With that ground already covered, this post is not going to center on the general issues surrounding privacy on Facebook; instead, I want to discuss some of the personal reasons why I quit, in part as an explanation intended for the network I left behind.
Thinking About Leaving
I had robust networks on both Facebook and Twitter. Like Luke Waltzer, who described his reasons for staying on Facebook on his blog, I used Facebook mostly to connect to people from my past, while on Twitter, I connected mostly to colleagues in my academic field. Over time, these networks became somewhat interpenetrated, but generally, I thought of Facebook as a quasi-personal space, and Twitter as a quasi-professional space. It was on Facebook that I posted photos of my ten-month old baby and on twitter that I posted links to articles about the digital humanities.
I’ve heard friends and colleagues — people who quit Facebook in recent weeks, like Boone Gorges, Dan Cohen, CogDog, and Carlo Scannella, or people who never never joined, like Dave Parry — claim that they rarely visited Facebook anymore and that they no longer valued the connections they had made there; it had stopped being a valuable space for them, and when Facebook compromised the privacy of that space even further, leaving became an easy decision.
I very much wanted to share photos of my baby with family and friends, but I didn’t want to share them in a space run by a man who believes that privacy is dead.
That wasn’t the case for me because I valued, and continue to value, the wonderful network I had on Facebook. I loved sharing baby photos with friends there; I loved the funny and ironic status updates that my friends posted, and that led to humorous discussions in the comments; I loved the support and camaraderie that members of my network showed for one another.
I remember Dan Cohen tweeting that one reason he had left Facebook is that anyone who wanted to contact him merely had to google him to find his online portfolio, blog, and email address. While that is true for me, too, I know that leaving Facebook means that I am leaving behind conversations that won’t happen elsewhere. Yes, my old college and grad-school friends can email me if they want to, but it’s a whole lot easier to post a comment on a status update than it is to send an email. Most people have a to-do list of emails that they need to send; no one I know has a similar list for Facebook comments. The ease and speed of the Facebook platform made connecting to others both easy and fun (and that ease of sharing, of course, is what built up a critical mass of members and equity in Facebook).
I most emphatically did not want to quit Facebook, because my network was very valuable to me.
And that was exactly why I had to quit.
How We Value Our Networks
The idea of “network value” recurs in many of the posts I’ve seen about Facebook; my friend Boone Gorges used it to explain why he had quit Facebook, but not Google, even though both platforms compromise the privacy of their users. His Facebook network wound up having little value for him, but the functionality provided by Google’s services (mail, docs, chat, calendar, etc.) was so valuable to him that it was worth the cost of lost privacy.
What I came to realize is that the more I valued the connections I had made on Facebook, the less I thought they should be happening on Facebook
What I came to realize is that the more I valued the connections I had made on Facebook, the less I thought they should be happening on Facebook. I very much wanted to share photos of my baby with family and friends, but I didn’t want to share them in a space run by a man who believes that privacy is dead
It’s that simple: I deleted my Facebook account because I loved my facebook network and didn’t want to see my interactions with it mined relentlessly by a company without scruples. And now, a week after deleting my account, I miss that network terribly. But I will not go back to the site because in enabling connections between friends, it corrupts connections between friends. It simultaneously creates and undermines the value of member networks — from the member’s standpoint, at least. Facebook itself only gains value as it data-mines user networks.
It’s important for us to remember that as strong as Facebook is, it is not the only social-networking model out there. Indeed, one of the primary reasons that I quit Facebook is that I recently watched an immensely powerful talk by Eben Moglen of Columbia titled “Freedom and the Cloud.” In an hour of brilliant lecture that is part history lesson and part jeremiad, Moglen describes the central problem with cloud-based computing (“you can’t point to the server”) and lays out a vision of a free and open-source social network that can replace sites like Facebook. I urge you to watch; it’s what pushed me over the edge and finally got me to quit Facebook.
You might have heard about Moglen’s talk in the recent New York Times article on Diaspora* the open-source Facebook alternative that four NYU students started building after hearing Moglen speak in February.
I’ll rebuild my Facebook network there, or in some other open space, as soon as I can.
And as for Google? Well, maybe I need to watch that Moglen video one more time.