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[liberationtech] CNN writer on leaving Facebook

Petter Ericson pettter at
Mon Feb 25 06:52:14 PST 2013


Though I imagine that the facebook use is significantly lower (and more
judicious) among the libtech users than among a more generic tech-savvy
population, this essay makes a rather good case on why quitting facebook
entirely is the proper thing to do at some point - sooner rather than



Why I'm quitting Facebook
By Douglas Rushkoff, CNN

(CNN) -- I used to be able to justify using Facebook as a cost of doing
business. As a writer and sometime activist who needs to promote my
books and articles and occasionally rally people to one cause or
another, I found Facebook fast and convenient. Though I never really
used it to socialize, I figured it was OK to let other people do that,
and I benefited from their behavior.

I can no longer justify this arrangement.

Today, I am surrendering my Facebook account, because my participation
on the site is simply too inconsistent with the values I espouse in my
work. In my upcoming book "Present Shock," I chronicle some of what
happens when we can no longer manage our many online presences. I have
always argued for engaging with technology as conscious human beings and
dispensing with technologies that take that agency away.

Facebook does things on our behalf when we're not even there.

It actively misrepresents us to our friends, and worse misrepresents
those who have befriended us to still others. To enable this
dysfunctional situation -- I call it "digiphrenia" -- would be at the
very least hypocritical. But to participate on Facebook as an author, in
a way specifically intended to draw out the "likes" and resulting
vulnerability of others, is untenable.

Facebook has never been merely a social platform. Rather, it exploits
our social interactions the way a Tupperware party does.

Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network
of connections, brand preferences and activities over time -- our
"social graphs" -- into money for others.

We Facebook users have been building a treasure lode of big data that
government and corporate researchers have been mining to predict and
influence what we buy and for whom we vote. We have been handing over to
them vast quantities of information about ourselves and our friends,
loved ones and acquaintances. With this information, Facebook and the
"big data" research firms purchasing their data predict still more
things about us -- from our future product purchases or sexual
orientation to our likelihood for civil disobedience or even terrorism.

The true end users of Facebook are the marketers who want to reach and
influence us. They are Facebook's paying customers; we are the product.
And we are its workers. The countless hours that we -- and the young,
particularly -- spend on our profiles are the unpaid labor on which
Facebook justifies its stock valuation.

The efforts of a few thousand employees at Facebook's Menlo Park campus
pale in comparison to those of the hundreds of millions of users
meticulously tweaking their pages. Corporations used to have to do
research to assemble our consumer profiles; now we do it for them.

The information collected about you by Facebook through my Facebook page
isn't even shared with me. Thanks to my page, Facebook knows the
demographics of my readership, their e-mails, what else they like, who
else they know and, perhaps most significant, who they trust. And
Facebook is taking pains not to share any of this, going so far as to
limit the ability of third-party applications to utilize any of this

Given that this was the foundation for Facebook's business plan from the
start, perhaps more recent developments in the company's ever-evolving
user agreement shouldn't have been so disheartening.

Still, we bridle at the notion that any of our updates might be
converted into "sponsored stories" by whatever business or brand we may
have mentioned. That innocent mention of cup of coffee at Starbucks, in
the Facebook universe, quickly becomes an attributed endorsement of
their brand. Remember, the only way to connect with something or someone
is to "like" them. This means if you want to find out what a politician
or company you don't like is up to, you still have to endorse them

More recently, users -- particularly those with larger sets of friends,
followers and likes -- learned that their updates were no longer
reaching all of the people who had signed up to get them. Now, we are
supposed to pay to "promote" our posts to our friends and, if we pay
even more, to their friends.

Yes, Facebook is entitled to be paid for promoting us and our interests
-- but this wasn't the deal going in, particularly not for companies who
paid Facebook for extra followers in the first place. Neither should
users who "friend" my page automatically become the passive conduits for
any of my messages to all their friends just because I paid for it.

That brings me to Facebook's most recent shift, and the one that pushed
me over the edge.

Through a new variation of the Sponsored Stories feature called Related
Posts, users who "like" something can be unwittingly associated with
pretty much anything an advertiser pays for. Like e-mail spam with a
spoofed identity, the Related Post shows up in a newsfeed right under
the user's name and picture. If you like me, you can be shown implicitly
recommending me or something I like -- something you've never heard of
-- to others without your consent.

For now, as long as I don't like anything myself, I have some measure of
control over what those who follow me receive in my name or, worse, are
made to appear to be endorsing, themselves. But I feel that control
slipping away, and cannot remain part of a system where liking me or my
work can be used against you.

The promotional leverage that Facebook affords me is not worth the
price. Besides, how can I ask you to like me, when I myself must refuse
to like you or anything else?

I have always appreciated that agreeing to become publicly linked to me
and my work online involves trust. It is a trust I value, but -- as it
is dependent on the good graces of Facebook -- it is a trust I can live
up to only by unfriending this particularly anti-social social network.

Maybe in doing so I'll help people remember that Facebook is not the
Internet. It's just one website, and it comes with a price.

Petter Ericson (pettter at
Telecomix Sleeper Jellyfish

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