Facebook and I go way back.
I’ve been covering the company’s privacy, security and culture scandals since soon after it started having them. I can rattle off all the things Facebook has been accused of (available here in timeline form), the data breaches and hacks its been involved in, and the laundry list of concerns experts have about us using the social network. It is the worst party trick.
I am not, however, deleting Facebook. I haven’t even seriously entertained the idea, despite being the author of a useful CNN Business article called, “Here’s how to delete Facebook.” I don’t think my leaving would make me happier, or put a dent in the company’s $500 billion market value and convince it to change its ways. And I don’t think people should have to quit for peace of mind about their online privacy or well being.
That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to ditch the social network. On Sunday, she revealed that she no longer uses Facebook personally, citing the public health risks of social media. “I think it has effects on everybody. Increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism,” she told the Yahoo News podcast, Skullduggery.
Plenty of research over the past 10 years backs her concerns. So much so that last August Facebook itself announced tools to help people use it less. It joined Google and Apple in an awkward industry-wide attempt to keep customers by telling them to just use their products less.
Asking everyone to quit isn’t realistic. Facebook is used by 2.3 billion people every month — that’s 32% of the world’s population or seven times the population of the United States. Somewhere along the way, Facebook became more important than the company that runs it, causing many to compare it to a utility like PG&E.
For millions of those users, Facebook has become the internet. The company’s Free Basics program offers people in countries without adequate internet access a way to hop online for free — they just have to do it through Facebook’s mobile portal.
If everyone quit today, those users would have to find alternative ways to access affordable internet. And without a single, agreed-upon replacement for Facebook, there would 2.3 billion people scattered across incompatible messaging services, mistakenly trying to post toddler photos on LinkedIn or forge genuine human connections on Twitter.
And then there are all the grandparents who swarmed Facebook over the past decade. The ones who still sign text messages “love, mom.” Some are not terribly internet savvy, and may not be willing or able to learn how to use a new website or mobile app. If they are unable to visit far away friends or family, it is an important way to keep in touch.
For all the bad that can happen on Facebook, like the spread of misinformation and hate speech, or playing a part in real world violence, it does some good. People use it to connect to their local communities, find people with similar problems or illnesses, run small businesses, and raise money on their birthdays for charities.
I … don’t do those things. Or much at all on the social network anymore. One reason I’m not worried about being addicted or depressed by Facebook is that I don’t really think about it much. I check in once a day to see if there have been any life events I should know about, but don’t even linger to fact-check anti-vaccination posts anymore. Like many of Facebook’s regular users, I have mostly decamped for the company’s superior product, Instagram, where fuzzy llamas and babies with thigh-folds outnumber political rants.
Quitting is fine for Ocasio-Cortez and would be fine for me. But I want to stick around and try to make the thing better for the people it matters to the most.