I’m angry at Facebook – but I’m also addicted. How do I break free?
I am too far in to leave Facebook, but I want to register my disapproval of the company after their part in the data leak to Cambridge Analytica. What should I do?
Ah, the urge to punish without denying yourself pleasure, if that’s what using Facebook can even be called at this point. But I understand your quandary: officially, I “hate” Facebook, the way I hate Amazon (which I still use) and hate my local supermarket for charging $7 for a loaf of bread because it’s another 10 blocks before you get to Trader Joe’s. But I still use them, too.
First, of course, you should take what are now very well-publicized measures to tighten up the security of your account, although as I write this, I realize I haven’t done so myself. The reason for this is that, in spite of everything I have read about the incredible depth of information available to those potentially buying my data, including what articles I click through to and how long I spend on them, I continue to labour under the illusion I don’t use the platform enough to have data worth sharing.
I never post or upload photos; I rarely comment on the postings of others, and when I do “like” something, it is usually because I want to give a thumbs up to the friend who has posted it, rather than communicate my passion for the thing they are sharing. In this way, I kid myself, I am opaque to the data thieves. Think I like cars because I liked a recent review of an Aston Martin?! Think again, suckers; the thing I liked was the author’s decision to quit her job and go freelance to become a motoring journalist, among other things, and there is no way even you guys can get far enough into my preferences to access that kind of information.
This is, obviously, deeply delusional, as is the tiny, dumb urge I have to “mess with the system” by liking every posting I see across all political and social interest groups – that’ll show ’em! – effectively spoiling the ballot paper so my profile is insane. This is idiotic for lots of reasons, but mainly because of the numbers; lest we need reminding, Facebook has 2.1 billion users worldwide and even if everyone who threatened to quit actually did, it would barely cause a ripple on Facebook’s surface.
And yet the instinct to get back at them is very strong. Without needing to do anything, there is some solace to be had, perhaps, in the knowledge that even though for years now Facebook has operated as a business whose primary function is to funnel consumer eyeballs to advertisers, one gets the impression that its upper management are still deeply invested in the idea of themselves as radical disrupters who are helping the world.
Perhaps this is hopelessly naive, but from Zuckerberg and Sandberg down, it’s hard not to believe that the damage done by Cambridge Analytica to Facebook’s self-image – as a company less interested in making money than profoundly expanding our horizons etc – must surely make a small dent in their extraordinary self-righteousness.
From a practical point of view, I have no idea how to wean myself off the platform, but I do know that, as with all addictions, acknowledgement is the first step to recovery. I was always hesitant to share pictures of my kids online and that reluctance has now hardened to a rule. And understanding that Facebook is not a neutral platform but a delivery system for corporate and political interests surely goes some way towards changing one’s relationship with it and becoming more sophisticated consumers of a potentially damaging product.
If one is realistic about the chances of actually ditching Facebook to spend more time reading books or taking walks in the country, or talking to one’s children, then perhaps this scepticism will have to be punishment enough. After all, we interact with loathsome companies everyday; the error is believing them when they tell us they’re friends.
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