I deleted my Facebook account last week. I mainly used it to post anti-Facebook articles, but I no longer want to be there at all. It’s toxic. (Here’s how to delete Facebook, thanks to the helpful site deletefacebook.com.)

But it’s not just me, and it’s not just the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people who have shared the #deletefacebook hashtag recently. Billionaire Brian Acton, who made his fortune by selling WhatsApp to Facebook, feels similarly. He posted: It is time. #deletefacebook. In other words, someone who became a billionaire due to Facebook, is now saying it’s time to leave Facebook.

As if that wasn’t remarkable enough, Tesla’s Elon Musk – arguably the most admired techie in the world – then replied to Acton: “What’s Facebook?” and then announced that he was deleting Tesla’s Facebook presence.

It’s not been a good week for Facebook. A popular uprising against the company, Monday’s announcement of the FTC investigation, and the upcoming Congressional testimony, among other risks – are pointing to a radically different future for Facebook.

As VRML creator Mark Pesce wrote, “For this act alone, Zuckerberg needs to be removed from command, as does Sandberg. The board probably needs to be replaced as well. And the corporation as a whole needs to down tools until they have a complete education in ethics in the digital era.”

On my Techtonic radio show on WFMU this past Monday, I talked about #deletefacebook before heading into an interview on cryptocurrencies with Popular Mechanics’ Alex George. Listen:
Podcast
Stream the audio: click “Pop-up player!” just above the comic strip.
Show notes & listener comments (scroll down)

Lesson: treat users well

I posted this conclusion: Never forget how this mess online was created. This is what happens when people build a product to serve themselves in the short term, rather than benefiting users in the long term.

The best product teams seriously consider what’s good for the user. The way to understand customers is by spending time with them, and letting customers lead the interaction. My book Customers Included describes how.

Sure, there are plenty of ways to make money by harming customers, deceiving them, even (in some industries) killing customers in slow motion. But is that really how you’d like to spend your career?

Facebook has thrived for years on duplicitous claims of “building community,” “bringing people together,” and so on. Now the world knows that it was all a vast surveillance machine, built to extract data without users’ knowledge or consent, and sell the results.

You can choose a better path: build products that benefit users in the long term. If your leadership persists in short-term thinking, asking for user-hostile products, or perpetuating deceptive or harmful practices, find a better team.

In the meantime, today is a perfect day to do something positive. Turn off the screen. Go for a walk. Read something on paper. Delete Facebook. Listen to WFMU. Let me know how it goes.

Other comments on Facebook:

• Douglas Rushkoff, the opening speaker at my first Skeptech event last year: on CNN.com, I ditched Facebook in 2013, and it’s been fine. (“You can ditch Facebook. It’s OK. You will survive. And.. your life will get better.”) …and in the Los Angeles Times, How Facebook Exploited Us All:

Facebook figures out who or what each of us fears most, and then sells that information to the creators of false memes and the like, who deliver those fears directly to our news feeds. This, in turn, makes the world a more fearful, hostile and dangerous place. . . .

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, a friend of his expressed surprise that people were surrendering so much personal data to the platform. “I don’t know why,” Zuckerberg said. “They trust me. Dumb …”

We may have been dumb to trust Facebook with our data in the first place. Now we know they’ve been using the data to make us even dumber.

• A research paper explains: in Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being, researchers found that quitting Facebook has “positive effects on the two dimensions of well-being: our life satisfaction increases and our emotions become more positive.” (from the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking)

• And by the way, you need to delete Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp. Zuck owns them all. As Zeynep Tufekci put it, “You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp.”

• TechCrunch’s Josh Constine: Facebook has allowed so many worst-case scenarios to come true there’s too many to count, but I’m going to try *deep breath*… see also his accompanying TechCrunch piece.

• Google’s Francois Chollet posted an anti-Facebook thread: “If Facebook gets to decide, over the span of many years, which news you will see (real or fake), whose political status updates you’ll see, and who will see yours, then Facebook is in effect in control of your political beliefs and your worldview.” Good point, Francois! (And don’t worry, I’ll soon be covering Google’s surveillance practices, too.)

• Matt Yglesias puts it well in Vox: The case against Facebook is “not just about privacy; its core function makes people lonely and sad.” Yglesias suggests that Zuck “simply walk away from it, shut it down, salt the earth, and move on to doing something entirely new.” Unrealistic, yes, but it’s worth stating the case: Zuck should just shut down Facebook.

• Unfortunately, Zuck is digging in: it’s all someone else’s fault! In this NYT interview, Zuck asks: “were there [other] apps that could have.. done something that violated people’s trust?” I don’t know, Zuck, maybe you should rack your brains to think who might have violated people’s trust. As Open Markets Institute’s Matt Stoller puts it, Zuck’s defense is “increasingly bizarre. He sees himself as the victim here, that he, a powerless man worth $70B+, was tricked. He still thinks Facebook is a ‘community’. And he doesn’t acknowledge he threatened to sue the newspapers reporting the scandal.”

• Then last weekend, Zuck bought a full-page ad in the NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, and six papers in the UK – claiming the breach was caused by “a quiz app built by a university researcher.” This ad was a poor attempt to point the blame away from Facebook. In other words, “pay no attention to my surveillance of you – we’re going to punish that bad, bad 3rd party for misusing the data we surveilled!”

• Fact is, Facebook is toxic. As Mike Caulfield put it, forget the tobacco-industry comparisons, as it’s more accurate to compare Facebook to Union Carbide: “Facebook is in an industry with a lot of risk and they seek out countries with low regulation and low institutional power to experiment in.”

As Kelvin Yu put it, “In retrospect, it might have been a mistake to give Facebook all of my personal information in exchange for seeing what my high school friends eat for dinner.”

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Treating users well in the #deletefacebook era:
https://creativegood.com/blog/treating-users-well-deletefacebook/ by @markhurst

  1. In the spirit of being customer centric, it may be better to pose a question to your readers and followers. While there are clear issues right now, there have been great benefits of facebook. I have connected with friends throughout my life that I never would have kept in touch with, I have engaged in an easy way with brands I care about, I have seen the power of amazing grass roots efforts come to life in the matter of months such as the Women’s March and the March of our Lives with record turnouts, I have become part of a group of hundreds of family members from around the world that I never would have known, etc. etc. I have donated to causes that are close to my heart such as a friend that had a horrible accident. It’s clear you have great distaste and anger with facebook but others may not. Perhaps, ask people (your customers/readers) what they like and don’t like about facebook, what they will do different as a result of this new information, and why the posted so much personal information to begin with. You may change your perspective a bit about its value. I have bought fb ads for marketing purposes and have seen great value for reach and activation, especially for smaller brands that can’t compete wit larger brands in other forms of media. I have no issue with FB making money on advertising, they have to monetize their business somehow. Compilers, list companies and many media companies sell our data all day long and so do many media companies if people don’t opt-out of 3rd party offers. It’s not that FB has the information, it’s how they use it, whether they provide information at the person level or not and how easy they make it for people to manage and opt-out of data access. I don’t argue that facebook let us down, I just believe in giving FB a chance to learn from their mistakes and fix them versus throwing the baby out with the bathwater so fast.

    • Thanks, C, for your perspective. The comments section is indeed the place where reader feedback is solicited – as you suggest, asking the readers for their take on the column – so I appreciate you making use of it.

      Personally I do assign some weight to what Brian Acton, Elon Musk, Zeynep Tufekci, Mark Pesce, Douglas Rushkoff, Josh Constine, Matt Yglesias, and others have to say about the Facebook issue, which is why I included them (rather than, say, writing a one-line blog post – “What does everyone think of #deletefacebook? Comment below!”) But it’s also helpful to read your counterpoints – so, thanks.

  2. Scott Souchock says:

    Thank you, Mark, for a thoughtful post. I have shared it with my friends. I deleted my Facebook awhile ago, before all this shit came to light during one of their major tweaks to security settings and news feeds. I could not be happier.

    A friend asked an interesting question: What about LinkedIn? It’s a social media of a business nature? Do we have any concerns there, yet?

    • Thanks, Scott, glad you found it helpful. As for LinkedIn: they engage in surveillance, too! While the business model isn’t *entirely* funded by data extraction (as premium accounts cost a monthly subscription fee), it’s certainly on the same continuum as Facebook. Moreover, the track record of Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, hardly gives me confidence that LinkedIn is much different from Facebook in its treatment of its users.

      And to be fair to LinkedIn and Facebook, some of the media sources I linked to, while publishing columns decrying FB’s behavior, are themselves partially dependent on surveillance for their revenue. It’s a pervasive problem throughout the tech industry (and in online media). Facebook isn’t the only bad actor – but it’s the most prominent, and the most widespread, so I think it’s right that we start by directing users’ attention there.

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