Sunday was my birthday. Since it took place in the midst of the #DeleteFacebook movement, I was reminded of its place in my life.
While I received phone calls, emails and texts from people I’m close to, by far the majority of birthday wishes came from Facebook posts. Of course they make it easy to “remember” people’s birthdays. (As does LinkedIn.) It’s part of how they get us hooked. Facebook has become our “town square” where we go to stay in touch with the people in our lives. Most of who wouldn’t know our birthday but would choose to take a minute to convey a greeting if prompted.
It’s this sense of connectedness that keeps us coming back. We like to look around at other people’s lives, see what they’re doing and where. It’s like a highlight reel of people’s lives that they get to curate. Lately, it’s become a place to not only share experiences but also opinions. And it’s the latter that makes it (and us) vulnerable to manipulation. By advertisers, by Russians and by anyone else who can afford to buy our data. But does that make Facebook (or other Internet giants for that matter) evil?
My mom told me a long time ago that nothing in life is truly free. Let’s admit that by using the Internet (Google, Facebook etc.) we are making a Faustian bargain. We are paying the price for the convenient and connected world they deliver—we are paying for access, with our personal data. And with our attention.
It’s no secret that Facebook (and Google) make their money from advertising. That’s how we get “targeted” or “interest based” ads that appear “magically” after you’ve looked something up or clicked on a link.
Following all the recent revelations (and Mark Zuckerberg’s feeble apology), deleting Facebook becomes a personal choice for each of us. I’m staying. For now. Mostly because there’s nowhere to go where I have the same access to the people I’m already connected to. This means that I’m complicit. That I can no longer pretend not to know that Facebook is selling my personal data. Undeterred, I posted photos from my birthday and thanked everyone who posted. Even though I realize that all that information is being tracked. Who clicks on what. What posts are most popular. Everything is a data point. I keep telling myself that I’m in too deep and have nowhere to go.
I have noticed that since January Facebook engagement is down. I’m on it less often. I see more folks moving to Instagram (also owned by Facebook). Maybe it’s the ever-changing algorithm where you can’t control what you see in your news feed. Or maybe it’s social media fatigue where we are living to live, instead of living to share. After all, It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a selfie stick. And as always, my mother was right.