Quitting social media is being sold as the solution, but it's not liberating users, it's repressing and isolating them.

On a previous community post we discussed how to use Facebook and maintain your privacy, here’s the link if you’re interested.

But something I see often overlooked in privacy discussions is if our techniques for achieving privacy are actually contributing to the liberation of cyberspace and building a healthy internet society or are we just making our situation worst.

The common techniques for achieving privacy tend to be more about avoiding surveillance rather than fixing what caused it in the first place. Now let’s take Facebook for example, let’s say a privacy newbie stumbles upon a privacy forum, he learns about the wrong doings of Facebook and he decides he wants to make a change. Now, what is the typical response he would get?

Well from experience I can say that is mostly in line with the #deletefacebook mentality. And trust me, I tend to be around online privacy advocates a lot, online forums, subreddits and telegram chats, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that’s not 100% on board with this whole #deletefacebook mentality.

Who I call privacy extremists tend to have one opinion regarding Facebook: To hell with it. Facebook and other social media sites spy on us, manipulate us and restrict our free speech with their black-box proprietary algorithms. For tech-extremists there’s only one way to “break free” from Mark’s dirty hands and achieve freedom and liberation, the only way is out.

On reddit you’ll often see people asking how to become fully anonymous to arrive at this free speech utopia, they want to be lone wolfs, nobody should have the right to even look them in the eye. But anonymity comes with great irony of outcome.

If you get off Facebook and other repressive and so called evil digital platforms with the hope of gaining back your agency, free speech and privacy then you will ironically lose the values and freedoms you treasured most. To achieve full anonymity one must never say his or her name, never make any accounts, never comment, never express yourself, always delete all cookies and other metadata and leave no trace.

Privacy “woke” people think they are free now that they isolate themselves and repress their own speech to avoid algorithmic classification as part of one specific market demographic. But giving up their free speech is not the only value they used to treasure but actually self-repress.

Privacy is the human right to protect the few things and people you value most, but if you embrace anonymity then you value everything equally to the extend you must delete all data, in other words with anonymity nothing is of value.

To never say what you want to say, to never participate in discourse, to understand privacy in nihilistic terms, to #deletefacebook is not a sing of digital liberation, it’s self inflicted repression.

Reading Snowden’s findings tends to be analogous with the Incel’s community “Black pill”, to take the snowden pill is to recognize that all is lost, that the surveillance dystopia is already here and the only solution is to lay down and rot. The only way is out.

People who read Snowden and Richard Stallman come to a point of tech defeatism. All proprietary software robs you of your rights, therefore the government and all private companies disrespect your rights, the entire world is against you.

Because the only way is out the only logical solution is to quit proprietary software altogether: Install linux, live in the command line, regular software and websites can’t be trusted, you might as well go offline.

This privacy rabbit hole is not uncommon, look at the people on the forums and subreddits: They all want to quit service X and adopt a more isolated version. Quitting one thing after another and another not only creates difficulty in everyday life - Sorry I can’t use whatsapp, it’s proprietary software - it also creates unhealthy isolation.

Privacy extremists in this way tend to move away from public discourse into small and niche private communities. This density of extremists has social repercussions: It creates eco chambers.

A privacy newbie might then be redirected to an isolated platform were he can become radicalized by the eco chamber. It’s a cycle of digital self harm: A user has genuine concerns about social media privacy and he is incentiveized to isolate himself, making him vulnerable to believing the group’s dogma and then becoming part of the endless discussion about how the only solution is to isolate oneself, justifying the actions of the community, now that a new member joins this community the cycle can continue.

From interested to preacher of dogma, privacy purists push people away from the rights and freedoms they claim to champion like agency, free speech and privacy and towards an unhealthy state of mind, they push privacy advocates towards isolation and self repression.

The problem stems from the initial supposition, that to delate Facebook is synonymous to fixing surveillance. We should not #deletefacebook, we should #fixfacebook.

To quit social media is to run away from the problem. That’s not activism, that’s being a coward. Confronting the problem doesn’t mean choosing alternative platforms or software, market solutions are not the solution, they are the root cause.

Joining mastodon instead of facebook is doing as much to fix surveillance capitalism as buying metal straws is doing to stop companies from emitting 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions: Zero.

Real change, however it might look, will not come about from isolation and self repression. To fix tech we must put away the quitting everything mentality, because it’s tearing us apart.

Real change will not come from lonely individuals on a blockchain-powered-libre-source social media platform, real change will come from collective effort. Only together we can even begin to fix this.


Well that was quite the ramble, what do you think? Is the current privacy dogma healthy? anyways I just think privacy discussions all tend to be the same (quit this service and quit that service) so I wanted to do my best to debunk those claims and maybe start a different kinda privacy discussion.

Thanks for reading, Alex.

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This goes along with anti-tech vs mindful tech. Something to ponder…

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Thanks for sharing great ideas!

Is this “fear of missing out?” Sure I agree that not being on Facebook limits one’s social connections. And that it’s too soon to take the extreme step of deleting Facebook, as it is a useful historical network of connections. As alternate and practical complete systems with freedom, privacy and security do not (yet) exist, there are other suitable solutions that will help both ourselves and others regain our dignity, privacy, agency and honor:

  • don’t ever post on any social network. use a tool to delete all your past posts and comments, etc. almost anything we post will be used to zombify and addict others.
  • don’t install any social apps, except for messaging. instead, visit the website, but rarely.
  • completely delete accounts from services you don’t need, i.e. Microsoft, Linkedin, Apple or whatever your particular case may be.
  • find an alternate, humane way to express yourself
  • set your browser to always start in private / incognito mode. use Firefox or Safari, with the uBlock Origin ad and tracker blocker.
  • instead of posting to 500 media addicts who are not your friends and don’t care anyway, keep in direct contact with the 5 people in the world who actually are your real friends.
  • join communities to promote your hobbies, volunteering and your profession

I don’t think there is any need to be extreme, the steps above are an example of good enough. The idea is increase the positives, block the negatives. Does this sound good to you?

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Also I like your idea of working as a community. But I do put so much faith in open, nonprofit, decentralised, benefit, etc corporations and communities and their power to destroy Bad Tech. There is no fixing of Facebook as you suggest or Google. That is like trying to wash a mountain of dirt. But let me give you an example of success, Wikipedia killed for-profit encyclopaedias. Imagine if we had Wikipedia-like foundations creating all our major software, even for media and hardware. It is not just possible, it is much needed.

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My life has been immeasurably improved by leaving all social media three years ago. I stay connected to people I care about by other means - phone, visiting in person - and the interactions are much more meaningful to me. The downsides of social media so outweigh the advantages that I cannot imagine going back unless the business model changes and the design is transformed to be humane and life affirming rather than addictive and triggering of the worst in human beings. I’m not suggesting that this is the best path for others - but for me it has been and is an incredibly positive experience to be free of social media and to invest my time and heart in human-to-human connections in the real world.

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I agree with you. It is not easy for everyone to drop social media and I don’t think we should be expected to. It is good to keep in contact with people, to connect digitally, and to engage in limited narcissistic selfie posting haha (I mean if you look good, you want to post it, right?) But the problem arises with how much data companies are collecting and how nontransparent they are being about it. It bugs me. But what we are doing here, raising awareness about shady practices, is what is going to change things. We need to give people information about what is happening in the tech industry by reaching the people on the platforms they control, and that in turn will hopefully generate a new social consensus about how our information is used. I also agree with @Free, the media we have now is probably not going to change. But if we promote humane products and work as a community, we can again, maybe shift the societal norm surround tech and privacy and shift people to things outside of Big Tech (which of course isn’t that simple, but it is a start). I am hopeful for the future and I think if we all keep discussing and doing what we are doing, we can really make a difference.

As for individuals isolating themselves, I say, to each their own. It is easier for some individuals to cut out Big Tech because maybe they didn’t grow up with it (unlike me) or maybe the way they live doesn’t require it as much. There are tons of people who find ways to live without the internet, and that works for them. And honestly, if it works for them, they should have at it, that’s amazing. But for some, it is not as easy. Unplugging can be a privilege, especially for students like me who have tons of online work and are living is a society that literally requires them to have social media (I have a story about that for a later date). So I take the path of the lovely Nina Hersher who said, “Everything in moderation. Try to be mindful-tech instead of anti-tech.” Everyone has their own way of reaching a place of mindful tech use. For some it’s getting off social media, and for others it is using it less. We should not judge one another on how we choose to reach a point of digital wellness, but instead map out different paths to take by sharing out stories here like we are right now!

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Jaron Lanier in “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” argues that the way to create enough incentives for a new humane social tech to be developed is to quit fb altogether. This would create a niche of users/customers who expect something different. Right now, while the ad and behaviour modification machinery works with all the users in it, such a model is reaffirmed and not contested enough.

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As long as facebook dominates the social network realm new comers would have slight chance to compete. Facebook would do in all its power to beat, buy,copy,shut out,blocked etc. competitors.

@gkrishnaks corrected me about my characterization of Mastodon, so here is a revised version of the text I posted yesterday.

Mastodon serves as an alternative to popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. For that reason, we should celebrate it, as we celebrate the existence of other alternatives.

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This is a worthy discussion. I tend to be a bit of a diplomat by nature, so I often see the points from multiple perspectives. Facebook’s blitzscaling origins and growth-at-any-costs investor requirements have led it down a path of stripping down humans to bare meat to be sold to the highest bidder.

But then some of its growth is also the fault of a lot of our pre-existing media too. When news and journalism sites bailed on their own comments and forums en masse, directing the debate over to growing social media giants, it was done with the premise of being too expensive to monitor, of becoming a bit too toxic for them to handle, and then claiming that social media sites were the best place to have these conversations anyway. It was a complete abdication of responsibility… right down to the eye-rolling move for so many publishers to abandon their own websites in favor of promoting their Facebook presence instead.

So yeah, there’s a lot of reasons to delete Facebook. That said, Facebook still provides a lot of value. I think we have to be more careful and conscious in our use of social media. Society sort of embraced it like a starving explorer who just stumbled on an all-you-can-eat buffet and we are wondering why so many people are getting sick, vomiting, unhealthy, and overweight. The blowback is a healthy thing. It’s part of that social immune system kicking in to defend ourselves from things getting a bit too far.

There are a lot of people who subscribe to abstinence as a replacement for self control and self moderation. We also live today in a society defined by denial culture: one where self-expression and self definition comes primarily by defining yourself by what you don’t do (meat, drinking, gluten, watching TV, social media, etc.) rather than by what you do. Living in the negative rather than the positive. So I expect some of the #deletefacebook culture to fall nicely into that trap.

But I’ve always said: going cold turkey is to self moderation what joining the priesthood is to “curing” yourself of your homosexuality. You can hide from it in denial as long as you can, but the best answer usually lies in how you develop your own capacity to manage yourself in the grey middle between the polar extremes.

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Wow. I appreciate that you see yourself as a diplomat by nature and that you try to use diplomacy, but I find your last paragraph offensive. I for one am not ‘hiding in denial’ but choosing to leave social media - I am making a very conscious and intentional choice to preserve my well being so that I can be effective in the ways I seek to help advance change, so that I can preserve some measure of well being, and so that I am not participating in the platforms that I believe are profoundly harming our society and human beings on a tremendous scale. I don’t define myself by what I don’t do - but choosing to step away from participating in something one considers profoundly harmful to self and others is an act of conscience and of self respect, not an act of ‘living in the negative.’

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Interesting to read your take on abstinence, denial culture, and living in the negative. Here is a list of my “negatives” recast as “positives.”

  • Yes, I prefer my Samsung 330 to a smartphone.
  • Yes, I like living without a TV.
  • Yes, I like getting my news from the local newspaper, Wapo, the Guardian, and Nieman Labs.
  • Yes, I prefer to refrain from eating meat, though I do indulge when I go to my mate’s parents’ house for holiday meals.
  • Yes, I prefer my baker’s dozen (13) friends on Facebook to a large group of friends.
  • Yes, I prefer to write by hand my first drafts of poetry, reviews, and fiction.
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It might be similar to me not using TV. Since the 2005, when I moved to a dormitory from my parents’ place, I’ve never had a TV set. And I’ve never cared, always having something better to do. At some point I realized that it was different and considered to be a bit eccentric. According to what I saw in my friends’ lives, however, not having a TV set was bringing me more benefits than harm. Still, I never considered myself hiding from TV in denial. Not using it really can’t be called „abstinence”. It’s just the way I live. Without it but not avoiding it.

Same with eating meat (which I don’t do). I didn’t know that until a friend expressed his doubts that I have to live in constant craving and keep abstaining and controlling myself and being in opposition to everything around me. But that’s totally not the case. I don’t care, meat does not exist in my menu and that’s it.

Or maybe it’s like saying that atheists believe that there is no god, that atheism is also a kind of faith. But it can be interpreted simply as a lack of belief.

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Quoting myself is gross but reminder:

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Thanks for your thoughts on this! Are you saying we are socially obligated to be on Facebook regardless of whether we enjoy or benefit from the product? Or is this more specific to the motives for quitting? While I have a rather strong disdain for the company, I quit it because I didn’t enjoy using it. It required more of me than I was interested in giving (obligation, time, attention etc.), and I found the form of connection frequently contributed to a feeling of isolation, rather genuine connection.

I still enjoy Twitter a great deal (broken as it may be) and check Instagram periodically. I personally feel my life is richer for the choice. I think there’s a balance and eventually we’ll find it. I’m not anti-social, and I don’t consider it cowardly, just simply making choices that I believe are the most healthy for me personally.

I’m more hopeful/interested for what comes after Facebook. I’d love to see them improve the product for the health of the consumer – but the last decade has been a grand experiment and it’s too late to undo what’s been done. We all made too broad of a fishbowl to live in, and tossed away our privacy in the process. I’m hoping we can scale social media back in ways that make for truly personal, meaningful, and more private interaction with the people in our lives.

What do you hope for from a fixed Facebook, or something beyond? Where do we go from here? Thanks.

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Exactly. Privacy is not the only concern and the premise that quitters give up their “free speech” is problematic, since the signal to noise ratio on these platforms is so high that most people aren’t getting their speech genuinely amplified or heard in any meaningful way. In fact Facebook has gone to great lengths to make sure people who are willing to pay them for exposure (whether via ads or getting priority “boosted” treatment in feeds) get first priority. The “connecting everyone” ethos is now mostly a marketing ploy.

Most people I question about Facebook appear to value their contact list which they can reach via FB messenger, their old photos and the events. All of these things can be replaced, but FOMO (rather than fearing a loss of free speech) means that most people aren’t willing to try.

“Fixing” Facebook is wishful thinking. They are not going to change their business model, and their business model is the problem. If that view makes me a privacy extremist then I am comfortable with it. In the meantime I’m very much enjoying my free speech on other platforms whilst learning more and having more meaningful interactions. Characterising Facebook quitters as digital hermits is comically flawed. It’s the digital equivalent of deriding environmentally concerned people tree huggers.

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Your premise seems to be that the problem with Facebook is privacy.
That is not at all the main issue with it, and we can even imagine increments in FB’s concerns with privacy, to a point where users can feel relatively safe. Whatsapp, following the iPhone/FBI controversy, was (to my recollection) the first to offer end to end encryption (and Whatsapp belongs to FB).

Isolation is a creation of Facebook.

Imagine that you cannot choose freely your cell phone operator. Because the rule is you can only call users from the same operator. And one has grown so much that all other users have been left out. What would cause isolation is not the free choice of operator. It is the fact that it’s not possible to contact someone who has a phone number from a different operator.

That is what happens now. Not because technology does not allow us to have a better way, but because so far social tech giants feel this is better for business (it migth change). So someone from VK cannot send message to someone from FB or from Twitter or Instagram or any other social network.

(By the way, Tristan Harris is inspiring to me because he says “technology can be better”. The problem is not that people don’t adjust to in-humane tech, it’s that some tech is in-humane).

The big implication of FB’s functioning is that there is no public space. FB is absolutely private and they (according to terms of service) even own the conversation, not the users.

There are other implications (deeper, and harder to address). One is that FB is not a communication tool (like a cell phone, or even an app like Whatsapp). It is a community, and a second social layer on top of the social links that already exist in our lives. And it’s is a behavior modeling platform. This created big changes, like the norm that to communicate is to perform and to cater to an online status. It’s a cause of anxiety and all sorts of problems.

If you have such a pessimist view of people who admire Snowden and Stallman (it’s a strange unthinkable idea to me that to learn the truth is to lose hope), you have Jaron Lanier, who is an absolute enthusiast for tech, works with Microsoft producing its mixed reality, was the one that coined the term Virtual Reality. And, by the way, has a book called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.

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This also creeps me out. It seems that these big companies want to demonize any local government interference, because they don’t want to pay taxes and have “disruption” as a religion. And then they impose themselves as governments, much less democratic an with 0 interest in the good of citizens. A world where we are forced, for instance, to take a Uber (because all other options were preemptively destroyed/disrupted) is not a liberated world, at all.

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Of course we didn’t even touch on Libra. Letting Facebook propose to be a central means of economic interaction (any more than it is) is a dangerous prospect. It’s another way to force people into their ecosystem and guide or potentially control commerce. Not good.

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Hey. Loved that book. And I love Jaron Lanier.

I’m the CEO of Readup, a humane alternative to FB. We fit exactly into that little niche that you (and Jaron) described.

I don’t think it matters whether or not people choose to make the leap from Facebook. Alternatives (like Readup) need to be so good that people just naturally migrate over. It’s the difference between “I’m not eating that food because it’s bad for me. I’d rather starve,” and “I’m not eating that food because there’s a healthier alternative.”

PS, I’ve been off social media & smartphone for years. It’s a no-brainer: https://billloundy.com/about.html