My new rules for social media engagement
In 1993, I was a student assistant at my university. I was working on a Macintosh, and if you’ve ever worked on a pre-Mac OS X/OS X/macOS machine, you’ll remember the Chooser.
The Chooser was an odd amalgam of networking and printing stuff in those days of the Mac. And at a university, it usually meant you could traverse through a whole network of AppleShare servers. Some were interesting, some weren’t. One that was, however, was the IT division’s “AppleTree” server.
There was a bunch of control panels and extensions and shareware hosted there. And networking clients. Email. FTP. Gopher. Some weird Novell extension. And this odd one that popped up… HTTP browsers.
I’m pretty sure I was one of the first non-computer science or engineering undergrads at my university to lay my eyes on one of the original NCSA Mosaic beta releases in 1993. I was used to HyperCard — I knew what the basic concept of HyperText was. But the fact that I could go to another machine — and not use something as clunky as Gopher — well, that was shocking to me. I created a few pages (hosted directly from my computer at work — shhh, don’t tell anyone), I started exploring, and I was thrilled to see what could happen.
I was on Yahoo!, GeoCities, HoTMaiL (a whole ton of services that no longer exist as they had, if they do at all). I became an Amazon customer in 1997 and an eBay seller in 1999. I started my blog (this same one, but on a different host) in 2001.
I watched all of this bloom over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s. I marveled at the possibility and have been amazed at the promise of the medium of the Internet (and I still am).
But am utterly dismayed at its abuse.
I have been struggling in my relationship with Facebook for close to six years, and last September I drastically cut back on my social media usage (see that post for the details). I was able to walk away from the trolls. It took some self-control, but I simply stopped posting and responding (that was actually the easy part). The last few months have been remarkably quiet on the social media front and quite pleasant.
Facebook has been the most egregious of the corporations to abuse the amazing global community and its potential. And they want control of so much (Instagram, WhatsApp, the scraping of data on Android devices) and are involved in so many things that we have to push back. Yes, Twitter (despite the cesspool it can be) is incompetent and is staffed by inept management, but they don’t have the influence and control Facebook does.
I had been on the fence about leaving. As Mike Elgan wrote in 2015 the “addictive aspect of social networking is associated with FOMO — fear of missing out. Everyone is on Facebook. They’re posting things, sharing news and content and talking to each other 24/7.” And we love the responses and the interaction. We enjoy being trolled as much as we enjoy trolling others. And Facebook and Twitter are happy to oblige us because, if we’re engaging with others (be it baby pictures or your weird uncle’s Trump trolling), they’re making money.
I have a group of friends on Twitter I’ve grown fairly close to. Facebook, of course, has everybody and their mother on it (literally — I was friends on FB with at least three mothers of various grade school friends). I had also just started working with a local convention blogging and posting on social media for them (that ends in May). On top of that, the kids’ school, and the school district, and our city all use FB extensively.
But last week the Cambridge Analytica news broke. The scandal (while not surprising to me) is my last straw. I started the deletion process for Facebook this morning.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I’m definitely experiencing some FOMO. But it was necessary. It’s time we make it clear to corporations like Facebook, Google (I killed my original Google account many years ago and just have one I use as a shell now), and Amazon (I’ve disabled the Echo devices in the house and am starting to look at how to stop using them so much) that they are collecting too much data and want too much control.
It takes two steps to do it: log in, then go here and request deletion. Then fight off the FOMO.
For the other social media (especially Twitter, but I’m also on Goodreads and a few other places), I will still be hands-off. My aim is to stay in contact with those who are important to me, but not dwell on these sites and waste my time. If Twitter manages to clean itself up (as it seems to be trying to do), then I may engage more with it.
It’s been an interesting 11 years on Facebook. I reconnected with a lot of people over that time and vicariously shared a lot of experiences… but most of it was ephemeral. It’s time for me to move on. If you do it, I wish you luck.