Settling My Social Media Dilemma

As I wrote at the start of the year, all of the ways in which social media—Facebook specifically— has been negatively impacting society on a global scale has really killed my engagement and interest in using the platforms. In the seven months since then, there have only been more reports of Facebook’s mishandling of user information and privacy liabilities, culminating in a $5 billion dollar fine they generate per calendar quarter so laughable that their stock went up after it was announced. With government oversight clearly not in play given the ineptitude and corporate influence rampant in the current administration, it would fall on its users to dole out the punishment via a boycott. However, Facebook is too engrained and diversified to be able to eliminate completely. Though I personally haven’t been using the social networks actively and have kept Facebook off my phone, WhatsApp is still the primary external communications tool at the day job. Even if I could delete all my Facebook-owned accounts, I’m keenly aware that user tracking technologies are so advanced that even browsing the web is feeding them data from me via their partner networks.

It’s a bothersome logical conflict between the idea that you’re losing out without gaining anything if you’re not actively using their services since you’re still providing them data anyway, but if you do use them, you’re opening the valve on the data hose and giving them far more information to mishandle & misuse; Facebook’s now primed to create the facial recognition technology stateside that could be used in nefarious ways as they do in China. And that’s just the concerns over domestic threats to society. Just a few weeks ago, I was alerted by a friend of an account that had uploaded my photos with their original captions, triggering a mention notification on their end. Who knows what we’re unintentionally providing information, visual data, and/or avatars for, but in an age of digital warfare and foreign election interference, it’s not so easy to just write it off as a “harmless” spam bot like in the early days of the internet.

iPhone screenshot of an Instagram profile with a Russian username using my profile picture and uploaded photos
A (seemingly) Russian account harvesting my photos

I’ve spent all of this year letting two perspectives battle it out: a rationalist mindset that accepts that change takes time and that there are, or the informed idealist that expects nothing good to come from either big business or government and opts out entirely. It feels irresponsible and unpatriotic to idle by and do nothing, and with the situation looking so bleak by way of solutions, evaluated against both the things I know objectively and my personal ideals, it feels like the best option would be indeed to follow the suggestions of Facebook’s former founders/leads and delete my own accounts. Keeping them open and using them whenever I rarely do makes me feel like a hypocrite, but conversely, one man deleting his accounts isn’t going to make a ripple, considering they’ve already been in a pretty much abandoned state. Then there’s the bigger picture to consider, that many of the problems with Facebook’s operations also apply to a majority of other tech firms, big & small. As a digital worker in today’s world, being able to tap into those networks is virtually required. Like it or not, that is where the public conversation happens.

I’ve known for a while know that I’ve settled, reluctantly, on the side of continuing to use social networking services, and hoping that eventually—sooner rather than later—government gets it together and finds a way to properly oversee & regulate these modern services. It’s just that despite the resulting consequence of not being up to date with what’s going on with many of my peers, not being actively engaged in social media has been so nice. A lot of time and mental bandwidth gets used processing a constant flow of information that largely can’t be acted on, and having reclaimed that for myself this past few months has been so enjoyable I haven’t been in a rush to give it up again. But as it’s said, all good things…