I published the original version of this article on my yoga blog, SuvataYoga.com.
I first stumbled across the idea of going Facebook Free when Basecamp announced their decision to go Facebook Free in December 2018. I didn’t see how this was practical for me at the time as I was a service provider and running a digital agency. (More on that later.)
But, in short, going Facebook Free means:
- We will not purchase advertisements from Facebook for either Facebook or Instagram.
- We will not install the Facebook Pixel, allow Facebook Login, or enable Facebook Like buttons.
- We will no longer use Facebook Pages, Groups, or Messenger. My business will not use Instagram, though I haven’t deleted my personal account yet.
Facebook’s Track Record with Privacy
For the last decade, I have been deeply troubled by Facebook’s attitude towards privacy.
My concern began when it was revealed in 2010 that government organisations were mining user’s social media data. But — like most people — I chalked it up to a one-time occurrence and buried my head in the sand.
In fact, Facebook has a history of complying with government requests to access private data to establish facts of a crime, prove or disprove alibis, and even illustrate communications between two parties. And here’s the kicker: Facebook complies even when the government lacks reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. You can read more about this in a 92-page document published by the Pace Law Review.
Then in 2011, the FTC filed a 19 page complaint against Facebook for failure to uphold privacy promises made to users. Facebook settled in November 2011, and as part of the settlement, Facebook was prohibited from making deceptive privacy claims, and as a result their language regarding privacy became evermore nebulous. (You can read the full document from the FTC here.)
Also in 2011 it was revealed that Facebook keeps a log of pages visited by both Facebook users and non-users. In November 2015, Facebook was ordered by the Belgian Privacy Commission to cease tracking non-users. Instead, Facebook blocked all non-users from seeing anything on Facebook, including publicly posted content.
While we’re on the topic of tracking, Facebook knows what sites you visit thanks to a bit of code that website owners install. Website owners install Facebook pixels on their websites so they can serve you better ads, and also serve you ads for things you almost bought but didn’t. If you have ever been stalked around Facebook by that crockpot you looked at on Amazon 3 months ago, this is why: retargeting.
(To be clear: my websites do not have a Facebook Pixel installed.)
Happily, Facebook recently introduced an Off-Facebook Activity list which shows all the things you’ve done off Facebook that Facebook knows about. You can click here to access it.
As you can see from my screenshot, some 558 apps and websites have shared information with Facebook about me; sites that I don’t even remember visiting, and apps that I uninstalled after 30 seconds when I realised the app was shitty. All of this off-Facebook activity only builds the dataset they have on you.
In 2013 High-Tech Bridge (Now ImmuniWeb) published a study showing how links sent privately via Facebook Messenger were being accessed by Facebook, and not — in fact — private.
Also in 2013, it was revealed that Facebook is a participant in the National Security Administration’s PRISM program, which is a mass surveillance program that collects data from internet companies in the United States. Both Facebook and Google joined back in 2009.
And don’t even get me on the DeepFace program, a facial recognition program developed by Facebook using the data of 4 million images uploaded by users without their explicit consent. DeepFace is more accurate at identifying someone than the FBI’s facial recognition program.
All of my discontent was amplified by the famous Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018. As a privacy advocate, I followed the scandal with baited breath.
Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent and used predominately to serve these users with political advertisements.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign used the data to build psychographic profiles of voters. Ads were then served to voters based on whether or not they were Trump supporters or swing voters. Trump supporters received ads showing him as presidential, while swing voters were shown ads disparaging Hillary Clinton.
A fascinating documentary about this scandal called The Great Hack is available on Netflix. I strongly encourage you to watch it. My husband and I were so outraged we basically spent the entire duration screaming at the TV.
More details about the profound impact of the Cambridge Analytica scandal were published in January by TechCrunch.
The reason I care so much about these egregious — and numerous — privacy violations is because privacy is a fundamental right, and when that right is infringed upon, so is one’s right to be authentically and unapologetically themselves.
The things we think, the things we believe, and the things we read on the internet are nobody’s business but our own. And this information should not be manipulated, nor should it be controlled by anybody but ourselves.
Facebook — or any other company for that matter — should not be able to get rich by selling our personal data, purchase history, or browser history, to the highest bidder.
But yet, this is the era in which we live.
We live in a time where we expect to receive extremely costly services (like social networking) for free, but because the service to the users is free, companies have to make their money somehow.
And they do so by selling our data.
Facebook is Toxic and Manipulative
While I am passionate about privacy, privacy concerns are just one reason Sūvata is leaving Facebook.
The other reason is that Facebook is toxic and manipulative.
Facebook’s number one goal is to keep users on Facebook. Facebook wants you to be hooked. It’s in their best interest that you’re addicted to their platform. According to Jaron Lanier, a technologist who is considered to be a founding father of virtual reality, “We’re being hypnotized little by little by technicians we can’t see.”
Back in 2014, the Washington Post published an article about the “emotional contagion” experiment conducted by Facebook’s data scientists.
Facebook’s researchers wanted to know if your newsfeed is full of happy posts, will you be happier? Conversely, if your feed is filled with sad posts, will you be sadder?
“To test that, Facebook data scientists tweaked the newsfeed algorithms of roughly 0.04 percent of Facebook users, or 698,003 people, for one week in January 2012,” reported the Washington Post. “During the experiment, half of those subjects saw fewer positive posts than usual, while half of them saw fewer negative ones. To evaluate how that change affected mood, researchers also tracked the number of positive and negative words in subjects’ status updates during that week-long period. Put it all together, and you have a pretty clear causal relationship.”
The results were not surprising. When you see happier posts, you’re more likely to make happier posts. When you see sad posts, you’re more likely to make sad posts. This feeds the vicious cycle of keeping you addicted to Facebook.
In 2018 Facebook announced the algorithm would decrease the amount of news in the feed from credible news sources, and instead increase non-publisher content (like posts from your friends) that spur engagement and encourages comments. This was part of Facebook’s push to increase “meaningful interactions.”
A report published a year later by News Whip explored the impact this had.
“The most commented articles were often the most divisive ones,” the News Whip report states. “Topics included religion, abortion once again, religion, and politics, In short, everything we are taught from a young age not to bring up at a dinner party is ripe for conversation on social media, and is often the most talked about topics.”
And this comes as no surprise.
Button-pushing topics that trigger contempt, anxiety, and outrage, also trigger far more engagement than less controversial topics.
The more engagement that exists on Facebook, the more engagement will exist on Facebook. And that’s what fuels Facebook’s engine.
The more time you spend on Facebook engaging with posts — regardless of whether you like or dislike them — the more ads you see. Your engagement also increases the engagement rates of those with whom you are engaging forcing them to see more ads.
This endless cycle of post-engage-scroll is what keeps Facebook in business.
The algorithm is not the only reason Facebook is toxic. Facebook users can also be toxic. While there are certainly good reasons to be on Facebook — such as staying in touch with distant friends and family — there are also people who use Facebook as a platform to air their dirty laundry or to appear morally superior through virtue signalling.
Since the latest round of protests and race riots began, I have found Facebook to be more toxic than ever. Both virtual signalling and actual racism are thriving on Facebook. People who I otherwise love and respect have been spewing hatred for anyone who hasn’t engaged in virtue signalling — and in some instances, this hatred has damaged the business of those who haven’t virtue signalled.
Thanks in no small part to Facebook, cancel culture is alive and well, and hurting people who haven’t actually done anything to merit being cancelled. Cancel culture has taken on a life of its own where it’s being used to shame and destroy those with whom one doesn’t perfectly agree.
Being a Libertarian I certainly support anyone’s right to support or not support whoever they want, or to say whatever they want no matter how negative or toxic I find their opinions. But I also support my right to avoid toxic negativity.
Why didn’t I leave Facebook sooner?
Well, to be honest: it’s because I had the wrong business model.
I was running a service-based business. I had a roster of international clients, and I got most of my clients through word of mouth. It is difficult to do that without social media. I needed to remain top-of-mind so when people thought, “I need a great website” the next thought was, “I should call Ysmay.”
For years I tried to leave Facebook, only to have to come back in order to network and build my personal brand.
Facebook also makes it very easy to stay in touch with distant friends and family because, let’s be serious, in 2020 we’re all pretty lazy when it comes to staying in touch.
So I sucked it up. I swallowed my anger, outrage, and indignation. I told myself the positive aspects of Facebook outweigh the bad.
But, then I changed my business model. I closed down my service business. I stopped providing services in March 2020. I pivoted everything to focus on my calling: to help people get healthy and take charge of their lives.
And I don’t need Facebook to do that.
In fact, by removing myself from Facebook, I have more energy to focus on creating valuable, long-form content.
Will going Facebook free hurt my business?
Yeah, probably. And not an insignificant amount, either. Just by closing down my groups and my pages, I lose access to about 50k people. That doesn’t even include the Instagram accounts I have for multiple brands.
But, there has to be a way to grow and prosper without Facebook — especially as I transition to a new business model. I am determined to find it. I think the secret lies in a combination of SEO and Pinterest. As I figure out what works best, I will share that information.
What I’m Doing Instead of Facebook
I will of course continue to write, and I am going to release my writings as podcast episodes on my new show One Flawed Mortal.
The decision to go Facebookless has forced me to be creative in how I connect and serve.
For community growth and outreach, I am focusing on Telegram and Reddit. Telegram to send small updates, and Reddit to connect and chat.
What I love about both Telegram and Reddit is the ability to be anonymous, without losing access to the content. Health, wellness, business, yoga, personal development, spirituality…these are deeply personal topics, and you may not want your legal name associated with some of the things you are going through.
I have been using Telegram for years, and I absolutely love it. I am a member of several communities there, and I also use it as my default texting app.
Here’s where I’ll share updates on Telegram from this blog: https://t.me/oneflawedmortal
And if you care about yoga, you can get SūvataYoga here: https://t.me/suvata
And if you care about web design, you can get Designerless here: https://t.me/designerless
If you want to connect with me personally, send me a message. https://t.me/ysmaywalsh
I started a yoga sub-Reddit back in March of 2020, but didn’t do anything with it. I also started a web design sub-Reddit, but neglected that too. But it is my sincere hope that my sub-Reddits will become the community hub for both Designerless and Sūvata.