If you’re still on Facebook, you’re part of the problem. Here’s how to escape the blue walled garden.
The writing is on the wall. Facebook is detrimental to global discourse, has harmed democracies around the world, and, because of their dependence on advertising, has responded to criticism by making only minor, cosmetic changes. Mark Zuckerberg and his team will continue to allow the social network to be haven for fake news, hoaxes, threats, and much, much worse. It’s gotten to the point that Holocaust deniers won’t be removed from the platform, and that pages of known hoax or hate purveyors like InfoWars will not get booted until the damage is long done.
Facebook has had several opportunities to show that it understands its responsibility as the world’s largest social network, a platform that now has 2.23 billion active users worldwide, sees 4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily, and is responsible for one out of every five page views in the United States. It has failed completely.
The first sign of trouble was the election of Narendra Modi in India 2014. Behind his charismatic, calm persona was the rampant spreading of rumors aimed at getting the country’s Hindu majority to see the Muslim minority as a threat, and vote for his right wing, Hindu-nationalist party. Facebook was a key platform in the spread of viral videos and fake statistics about Muslims, and it worked. Along the way religious violence claimed the lives of dozens of Indians.
Then, it was Government supported trolls from Russia and China, spreading disinformation and harassing women, journalists, and critics that led to the election, in early 2016, of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. But that, like India, was far away from Silicon Valley, so Facebook did nothing (and it’s stock price kept rising). Duterte’s election has resulted in 12,000 extrajudicial killings and severe clampdowns on freedom of press in the country.
Then, it happened here. The platform allowed Russian-linked trolls to send viral, fake news content that may have played a role in the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. A little more than a year later, we would learn that Facebook gave access to our data to a firm called Cambridge Analytica, which use that data to drive a massive, pro-Trump operation. As more details emerge, this begs the question — what else has Facebook done or allowed that we still don’t know about?
If you thought that perhaps seeing this happen closer to home would make a difference, you would be mistaken. Months after Trump’s election, the worst case of violence connected to Facebook would take place when the Myanmar military began attacking Rohingya villagers in Rakhine State, killing thousands and forcing a mass exodus of people into neighboring Bangladesh. It was predictable — local non-profits saw hate speech and violence-inducing content on Facebook before the violence erupted and attempted to inform Facebook. The company did nothing. Facebook is the match that is destroying societies around the world.
If we needed any more evidence that Facebook, despite it’s massive advertising campaign, is refusing to change, it came earlier this summer when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the platform would not ban those who deny the Holocaust or the Sandy Hook killings.
If you don’t #QuitFacebook, then you’re part of the problem.
Why is Facebook proving itself completely unable to address any of the challenges facing its platform? Simply, because financially, the company is doing fine. It’s stock price today is higher than it was right after the 2016 election, and its profits are still growing quarter by quarter.
In fact, clamping down on ads of viral content is not the financially sound decision for the platform. Facebook values profit and revenue over the safety of its users, and it is reticent to cut off what is a massive and growing source of its revenue — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and a growing number of other state and non-state actors who see Facebook as key to their strategies of dominating the global online debate and pushing their worldview.
China, where Facebook is famously blocked, is already the second largest ad market for the company, $5 billion in total and a figure that is growing fast. This is a country whose government denies the 1989 Tienanmen square massacre, has a massive online troll army, and is building out a global media apparatus to influence global discourse across the world. Facebook is likely a key part of the strategy and you can bet China plans to invest heavily in using the platform to spread it’s worldview, either via ads, or through its legions of trolls.
Facebook depends on these countries for it’s revenue and lofty stock price. These countries and actors within them want to continue to spread fake news, rumors, and influence elections globally. Hence, inaction.
Facebook wants you to perceive improvements, though, and what they will do is blanket metro and subway stations around the world with ads claiming it is taking action. But nearly every time that Facebook has been given a clear choice whether to act or not, it has chosen the past of least resistance, only acting when overwhelming outside pressure forced it to. Infowars? Fine. Duterte linked trolls? No problem. China’s 50 Cent Army using Facebook to promote anti-Taiwan, anti-Tibet, or pro-China content? Must be time to open an office in the country (and maybe test that censorship technology we’ve developed?). Not once has Facebook been proactive. Always reactive, and always too slow. It took a year after the horrific, well documented violence in Myanmar for Facebook to take the dramatic move of…blocking a few accounts.
Facebook has not, and will not change because, around the world, users have not held the company responsible for its detrimental actions. At some point, we have to accept the reality — continuing to use Facebook means we’re complicit in the drug killings in the Philippines, the rise of hate content, the harassment of women and minorities, and the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya.
Here’s the thing. We — users, especially those of us in the US and Europe, are what Facebook values. They make money from each of us — a lot. In 2017, each US user was worth $26.76. As long as we stay on the platform, Facebook will continue to make money selling ads from unsavory characters. It’s why they don’t want to kick trolls, hoax purveyors, or hate speech sprouting profiles from the platform. All of us are $$ to Facebook.
That’s why it’s time to quit and make a statement.
It’s not easy
Facebook is by design, an addictive tool. For years, the key metrics mentioned by the giant during its quarterly earnings calls were user engagement, i.e. the time the average user spent on the platform. All of its innovations were designed to get us to spend more time on the platform, like the News Feed, launched in 2006 which essentially invented endless scrolling.
There is even evidence that Facebook is studying how to manipulate our emotions and is running psychological tests on us. They claim that they won’t use that information to target us. Then again, they also said they wouldn’t share our data with outside vendors, and they did. They said they wouldn’t track us on other sites, but they are. Do you really trust that Facebook isn’t manipulating you to use the app more, and help it sell more ads?
The other key factor is what is called the Network Effect. Essentially, we tend to stick to a platform if our coworkers, friends, neighbors and family are on it. This is likely the biggest barrier to most us quitting Facebook. And I get it.
Still, limited use is not enough
One of the most common things I hear from users is that they dislike Facebook, but find it so useful that they can’t quit. Often it’s a reason like “otherwise I wouldn’t be able to speak to my aunt” or “it’s how I keep in touch with friends from high school.”
Limiting your Facebook usage will not make a difference. The way that Facebook works is by forcing advertisers to “bid” for our time. If we check Facebook consistently, we will get served more ads at what is likely a lower rate per-ad. But if we check infrequently, all that changes is that the rate advertisers pay per-ad is higher. We aren’t hurting the platform at all. And, unless you logoff, clear your cookies and use a privacy plugin, Facebook can still track you across the web and sell that information to advertisers so that they can target you more specifically — both on Facebook, but also on other sites or even offline.
The only way to hold Facebook responsible for allowing for hate speech, online trolls, and holocaust deniers on its platform is for us to quit. We’ve given the social network enough opportunities.
Below are some alternatives to replace the functionality of Facebook without sacrificing the ability to communicate and share information with friends — with the added benefit of more privacy and security.
Firstly, I’m not going to tell you to join another social network, like Minds.com, or Diaspora, because it will be useless. Your friends and family are not on there. And getting them on a new platform is not worth the effort.
But these options are meant to replicate the features of Facebook that keep users trapped in its walled garden, all of which have a lower barrier to entry than another social network.
My recommendation — switch to one of these at a time, and slowly disentangle yourself from Facebook. In the meantime, use a tool like Mozila’s Facebook Containerfor the few instances where you need to access Facebook, so you can do it with more privacy, along with a ab-blocked like Ublock or Adblock Plus, which will remove those annoying ads.
Slack has become the default communication platform for organizations and workplaces. It has far more functionality than a Facebook group, and can be used easily on multiple platforms, including a web browser. Each channel has a unique login so getting people to join is easy. This is a superior alternative to Facebook Groups.
Discourse is a better option than Slack as it is open source, has better privacy protections, and gives users full control of data (Slack allows companies or Channel owners to pay to see allmessages, even private ones).
Friends — Chat apps
Chat apps can allow you, in a more intimate setting, to share photos and communicate without the worrying oversight of Facebook’s algorithm, which can both hide content and harvest data from it for use in creating ads. Many have encryption embedded so you know no one except participants can easily see your content.
Avoid Whatsapp — it’s been ruined by Facebook, which acquired it in 2014, with even the former founders leaving huge sums of money to depart early. They might start including ads and are backtracking on privacy promises. Also avoid WeChat, China’s do-it-all app, has even more worrying privacy concerns than Facebook.
My recommendation is Telegram. It has better functionality than Whatsapp, including real moderator capabilities, and it works on many platforms and operating systems — smartphone, PC, laptop, etc. Unlike Whatsapp, you can use also Telegram without a phone connection.
I find it hard to understand why anyone would post photos on Facebook, which claims anything uploaded can be utilized by the company for nearly any purpose — even if you delete it later! Moreover, the compression reduces the quality and it’s incredibly difficult to organize or, later on, download photos.
Instead, try Dropbox, which has useful features to organize and share photos. Photobucket is also popular and very user friendly. For those of you looking for a more secure alternative, you can try Unsee or Cluster, which has some great family-sharing features.
Avoid Instagram — which is a Facebook property and has been slowly integrating many of the facets of its parent company, such as advertising and a manipulated algorithm. Avoid Google too, which also harvests data from your photos and has its own shady advertising apparatus.
Facebook is also a terrible source of news. Studies show that fake news goes more viral than quality news, and the company’s solution is to…reduce how much news we get overall in our newsfeeds. Publishers are seeing dramatic drops in inbound traffic, which has another goal — keeping us stuck on Facebook.
Instead of relying on Facebook for news, try Pocket, a great app that lets you save news and makes personal recommendations based on the stories you like. It works on multiple platforms and the developers are focused on helping build a better ways for us to find quality news.
If you want to support a sustainable news media ecosystem, there’s Blendle, which carries a diverse selection of newspapers and allows you to pay based on who and what articles you read.
If we don’t use our power as consumers, it could worse. Facebook is actively courting the world’s biggest market, China, even developing censorship software to appease the regulators behind the Great Firewall. Zuckerberg casually jogs in Tienanmen Square, where the 1989 massacre took place — a massacre he would be fine if Facebook, his platform, never mentioned.
The internet is China is becoming a dystopia, with control even more centralized in the hands of a few, well-connected giants — Baidu, Tencent — all of which give the central Government direct access to data flows. Facebook wants to be part of that, despite the fact that China is the source of many of its fake news and ad-related problems.
This is the future for Facebook, there are huge revenue opportunities in China, Russia, or Turkey, all countries that have no interest in the free flow of information or Democracy. There is little growth opportunity in the US and Europe. Despite our complaining, Facebook will not — and cannot, due to its need to grow revenues, become a platform for sharing genuine, useful information. Extreme ads perform better on Facebook, and are an increasing source of revenue. Do we really expect Facebook to stop accepting money for the one things that works on its platform?
Unless we #QuitFacebook. The power is in our hands. If we can’t, even after everything that has happened over the past few years, leave this harmful social network, then hope may truly be lost for the internet as a global democratizing and empowering force. And it’s not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. It’s outs, for refusing to act even when faced with an ever-growing mound of evidence.