I left Facebook right at a year ago. Leaving any social media platform comes with its own set of baggage. As much of an idealist as I am about privacy and relationships and the ability of humans to participate in civil discourse and thoughtful conversation together, I can’t help but feel the pain of fully deleting an account on a platform like Facebook. And Facebook—along with the rest of its smaller counterparts and competition—knows this.
My history on the service stretches back to 2007, almost exactly 12 years ago to the day. There are photos there of my last year of high school, all of college, my wedding, the day our two daughters were born, and all the moments in between. There are conversations, moments in time that I thought were valuable to recount, personal history that I will lose when I delete my account (no matter how much I try to archive all the content I have housed there).
So why do such a thing? Many reasons come to mind, which I’ll get to shortly. Before I embark on listing my reasons, I want to mention that I fully realize that a post like this can come off sounding awfully self-righteous, as if I know better than the masses how one ought to manage social relationships and personal memory. So let me say this: the decision to leave Facebook is purely about myself.
If my reasons for leaving Facebook (and, perhaps, other services that I’m having a slightly more difficult time letting go) sound good to you, great! In that case, maybe you will consider leaving as well. On the other hand, if you disagree with me, great! Perhaps the benefits outweigh the negatives for you; I hope they continue to do so. In any case, here are a few reasons I think Facebook is worth leaving:
1. Our social lives have changed drastically since the introduction of social media, and I don’t think it’s for the better. Isn’t it strange that many of our conversations now start with “Hey, I saw your post on Facebook about your trip [or your new baby, or your new job, etc.]!” Worse yet, I think there are events that we don’t recount with one another because we assume people already know about them. What have we lost here? Discovery, the “natural” flow of conversation when talking to close friends, interest in how people are doing, and engagement in genuine person-to-person interactions. Because we give and receive updates about our lives on social media, when we physically interact with a friend or family member, we assume we already know their current life-happenings. This stunts social interaction further, preventing depth and intimacy.
2. I have proven to myself, time and time again, that I lack self-control when I have access to social media. I have a vision in my head of the kind of person that I want to be. A writer, a thinker, a caring, loving father and husband. I want to be a coffee roaster; I want to be an insatiable reader; I want to research deeply. I want to become obsessed with a topic and delve as far into it as possible. The reality is that I am barely any of these things, if at all. I cannot fully blame this on social media—this is largely a self-discipline issue. Nevertheless, my access to a service like Facebook, with its infinite feed of things to consume, is a black hole for my attention. I may be able to resist it for months at a time by deactivating my account or simply by virtue of losing interest in the service. But I always end up getting pulled back in, and I slowly lose my ability to focus on that which I find most important. I don’t want to look back on my life in ten or twenty or thirty years and regret that I wasted away my time looking at a screen, hoping to catch glimpses of what others’ lives were like.
3. Civil discourse, persuasive debate, and thoughtful dialogue simply cannot happen consistently on Facebook, and yet we continue to try to shoehorn Facebook into a service that provides a space for those things. A lot of people smarter than me have already made this point, many times over. Suffice it to say that I think Facebook and services like it lend themselves to the dehumanization of individuals too easily. We get angry or upset or worked up about something going on in the public sphere, and we write a post about it on Facebook. Soon enough, people are piling on with their own opinions (either in agreement or disagreement) and, because Facebook’s algorithms are bent toward outrage, that’s the post everyone sees that day. This may not be so bad if our participation in these conversations were thoughtful and caring. But because of the nature of digital space, we have no physical context within which we can make judgments about the intent of dialogue. Further, we too easily write scathing, mean-spirited responses that we would never say in person. Why? Because a picture with a name attached to it does not register socially the same way that a physical human body in front of our eyes does. I believe that civil discourse and thoughtful dialogue are important components of a good, healthy society; Facebook stands in opposition to this.
4. I believe in an open internet, and Facebook and services like it are working directly against such an understanding of the internet. I was introduced to the idea of the “open internet” recently, although I experienced the internet as “open” in my earliest days of internet access. What do I mean when I say “open internet”? I mean I want an internet that isn’t wholly controlled and owned by any single service. I mean I want people to be able to speak from their own “digital turf,” while interacting with other people on theirs. As of right now, everything that I have uploaded to Facebook - including images, text posts, videos, and blog posts (through their “Notes” feature) is owned by Facebook. I have no way of knowing what they’ll do with my information once I delete my profile. What I do know is that certain aspects of my life that I think should be mine will be lost once my profile is deleted. As of right now, my blog won’t do what Facebook did. My hope, however, is that it will continue to grow into a space I find personally meaningful; and, fortunately, I will own and control all of the content therein. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram function like “walled gardens,” where the user's access is controlled and defined by the service that he or she is using. That’s not the future internet I want to see.
Too often, people leave services like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram out of anger or cynicism or apathy. I’ve tried not to be that person. Before deleting my Facebook profile, I thought about my decision for a long time. Despite the losses that are connected with deleting my profile for good, I hope that this post will encourage others to seek out better ways of interacting, debating, and carrying on their relationships. Facebook may offer a shadow version of these things, but I doubt that it can ever reach the ideal. I’ll do my best to pursue interpersonal relationships, thoughtful engagement, and civil discourse elsewhere.
Chris Baca is a writer interested in the intersection of philosophy, religion, and culture. He received an MA in Bible and Theology from SAGU, and currently resides in south Dallas with his wife and two daughters.