If you just accessed this article via Facebook then, sorry, but you’re a dumb fuck. This is not according to me, but a young Mark Zuckerberg. In 2004, when Zuckerberg had just created Facebook, he sent a series of messages to his Harvard friends incredulous at the fact that 4,000 had given their personal information to his social network. “People just submitted it … I don’t know why … They ‘trust me’ … dumb fucks.”
Fast forward roughly 14 years and the number of Facebook users has grown from 4,000 to 2 billion. However, as you’ll have probably heard by now, a growing number of people are turning their backs on the network and deleting their accounts for good: I’m one of them.
It’s been just over a month since The Guardian and its sister newspaper The Observer published an interview with Cambridge Analytica (CA) whistleblower Christopher Wylie: a gay, vegan former fashion trend forecaster with a penchant for Rick Owens, Craig Green, and Dries Van Noten.
Wylie claimed to have directly helped build the psychological warfare tool that CA—financed by Robert Mercer and overseen by Steve Bannon, among others—used on Facebook to sway the U.S. electorate to vote for Donald Trump as well as in a number of other political campaigns around the world.
Facebook estimates that up to 87 million profiles were obtained by Cambridge Analytica. The information was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by the Cambridge University academic Aleksandr Kogan in collaboration with CA, and then used to target potential voters and bombard them with images, memes, videos and fake news stories designed to stir racial and political tensions in Trump’s favor. Facebook not only allowed Kogan (along with thousands of other developers and companies) to access ludicrously vast amounts of data about the users of his app, but also the friends of that user too.
Facebook has publicly apologized and acknowledged it made mistakes by allowing its users’ data to fall into the wrong hands. It has even promised to clamp down on fake news and to make it harder for third parties to access your data. But the truth is that Facebook will never truly care about your private information because its business model depends entirely on using it to sell ads: advertising revenue accounts for 98 percent of the company’s global revenue.
Time and again, both in interviews and while giving testimony to congress last week, Zuckerberg has avoided questions about what data his company collects about users without their knowledge. This week, even as fires burn all around it, Facebook pulled 1.5 billion users out of the reach of the EU’s new GDPR privacy laws. If you’re on Facebook, the simple truth is that you’re more than just a user — you’re the product.
The Cambridge Analytica story and the company’s immediate response was the main factor in why I decided to delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts, but it wasn’t—I’m not entirely ashamed to say—without a struggle.
I’ve had the accounts for 10 and 6 years, respectively. Scrolling through my timelines, you’d have found a picture of 18 year old me sitting in the driver’s seat of a car on the day I passed my driving test; a video of me and my mates on our first “lads holiday” in Spain; drunken and nonsensical 5 a.m. statuses during my first week of university.
Facebook was recording for me the amusing memories people once kept in a physical photo album, or in a box in the attic somewhere, and that was cool with me. It was nice to have everything in one place and instantly accessible. The thought of deleting that didn’t sit well with me, even though I could (and eventually did) go through the painstaking process of downloading every single photograph and video. Deleting my Facebook profile felt like deleting a part of my life, as weird and as fucked up as that sounds.
But that feeling quickly turned. I recently downloaded my data, and as I explain here, the extent of the surveillance was completely horrifying. There were conversations with a deceased relative I assumed were permanently deleted long ago, the contact information of people who had never been Facebook users, an extremely detailed advertising profile.
Facebook tracks where you are, what applications you have installed, when you use them, what you use them for, access to your cameras and microphones at any time, your contacts, your call history, the messages you send and receive, the games you play, your photos and videos, your music — your life, basically.
For some, that’s not a problem. The most common retort is “well, I’m not doing anything wrong so what do I have to hide?” To me this completely misses the point. It is not a question of what you are doing, but how people can control or sway or convince you based on knowing what you are doing.
Data privacy wasn’t my only concern. I’ve long worried about the addictive effects of social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. Nobody likes to be told they spend too much time online or staring at their smartphone. I certainly didn’t, but then I realized why: it was true.
When Moment, a smartphone usage tracker app, shared the usage data of eight thousand users, it showed that the average usage time is just under three hours a day, with the average user picking up their phone 39 times in the same period. That’s almost a whole day every week. Most of it spent on Facebook and Instagram.
This overuse has wide ranging consequence for our mental health. It creates unrealistic expectations about life, which then affects our sense of self-worth; it puts us at an increased risk of depression and anxiety; it makes us jealous and threatens relationships; it stops us from getting a good night’s sleep.
I felt some of these symptoms most acutely on Instagram. My life is objectively pretty good, considering everything going on in the world right now. Yet when I scroll through Instagram, it’s impossible not to get somewhat jealous and start evaluating your own life — there are tons of holiday pics in lux locations, people wearing new and expensive designer clothes or showing off their impeccably furnished new flat.
For others, the constant stream of perfect selfies portraying perfect bodies in perfect lighting and perfect surroundings (the types of images nailed by Kim Kardashian and emulated by millions of others) leads them to think about their own body in a negative way. Perhaps in just 30 minutes of scrolling.
The funny thing is that the people posting those photos are statistically likely to feel the same way when viewing their feed.
I deleted both Facebook and Instagram a little under two weeks ago. I can’t lie, it feels great. Sure, I’ve automatically picked up my phone and hit the icon where Facebook once was, but not once have I actively thought “hmmm, I could really do with look through Facebook right now.” Or, “I wonder what my mates are getting up to, let’s check Instagram.” Instead, I’ve picked up the phone and called my family more often, I’ve been in more frequent contact with friends, I’ve read more, I’ve felt more relaxed and as is I’ve gifted more time each day — and I’ve certainly been better company at a dinner table.
The question, in my opinion, should no longer be: why did you leave Facebook and Instagram? It should be: hey, dumb fuck — why are you still on Facebook and Instagram?
If you want to delete your accounts, here’s how to do it:
– Click at the top right of any Facebook page.
– Click “Settings.”
– Click “Your Facebook Information” in the left column.
– Click “Delete Your Account and Information,” then click “Delete My Account.”
– Go to the Delete Your Account page on desktop. You can’t delete your account from within the Instagram app.
– Select an option from the drop-down menu next to “Why are you deleting your account?”
– Click or tap “Permanently delete my account.”
Next up; here’s how to be successful in business, according to Kim Kardashian.