Treating users well in the #deletefacebook era
Mar 29, 2018

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."