Why I’m deleting my Facebook account

Update: 31 May 2010

This is by far the most visited post on my now-sleepy blog. It is also more than two years old.

A lot of people are finding this post by searching Google for other people who are thinking about leaving Facebook. This is understandable given the recent surge of discontent among the FB community. However judging by the comments there is a certain level of confusion caused by the the gap of more than two years between this blog entry and the current Facebook revolt.

In the interests of clarity I provide the following FAQ.

1. Is this a place for me to explain to Mark Zuckerberg why I am deleting my facebook account?
No.
That is, given this is the personal blog of an Australian academic, he probably won’t read your comment, but feel free to vent if you like.

2. Did you know you CAN actually delete your facebook account?

Yes, this is a change that has occurred during the more than two years since this post. Since this post, I have succeeded in completely deleting my account. I think.

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I know the zombies and pirates will be sad and my virtual garden/fish/panda will die, but I’m leaving Facebook. I swear it’s not a case of getting early adopter syndrome. Trust me, given my background in subculture theory, I have workshopped that one.

It’s complicated and potentially long-winded, so in a nutshell, I have both professional and personal reasons.

1. Facebook is an excellent example of worst practice in almost every aspect of how to run and manage an online social network, and as someone who ostensibly believes there are good and bad ways to do those things, I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

2. Too many worlds colliding, too many invites to vampire garden pirate fishtank zombie kissing applications, and yes, I ended up with kind of too many friends from too many different spheres of my existence (not that I don’t love them all, really) for it to be non-complicated and fun.

Which is fine, and mostly my own fault, I can just log in less frequently, right? Apart from all the obvious problems with that (ignoring friend’s requests and messages and birthdays?), when I started toying with the idea of leaving I had this thought: “Sigh. I can’t leave. Everyone I know is on there and increasingly organising events through the events application, and…”

Whoa, what? I CAN’T LEAVE a commercial service that I never thought was super awesome in the first place and now I’m sick of BECAUSE MY SOCIAL WORLD IS STARTING TO DEPEND ON IT???

Right.

So the only way to reclaim my capacity to act is to engage in the politics of refusal, which I usually think of as pretty much an expression of impotence. Which makes me even more angry.

OK, so to be a bit more rational, here are just a few of the areas in which Facebook takes the prize for worst practice.

1. I’m not the first to say this, but yes, Facebook is the antithesis of the concept of openness.

2. The Terms of Service Use are a triumph of Kafkaesque surrealism and nasty, mean, trickery.

3. Almost every means at the user’s disposal to make their experience of the site safer, more socially comfortable, and less irritating (turning off notifications, making certain content visible to certain friends, making your profile invisible to Google searches, etc) requires effort and knowledge on the user’s behalf. Which is one among many symptoms of utter contempt for the users. See 4.

4. Did I mention the Terms of Use?

5. Oh, and even though Tom Hodgkinson clearly doesn’t respect the unwashed masses any more than the company does and generally thinks the interwebs are a waste of time, according to him it might also be run by an evil neoconservative conspiracy. Which would explain 1, 2, 3, and 4, and gives me little hope that user activism will ever make a bit of difference.

Anyway, there’s always a straw that broke the camel’s back. In my case, it came when an older member of my close family rang me for info and advice about how to ‘get onto’ Facebook, because other family members were sharing photos and news there, which anyone not using Facebook was missing out on.

The longer I talked about what people use Facebook for, and how to manage friends and privacy and tried to answer questions about why Facebook needed your date of birth, and whether ‘they’d send all kinds of junk emails’, the more uneasy I felt. It wasn’t anything like the many, many ‘how to use email’ or ‘what you can do with the Internet’ or ‘how to edit your digital photos’ conversations I’d had with family members and older friends and acquaintances before. So that’s when I started thinking about leaving.

Oh, and by the way, in order to delete your Facebook account, apparently, you have to not only deactivate it, but also delete every single item you have contributed to the site (messages, wall posts, posts other people have written on your wall, photos, links to contacts, profile information) and then email customer service and request they delete your account completely. Oh, and also, in order to delete absolutely everything, I’d also have to re-add every single one of the applications I’ve ever had installed, and then go through and remove the content, and then delete the applications again. Because when you delete an application, guess what? Your data is still stored there somewhere.

That’s not just meanness, but I’m pretty sure it’s also not just to be helpful in case you’re quitting in a fit of pique like this one and might decide later that you want to come back. It’s also because of the way the business model works: Facebook and all the marketeers who sail in her pretty much just want you to visit as many ad-bearing pages per visit as possible (that’s what all those applications and invites are for), and having lost your eyeballs, they’d quite like to keep the data that can be mined from those activities. So they’re going to make it as difficult as possible to scrub that data out of the system. Can you guess how much that softens my heart toward the company?

This is all very obvious of course, and absolutely non-unique, I know that. It’s just I’m not willing to put up with it anymore in this particular case.

So off I go digging little tiny pieces of content out of my account until it’s all clean again. It will be gone by this time tomorrow.