Ah, Facebook. That dodgy doyen of data miners. The pernicious paragon of privacy invaders. The appalling accomplice of advert slingers. We all know what Facebook is like but, at some point, we’ve decided “Oh well, it’s useful for keeping in touch with folks, so…”
I actually joined Facebook relatively late because I knew what kind of business it was and that it basically makes its money by gathering and collating its subscribers’ personal information and then flogging it off to anyone and everyone who is prepared to pay for it. Nevertheless, I did finally put my misgivings aside and joined up on 1st October 2014.
And, don’t get me wrong, it has been great for keeping in touch with family and friends and I’ve had some wonderful chats and banter with all manner of fantastic people on there over the last (nearly) five years. But, as with most things in life, there’s always a price to pay.
Obviously, there’s the whole data-mining and invasion of privacy thing that has become even more of an issue in light of scandals such as Cambridge Analytica, but there are other problems too. In order to keep that flow of personal data nice and fresh and valuable, the whole thing is designed to be rather addictive of course. So it very easily becomes a complete time-sink. It’s so easy just to “pop onto Facebook and check out what’s been happening”. So we do. Constantly. Particularly if – like me – you’ve got a furiously curious mind and like researching things and knowing what’s going on in the world. So many wasted hours…
Then there’s the way that it has influenced social discourse – largely for the worse I believe. The “echo chamber” aspect of social media entrenches opinions – whether good or bad – and polarises everything. Through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – and through the mainstream media reporting on the latest social media fads – this polarisation spreads into wider society. At best, it’s unhealthy. At worst, it’s positively poisonous. Yes, social media can connect people and enable groups to come together to achieve amazing things, but, by the same token, it can provide a home and breeding ground for the far right, racists, religious bigots and every other species of dangerously disaffected idiot you care to name. Of course, you could say that this isn’t just a social media problem, but a general problem with the Internet as a whole or even with society itself. And you’d be right, but the style of interaction on Twitter and Facebook lends itself so readily to this kind of closed-group, “us and them” sort of behaviour that I think it magnifies the problem. It’s more or less built into the design of all the current social media platforms and, even if it wasn’t the original intention, it’s an unavoidable side-effect.
And don’t even get me started on the quantity of utterly ridiculous cobblers that you find all over Facebook. Whether it’s the latest conspiracy theories, political propaganda masquerading as news, “you’ll never believe what happened next” clickbait, fake pages trying to con people with imaginary offers, there’s an absolute flood of lies, fraud and total nonsense on there. The old saying used to be “lies, damned lies and statistics” but it’s probably more accurate nowadays to say “lies, damned lies and at least half the stuff you find on Facebook”. If one were of a paranoid disposition, one might even wonder whether Mark Zuckerberg had specifically designed Facebook to cause a surprising number of otherwise normal people to shut down all the critical thinking faculties that they possess just as soon as they log in. (The alternative is that basic education and critical thinking are simply falling out of fashion in the human race, but that’s too terrible to consider as we’re probably headed the way of the dodo if it’s true.)
I could go on and on (and often do) but I think I’ll stop there. I’m sure I can come up with half a dozen other black marks to put against Facebook, Twitter et al without trying too hard, but I think you all see the point here. Yes, there are one or two positive aspects to these technologies, but they have to be weighed against the numerous faults, problems and – I’d even go as far as to say – dangerous aspects of them.
In my case, the scales have tipped too far to the dark side and, as of the end of this month, I’ll be deleting my social media accounts. My Twitter account has already gone, my LinkedIn account will be following shortly and my Facebook account will be having its terminal run-in with the Delete button on September 1st. Which means that, by the time the thirty-day cancellation period has run its course, my Facebook presence will start disappearing more or less five years to the day since it first appeared. Rather neat (even if I say so myself).
Of course, I may be sailing off into the sunset as far as Facebook and co are concerned, but I’ll still be out here in the big wide world and – who knows – with all the extra time on my hands, I might be able to revive this long-neglected corner of the Internet and bring you a rather better version of me.
A bientot mes amis!