I’ve really been reconsidering the way I use social media lately, and interact with some of the big technology companies. Part of this was the recognition that occasionally, while I was searching for a new pen or planner on two of my favorite stationery websites, I was seeing advertisements for the exact same items on Facebook, and in my Google Feeds. I doubt this is coincidence! I was disturbed that my browsing was clearly being mined in order to advertise to me. I doubt that anyone is super interested in my browsing habits other than to sell things to me, but it still felt invasive. I noticed the privacy problems elsewhere, too. People that I prefer not to “friend” were popping up in my suggested friends, and I can’t help but assume that the same was happening to them as an unpleasant surprise.
The news article recently where a physician’s patients were being suggested as friends for each other was distressing to me, too. No psychiatrist would likely “friend” a patient on Facebook unless it was a purely professional site- to do so would be a boundary violation- so one can’t help but assume that Facebook was keeping track of the patients’ locations, which also feels quite Big Brother to me.
Another thing that happened to me was that I had posted a cute photo of my kids, and I noticed that someone I didn’t know had “liked” on the photo. But this shouldn’t have happened, as all my content is set to the most stringent privacy settings! Not only that, this person was not a “friend of a friend” so there wasn’t a terrific explanation for why this person had access to photos of my children. There are cases where people exploiting children take random photos of children off the internet for their own use, which I found distressing, but hadn’t worried about since I had set sharing to “friends” only.
Then, the new iPhone setting was uploaded that tells you what your screen time has been, and it was higher than I would like, though lower than the average person. A lot of that time was checking Facebook. I noticed I felt grumpy and tired by the constant “best face foward” aspect of people’s feeds. And a recent study noted that people get back an hour of their life and are happier after they quit Facebook. Who couldn’t use an extra hour every day?
In a perfect example of synchronicity, there was an article in one of my favorite magazines, The Idler, reviewing Jaron Lanier about his book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” I read the article, then checked the book out from the library. I think it’s worth reading.
The book is pretty short, just 160 pages, so it doesn’t take much of your time. It doesn’t tell you HOW to quit social media, or tell you to give it up entirely. Instead, Mr. Lanier, who was an Atari and virtual reality pioneer (if my internet research is correct) and now is among other things, a philosopher, recommends withdrawing from social media that meets specific criteria, until the clear flaws are fixed. He makes 10 arguments about why withdrawing from social media is a reasonable decision, and many of this arguments were based on information I had never heard before. There are some platforms, such as LinkedIn, which he does not feel are as problematic. While there are many aspects of social media which he points out as problematic, the one that I thought was the most concerning and resonated with my own experience was what he named “BUMMER.” BUMMER stands for Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent, and this is the concept behind items that I have looked at in Google showing up as advertisements in Facebook. He asserts that for every click or like you make, social media bots immediately change their algorithm to sell you things and to sell you and your information to companies. He likens this to a cultural denial of service attack, and I felt this was a poignant description, as well as quite upsetting.
The only thing I didn’t really like about the book was the occasional repetitiveness of the arguments, where he brought the same information up over and over again. The tone was quite casual, which may or may not be annoying to readers. However, he did take care to not lecture to anyone, or make assumptions about the reader, which I appreciated. I thought the information in this book came at the perfect time for me. The arguments solidified the concerns I had, and pushed me to action.
Firstly, I signed up for an online class from the Idler, How to Fix the Future: A guide to taking back the power from the digital overlords. I thought this class did a great job of framing the historical context, and had some nice materials to supplement the short classes, which were excerpts of a talk that a journalist who specializes in this area, and the editor of the Idler had. The class is inexpensive, <$15, and worthwhile.
Secondly, I deleted all my social media account apps from my phone and iPad, which had the effect of making me spend zero time on social media, other than checking every few weeks for friends with birthdays on my feed to wish them a happy birthday.
Thirdly, I made a plan for social media- deleting pages and groups from my pages that I feel are not needed, and only checking every two weeks for updates from friends. I’m keeping the silicon|sutra social media as is, however.
Lastly, I signed up for some new services:
- a secure email service, Proton Mail, that doesn’t mine my email, though Google claims they aren’t doing this anymore (who really monitors this?) and allows encryption.
- A VPN service from the same email service, both of which I’m super happy with.
- Firefox. Mr. Lanier asserts that Firefox has made user privacy a priority and I agree that I have not been targeted as often with ads. Additionally, it has an option to “contain” sites like Facebook, which can follow you in subsequent sites to gobble up your data to sell.
I’m interested to hear if anyone else has been thinking or struggling with these same issues. Let me know in comments below!