Farewell Social Media

I recently purged the data from my Facebook account. This effort was shockingly labour intensive: it took a browser script all weekend to crunch, and still many aspects of the process required manual execution. Torching years and years of old Facebook activity felt so liberating that I found another script to do the same thing to my Twitter account.

Going in, I had no idea just how difficult it would be to remove so much data. There is zero commercial incentivize for Facebook or Twitter to provide a “Delete all my posted data but let me keep my contact network” option. These platforms make it monstrously tedious to remove one’s content short of deleting one’s entire account. These systems are apparently designed to make personal ‘data purges’ extremely cumbersome for users.

As Tom Peters observed, “The sole concern of Google and Facebook is to convert the most intimate details in your life into revenue.” But many of us have been using these platforms for so many years that we fail to appreciate just how much data we have donated to them along the way. Try scrolling to the very bottom of your Facebook activity log or Google search history to see what I mean. Dylan Curran’s recent piece in the Guardian demonstrates the scale and magnitude of our complacency. If you want to become acutely aware of how valuable your data is to these companies, try jumping through the hoops required to take your data off their systems. Even if you decide to award the contract for chronicling your life to these companies, you need to be precisely aware of how much you are giving away. As soon as you try to do something as ‘simple’ as remove your past posts, you suddenly realize how soothingly you’ve been lulled into shovelling your personal life into corporate data mines.

At present, I have no plans to post to Facebook, Twitter, or Google again anytime soon. The sole function of my now ‘dormant’ accounts is to allow me to utilize these networks as ‘living directories’ when they present themselves as the only available tools to make contact with certain individuals. Other than that, I’m signing off, at least for the time being. I will leave this post as final ‘breadcrumb’ on Facebook and Twitter.

My focus remains on writing. I will continue posting regularly here on my blog, with a greater emphasis on engaging in the discussions and debates that emerge. If you would like to follow my writing moving ahead, you are welcome to subscribe to weekly email updates. You can also subscribe to this site’s RSS feed with a service like Feedly, Feedbin, Inoreader, or Feed Wrangler. I highly recommend Reeder as a feed reader client.

I will not be syndicating links to new blog posts on social media. I am not interested in supporting our increased dependency on algorithms to determine what we see and read… and, ultimately, think. I do not want to spend my time tweaking or ‘gaming’ algorithms. I am just not interested in the race anymore. The more I play the algorithm game, the more the algorithm game plays me.

I’m out. There are many things I hope to do while I am alive… trying to convince somebody’s advertising algorithm to pay attention to me is not one of those things. Multiply this conviction by the sense that spending time on social media is a suboptimal use of time that comes at the expense of things I truly care about and leaving seems evermore desirable. Just one life to live: I refuse to be a collateral pawn in someone else’s attention war.

Moving ahead, I will use email as my principal means of communicating and organizing personal endeavours, initiatives, and projects. If we have not already corresponded by email, please send me a note at contact [at] jamesshelley.com and say hi. Why? Email is peer-to-peer, distributed, non-proprietary, and adaptable. It is, as far as I can tell right now, the best ‘social platform’ presently at our disposal.

(I will also be maintaining my presence on micro.blog, which is a fascinating, experimental platform. Micro.blog is like a ‘social layer’ that maps over open and independent web sites.)

If you are thinking about purging or deleting your social media accounts, I’d love to hear what you are thinking. What are the considerations that you are weighing? What are your primary concerns? I am curious about your story. Looking back, it’s interesting how many different factors played into this decision for me. How do other paths unfold?

I can’t quite describe how ‘lightening’ it feels to start over again. It is our data that we are giving away here, and it is entirely within our prerogative to take it back. To each their own, but I, for one, am moving on. In the final analysis, it is simply about exercising my choice: Facebook and Twitter are not working for me, so I will focus my energies in other directions. This is about more time and space for connection, community, and conversation. Saying no to the algorithmic data miners really means saying yes to something else.

After some reflection, I’ve concluded that even posting to Twitter is just providing content to a platform for hate and anger. I can’t fix that problem, but I can stop contributing to the platform. And so I will. — Curtis Clifton

20 thoughts on “Farewell Social Media

  1. @jamesshelley My understanding is that FB still owns all your data and will continue to sell it to advertisers, but it will no longer show up on your home page there or on people’s timelines. And you’ll no longer be giving FB any new data. Do I have that right? As for email, I think a high percentage of email at one end or another of email traffic is a gmail account. So google will be able to continue to gather up all that stuff for their own revenue earning purposes. Right?

  2. @jamesshelley Congratulations on making such a brave decision. Hopefully will see a follow-up post from you in a month or two saying you have thrived in the absence of social media. Having examples of people who have successfully pulled the plug on social media will help others make the decision for themselves as well.

  3. Hey James,

    Could you add me to your email list, if you have one, for when you post to your blog? I would love to stay in touch this way.

  4. I’ve been considering the same thing for quite a while as well. Dylan Curran’s piece as well gave me pause as well.

    Things I’m thinking about.

    I think Facebook for me will be easier than Twitter to give up. Even if I decide to stay on one or both platforms, there needs to be much purging of things.

    I’ve met many great people and have made some fantastic friendships, in many ways, particularly on Twitter, it’s how I keep up with what is happening.

    Keep my existing content or not. I like how you have kept one post on FB to redirect people to your platform. This is something I did not consider but makes sense.

    • Those are great thinking points, Stuart. I have been conflicted on the social aspect – the ‘actual social’ part of ‘social media’ – as I, too, have developed some many great friendships that probably would not have existed without platforms like Twitter. But what I find interesting in reflection is that many of these relationships go back to a time when Twitter was much unlike what it is today. Over recent years, I find person-to-person introductions of the ‘intentional’ sort to be much more fruitful than the serendipity I had come to ‘expect’ from Twitter. Maybe it is a signal-to-noise issue, I don’t know? Either way, at some point I have come to wrestle with the possibility that a tool that was once a great social benefit has grown into a tool that represents a significant ‘opportunity cost’ for my participation, which can come at the expense of prioritizing real time space with people. Just some thoughts….

  5. @Ron The thought ran through my mind several times while watching the browser scripts work away: “I wonder if any of this is actually being deleted?” At this point, I feel its moot. It highlights the huge lack of accountability that these platforms have to their users. It also reiterates, to me at least, why I don’t want to continue posting there in the future.

  6. @Ron As for email, I do understand that Gmail’s market share (and nefarious data mining) are seemingly unavoidable. I manage and host my own email, but that doesn’t mean Gmail doesn’t have a shadow profile on me. For me, it’s about doing everything I can do, and learning how to be content with that. My mantra: jamesshelley.com/2016/01/2…

  7. I also want to thank @manton and the micro.blog world for your indirect contribution to this decision: finding this ‘social layer of the open web’ became like the final ‘reassurance’ for me, I think, that leaving corporate platforms did not being ‘alone’ on the internet.

  8. @jamesshelley Europe is clearly leading the way on privacy, regulating a lot more than here in the Land of the “Free.” But if software is designed & written in secret, owned by private interests, and not subject to inspection by anyone else, what hope do we really have for true accountability? We’re just gonna rely on Suckerberg to do what is right? How well has that been working? Fundamentally we have a computer system that knows no national boundaries. How can any local legislature regulate what operates far outside its own boundaries? Is there anyone really in charge here?

  9. @Ron Agreed 100%. I think your comment highlights the joint imperative of getting digital literacy into education and legislation for digital transparency and protections for digital privacy on the political agenda…

  10. Bravo, James! The irony is that by choosing to “take back your data” and broadcasting this so publicly, you have surely outed yourself to the powers-that-be as a subversive, an instigator and a potential system-destroyer. So instead of willingly handing over your precious data like a good little boy, you can now expect to be the subject of surveillance of more traditional means by the FBI, MI5 and the KGB – wire-taps, bugs, being followed and being watched… It’s not too late to change your mind! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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