be-so-negative-Sakis enlightenment!!!
    Apologies for the length.
    Have a nice weekend with a great hope that the Balkans will be back in peace by Monday the latest! (sounds a bit fun, but it’s only a reaction to the inner pressure and doomsaying scenarios prevailing over the media)

    Sakis

  18. Heya Sakis, I am going to join UFO and suggest, for the time being, we rename it to «United Facebook Observers».

    For the better part of a year, I was using the platform and using it well and extensively. And yes, it was fun – reading that this friend is having a hangover today, or the other friend is studying for an exam. I loved that kind of quick status info, but no longer can I justify in front of myself – with all the developments pointing too clearly towards economical exploitation of the network – animating my friends to post such messages so I can read them. So I left.

    Since I am pondering whether twitter might be an alternative…

    But anyhow, I don’t think it matters what you and I do so much for the development of Facebook. I have left with a very easy mind, because my attempts to utilise the platform for training have, so far, been fruitless – and taught me, once more, that – when the time is ripe – the young people I work with will show us what works and what not, and what link between their private lifes and their educational experiences they are willing to accept.

    Until that day, I will work to explore (and maybe even develop) alternatives for networking and social platforms in education…

    A nice weekend to you, too – and may your hope of (if not peace, let’s say at least) calmness for the Balkans become true!

    Andreas

  19. Over at «In the Middle of the Curve», Wendy wonders:

    Have you started to find yourself dreading yet another email from Facebook announcing something that you have to log into Facebook to deal with?

    and observes

    Ultimately, Facebook, for me, is a solution looking for a problem… My attempts to use Facebook as a personal toolkit haven’t worked all that well.

    Wendy also points at a different take on Facebook by Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, who writes on his blog «Ted’s Take» that, for him, Facebook has turned away from being a community and transformed into a bazaar:

    I am burnt out, too, on Facebook…

    I don’t want to know what you are reading anymore. I don’t want to be invited to another event…

    And why is everyone’s relationship status “complicated” anyway?

    I go to Facebook less and less now. It needs to be cleaned up. It has gotten out of hand. It may be open and it may be a platform but it has stopped being about community for me. It is now a bazaar and it has a lot more noise than signal for me which is a shame.

    Isn’t it amazing how Facebook keeps people thinking and discussing? It has so much potential, and so many problems at the same time. This ain’t the end…

  20. I work in a large organisation where training occurs often. More and more the trainers are frustrated as training participants continue to Facebook during training, thereby not paying attention to the trainers and training content imperative to their work. Any ideas how to overcome this and gain their attention back?

  21. Hey Sam, this is not so easy… And a problem many trainers face. So far, I have seen two strategies that tend to work.

    One, to use the computer in the training setting in a way that it doesn’t matter too much whether or not people continue to facebook around (I have even seen Facebook being used in training).

    Second, to ban computers directly (by agreeing with everyone that it might help the training or workshop if people could concentrate on it), or indirectly (by blocking the wireless signal – nasty but I have seen that one – or by bringing in studies how badly the average person can actually multi-task…).

    But all in all, this is difficult to say from afar…

  22. Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Kevin Bankston

    “Five months after it first announced coming privacy changes this past summer, Facebook is finally rolling out a new set of revamped privacy settings for its 350 million users. The social networking site has rightly been criticized for its confusing privacy settings, most notably in a must-read report by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner issued in July and most recently by a Norwegian consumer protection agency. We’re glad to see Facebook is attempting to respond to those privacy criticisms with these changes, which are going live this evening. Unfortunately, several of the claimed privacy “improvements” have created new and serious privacy problems for users of the popular social network service.”

  23. Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?
    by danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai

    Link to Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?

    “Overall, our data show that far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent. The frequency with which they adjust their settings and their confidence in doing so may vary, but most report modifying their settings.

    […]

    Assumptions that all users have a uniform approach to the site and how their accounts are set up are incorrect and may leave certain user populations especially vulnerable. If experience and skill matter — and it appears that they do — it is imperative that companies and policy makers consider how default privacy settings and changes in these settings affect populations differently.”

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