You don't have to be on Facebook, you know.
The rage against the company seems unending these days, and to listen to all the noise, you'd think that complaining about Mark Zuckerberg's creation is like complaining about bad weather: Yeah, it's awful, but what are you going to do? You would think that Facebook is mandatory.
I deleted my Facebook account nearly a year ago, and deactivated Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) for good measure. I forget what made me pull the trigger, exactly. After all, there are no shortage of reasons to ditch the social media giant. Just this week, the company's employees rebelled against Facebook's policy of refusing to fact-check political ads — of essentially letting politicians lie. But for me, it was some piece of news about how the company had failed to protect its users' private data. Or maybe it was something about how Facebook made it easy for bad actors to hack our democracy. The stories have barely slowed since then, so they all blend together. Either way, I was done. I deleted the account, and haven't turned back since. I don't miss it very much, and I don't think you will, either.
Before we go further, let me say that I'm no social media monk. I enjoy being connected to friends, family and people across the country as much as anybody. Check my still-existing Twitter account, and it probably won't be difficult to discern that I still spend too much time reading posts, reacting, being angry, and getting emo. I'm not proud of it — sometimes I deactivate the account for a weekend just to get away from the noise — but I haven't cut my ties to 2019 internet culture entirely.
Facebook also provides a genuinely useful service for its users. I underwent emergency surgery in 2011 and ended up spending three separate weeks in the hospital that year. It was hell, but I had a computer with me all through recovery, with dozens of friends connecting with me regularly through Facebook to offer encouragement or simply check in. At a low point in my life, social media made it possible for me to get the emotional support I so desperately needed.
Still, are Facebook's offerings worth the cost?
Beyond Zuckerberg's denial that Facebook has any responsibility to fact check the political ads on its site, the company's aversion to assessing truth was further highlighted by its decision to include the Trumpist Breitbart website in its news section — a choice that seemed more oriented toward keeping conservative critics at bay than ensuring users receive accurate information.
On the brighter side, Facebook announced it will funnel millions of dollars to legitimate news organizations whose stories draw traffic on the site. But that announcement also highlighted Facebook's role in the economic decline of many of those same news organizations — and while big newspapers like The New York Times will benefit from the arrangement, there are questions about whether smaller local and regional newspapers will be left behind.
Technically, Facebook is free to individual users, which makes it seem like quite a deal. The cost comes at a societal level, where Facebook's vast web of connections is often misused, seemingly with the blithe disregard of the company's masters. Throw in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the privacy breaches, and more, and it becomes difficult to argue that Facebook, for all its usefulness, is worth the larger toll it takes on our society.
Facebook needs you — your eyeballs, your data, and the data generated by your connections — more than you need Facebook. The company's business model doesn't work without its users, which means those users have power. If you object to the decisions Facebook makes on its way to profiting off of you and all your friends — and many Americans are frustrated with the company — why not quit?
Sure, there are some tradeoffs. Since leaving Facebook, I have all but lost contact with a few dear friends. I find it more difficult to drive online traffic to my own projects. Mostly, though, I find I've missed out on far less than I feared.
Overall, I call quitting Facebook a win.
Just because Facebook is ubiquitous now doesn't mean it will be forever, or even next year. Remember MySpace? There are already signs that the company is losing its traction in the marketplace — you may be on Facebook, but it's a good bet your kids aren't. So consider just saying no to Facebook. Sometimes, the best thing you can do in a bad relationship is walk away.