The devil you know: the problem with #deleteFacebook


Deleting Facebook is a great idea in theory, but there are practical problems to be considered.

Lately we’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on the #deleteFacebook front. Elon Musk deleted his companies’ FB pages. The co-founder of WhatsApp (who one presumes made a fortune when FB bought his company) tweeted #deleteFacebook. Quartz wants to know if the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the end of the social platform. (Don’t be silly; but no, it doesn’t help anything.)

I see all this rage as a very healthy thing because Facebook has been … problematic … for some time.

In 2012 I called them “the most congenitally dishonest company in America,” and if anything they’ve only gotten worse. I mean, that post was only focused on the implications of their incessant “user experience” shenanigans (which later gave us a potentially useful feature that simply wouldn’t work). Since then we’ve had escalating concerns about their use of our data, culminating in the Cambridge Analytica debacle and the news that the site was more or less an unofficial arm of the Russian conspiracy to alter the results of the 2016 election. Did Facebook contribute to the likelihood of suicide by users? What about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s big campaign donation to an anti-gay politician?

And on. And on.

Facebook apology

Zuck took out a series of full-page newspaper ads to offer a well-crafted apology. (Props to the PR team that wrote it for hitting just the right tone. Saying you’re sorry without giving the impression you’re actually losing sleep over it, which might inadvertently signal to investors you’re going to do something drastic that might damage shareholder value, that’s a fine line to tread. Well done.)

So if you’re skeptical about the apology, I understand. But logically, we shouldn’t be. The company is without question sincere in its concern that being perceived as a tool for undermining America might be bad for business.

But we can’t replace Facebook just yet.

I know people without Facebook accounts and I envy them. The movement to leave FB has my full sympathy. Nothing I say here is a defense of Facebook (or any social media platform). I wish we lived in a world where the damned thing didn’t exist.

But while I sympathize, there’s a practical issue that needs pointing out.

The problem is, Facebook is (once you get past the things I note above) a really useful tool, and there is nothing available at present that can replace it.

The other day I read somebody advising us to “delete your Facebook account and sign up for Twitter.” This is like saying sell your car and buy an airhorn. Twitter can be useful, I suppose (although there’s a good argument it’s done more damage to public discourse than Facebook) but it does barely a fraction of the things FB does.

Instagram? Pinterest? Well, those have uses, too, if you’re mainly about sharing photos and recipes. Pinterest has some value as a marketing tool, as well. But community groups?

Snapchat? I have no idea how you could even pretend to use it for much of what I do on FB (like our Chelsea supporters club group, which is one of the two or three most important things for me on Facebook, or Third Millennium Sound, a music discovery community that has helped me find all kinds of new bands in recent months).

Vero is interesting, but looks to be mobile-only, which is limiting. And there are others – newer, smaller, built with various visions in mind – that may eventually be able to fill some of the void.

Of all the social networks I know, Ello perhaps comes closest to having the resources to replace Facebook. I love Ello and have written about it in the past, but it isn’t really built to be FB. It doesn’t have community functionality, for instance, and ultimately it’s really a lot more about art and photography. An infusion of development cash could get it there, I imagine, but none of the conversations I’ve had with their people suggest they have any interest in becoming Facebook.

Which means that you could probably pull together some combination of Twitter, Ello, Pinterest, Snapchat, Vero, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Instagram, Google Groups, email lists, etc., that collectively would allow you to accomplish most of what Facebook does. If you didn’t mind the inconvenience, and if you could get all your online contacts synchronized to it all, that is.

Facebook has succeeded because it integrates all these things we want to do in one handy, convenient, occasionally usable place. It’s been so effective at it, in fact, we have been willing to hand over our privacy (and perhaps the government of the country). Are these things good? Hell no. But are they real questions for anyone looking to dispose of Facebook? Absolutely.

If there’s a better solution out there, will somebody please let me know? It would be wonderful if we could pick up our Facebook and move it over to someplace that did the same things without all the sociopathy.

In the meantime, we’re not helped by zillionaire entrepreneurs like Brian Acton and Elon Musk simply telling everyone to check out. Not going to happen. What we need is for them and some other like-minded visionaries to create an actual alternative.


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