Should I leave Facebook?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I joined Facebook as a university student. Five or so years later, I’m still asking it. Here’s why:

1. I will one day value my privacy
I’ve not been overly hung up on the privacy issues so far, though having had a read around, I can see that what doesn’t bother me so much now may haunt me later when I’m older, wiser and generally more politically and technologically clued-up. This could be why I prefer the minimalism of Twitter and the malleability of my WordPress blog. I would just say, though, that I am really bothered by the ‘messages’ not being private. Facebook has access to them, while giving you the illusion that they are as confidential as email. They’re really not.

2. The Facebook me isn’t the real me but friends think it is
What really bothers me is the way Facebook threatens to change my relationships. Acquaintances look at my profile, flick through my pictures and check out my friends list, and feel that they are getting to know me. Something about Facebook gives the illusion of identity, that what you present there is something ‘true’ about yourself. But it’s not. It’s a performance. It’s a distraction.

3. We’re not getting to know each other
And because of this, I feel the keeping in touch thing is negated. I’ve not minded – mostly – being put back in touch with old acquaintances. But if Facebook masks the false, presenting it as true, we’re not really getting to know each other. You can know facts about me – I got married a couple of years ago, I’m having a baby, I live in Bristol – but how do any of these dry pieces of information create intimacy between us?

4. We misunderstand each other
You might say that you learn more from the views we both express and that’s true but they’re often so fleeting (a throw away comment on a status update, for example) that they’re easily misinterpreted and I think we’re more likely to alienate each other than to draw closer to one another.

For instance, I’m a committed Christian. This fact runs through me in a way that Facebook’s fragmented approach would never help you make sense of. I also support gay rights, especially in Trinidad where equality laws still refuse to properly acknowledge sexual orientation. I know people who find it difficult to put the two together.

I’m unlikely to be able to say what needs to be said in any significant way on someone’s wall. Even notes don’t feel like they’re the right space for that. Arguments made in notes almost always come across to me as argument for argument’s sake as opposed to a real call for readers to engage. Commenters end up skimming and speaking to themselves.

5. It makes us lazy
We write a quick: “Hi, how are you?” on someone’s wall or comment on their picture and get away with believing that we’re staying in touch or keeping our friendship alive or whatever. Or even worse, we go through their wall posts and pictures, say nothing, and leave feeling like we’re up to date on their lives. Maybe we’re busy but if we pooled together the time we spend every day on Facebook, maybe we could save some time in an evening to write even one email or letter or give a phone call. Even a text message is more personal than writing on a wall.

This last point is what made me disable my wall and hide my photographs on Facebook last weekend. I’m tired of this false communication.

But isn’t blogging like that? Well, not for me, it isn’t. I didn’t primarily start writing Circus Queen so I could “keep in touch” though it is valuable in doing this, to some degree.

I started it because I needed two things: a writing project and a space to process thoughts about my pregnancy. I wanted it to be public because I value intellectual support and hoped that what I wrote might strike a chord with someone else.

My blog is, in fact, one of the few reasons I’d stay on Facebook. I know a lot of my friends read it by clicking links on my wall through to my blog. I thought starting a Circus Queen Facebook page would solve this by letting them see updates without me having to have a wall but Facebook won’t let me ‘suggest to friends’ (the option’s been broken since last year) so I’m frustrated on this front too.

Becoming a mother makes me even more suspicious of Facebook. I’m not sure how much of my life or my family’s life I want to share on the internet. I think I’d rather email photographs of the creature to my parents than point them to albums on Facebook.

I don’t know. I haven’t made my mind up about any of this. I may change my mind by the end of the week and my wall might be enabled again.

Have you thought about leaving? Why would you leave? Why would you stay?

Image: Steve Jurvetson

UPDATE: My pathetic protest has come to an end (for now) and I’ve reinstated my wall, etc. Hopefully the exercise has at least made me start thinking about what I do and don’t want to share. Also, I’ve just come across a great post examining Facebook’s overshare culture on Her Melness Speaks.

[she/her] • writer • unschooler • team Soul Farm • Revillaging podcast • breastfeeding counsellor • Trinidadian in Cornwall

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  • These days I rarely use Facebook walls, except to share links. Occasionally I use private messaging and usually I just use it to post things on my wall and discuss things on interesting status topics. Maybe I’m using Facebook the wrong way, but the right way doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

    • You’ve just described how I was using Facebook before I pulled away the way I have. I guess my main problem at the moment is that if I don’t re-enable my wall and make my posts public again, I can’t let friends know about my Facebook page, which is what I’d rather they look at as it points to my blog. Ah well, I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it too. And there shouldn’t be such a thing as a ‘wrong’ way. You’re giving them your personal info, you should at least have a customisable experience in return.

      • “giving them your personal info”
        I wish I knew who the “them” was as I hear all different things RE: who owns Facebook, or who has access to the data.
        I was very anti-it 5 years ago and then when I eventually went on, soon became addicted but I am hardly ever on it now that I blog x

        • Facebook, advertisers, the unknown corporations they might connect with in the future….yes, “them” is quite abstract but I find that in itself quite scary. It’s almost like we’ve gone back in time, huh? The more we blog, the less we Facebook!

  • Since I’ve started using Twitter regularly it’s changed the way I view both Twitter and Facebook. I feel more connected to people I’ve ‘met’ thru twitter than I do to people I actually know in real life that I have on facebook. I actually have begun wishing that certain ppl on fb would come on twitter. Fb def has its role in social media and in youth/not so youth culture today for sure though but perhaps that’s for people who are happy being lazy and feeling superficially connected to acquaintances

    • I see Facebook as an accessory to Twitter, where I can connect to that audience that doesn’t understand Twitter (and as a photo album, at times). Tumblr is the hub that everything is connected to and through.

      Oh, and I still come across so many people who can’t wrap their head around the usefulness of Twitter. They think it’s impersonal, trivial and pointless, ironically championing Facebook over it.

      • It’s interesting that you use the word ‘audience’. There is certainly something ‘staged’ about our interaction on Facebook as if we were performing a version of our lives in front of others – disturbing, no? Ph, yes to the irony. At least Twitter is clear about what it is.

    • There is a saying, Gerard, that Twitter makes you love people you’ve never met and Facebook makes you hate the people you know. It’s the superficiality I can’t deal with. With Twitter, there’s no illusion of personal connection whereas with Facebook there is.

  • I have a Facebook page and have been using it a bit more recently; but I went through a phase of not liking it at all. I think Twitter is quicker, easier to engage in conversation, but Facebook does have a lot of support for me personally. The blog is most important to me though.

    CJ xx

    • I feel the same, CJ. The blog is the most important to me as a space to think things through and to chat with those who want to think them through with me. Facebook and Twitter are entirely different things but because Twitter is more impersonal and more obviously public, I actually feel happier and safer about using it. I’m off to see whether I’ve liked your Facebook page…

  • I am a bit fed up of FB to be honest. Like you say it is just a false reality of ‘staying in touch’. All very surface but then I sometimes think maybe that is better than nothing and it is with good intention.

    Twitter and my blog have definately taken over for me at the moment.

    Mich x

  • Thanks, this made great reading. Just re-read my “first post” as I just got your comment.
    I ended up clicking “newer post” a couple of times and came to this one:
    Which reminded me of my failed August attempt 🙁 We started TTC in April and were successful by September 🙂
    It’s so funny when your 2011 self reads how your 2009 self felt. It’s strange to think that Aaron is only 9 months yet that was 2 years ago……….
    Liska x

  • A friend of mine recently said “My dad’s on Facebook now. That’s me done with it.” The fact he was writing on her wall and signing off with his full name (despite the fact his picture came up AND his daughter clearly knows who he is) gave her amusement. But also made her realise a few things. Like don’t put things about boys on your Facebook page.

    Interesting questions you pose. I’m still on Facebook and think it’s a great way to share photos with family 250 miles away. But if I want to speak to someone, I’ll ring them. x

    • I have two friends who’s mums do that! My mum is tech savvy enough not to do it. The photo sharing is definitely useful and I’d like family to see the photos when the creature emerges but I’m just not so sure I want everybody on my ‘friends’ list to see it and I know there are privacy preferences to set…I’ll probably have to get less lazy about that. This is what makes me go into a bit of a state whenever I get a new friend request. It’s gotten to a stage where I’m not great at checking my requests anymore. Besides, my dad’s not on Facebook and he insists I email him everything anyway.

  • I hear you, Adele!! I’ve learnt how to customise my picture settings so only those I want can see them (tho mostly I don’t bother), and I realise it’s not a substitute for real friendship and intimacy. Yet I’ve moved around my whole life – from japan (11 years) to the UK (11 yrs) and then Trinidad (22 years) before coming to Australia 8 years ago. And can I say since joining fb in 2006, it is the first time I’ve been able to keep vaguely connected with the various people/friends/family scattered across the globe. Example: I know if I truly value someone like Debbie as a friend, I will email her personally, write cards and so forth. But until I get time (or inclination or both!), I think it’s fantastic that I can keep up with the main happenings in her life and family on facebook. I value that, small as it may be.

    I keep my ‘friends’ lists to 250 – and have them all grouped so I can set my newsfeed to just ‘family’ or just “Trini church’ or whomever I’d like to check on. I have no problem at all hiding or deleting people whose comments offend or who are just plain irritating – they can friend request me again, if they really care (sometimes they do – mostly they don’t).

    I don’t know if it’s that I’m compensating for feeling so cut off from people – schoolfriends, church acquaintances, family – all those years that makes me think facebook serves a purpose in my life, but as long as I feel it is serving my purpose (not the other way round!), I’ll stay a member, I guess. Perhaps I’m naive.

    I do like the ‘short and sweet’ idea of twitter, but find it harder to use – how to I find people, or get them to ‘follow’ me? Would they even want to follow me? What for? but without question it is the best and most up to date newsreel in the world, so I do most of the following!

    As for sharing photos – well fb is hard to beat at that one!

    Sorry for the uber-long post – you’ve spoken some of my thoughts and set me a-pondering yet again!! 🙂

    • It sounds like you’re rather proficient at managing your Facebook account, Esther. I applaud that. And as you’ve moved around so much, I can get where you’re coming from. It is so useful. But even when you mention the photo sharing thing – it’s still scary when you consider that it’s not really private. I too am emailing more…especially when I find myself writing messages of a private nature!

      Twitter isn’t really about keeping in touch. Not for me, anyway. I’m probably only connected to 10 people on Twitter whom I know in “real life”. I use it almost entirely as a microblogging service.

      As for finding my blog on Facebook. Well, that’s hugely why I won’t leave.

  • I’ve liked the ‘being able to keep in touch’ with friends all over the world via facebook. Having said that, I have turned off a lot of the ‘junk’ notices of people playing farmville etc. other than that, we have a policy of never posting identifiable photos of G especially on Facebook. I have my security settings at the highest possible, my photos are only shared with friends directly and all other types adverts etc are turned off.

    Like you we too have family far away, and for quite a long while (4 years to be exact) we kept G’s photos online, on a photoblog (DH configured) which we hid behind a security password. It got a bit much to keep up so we’ve kinda stopped that now. If something is particularly precious, I think we would probably email it.

    Having said that, I like nosing on Facebook, occasionally dropping comments/likes and occasionally posting updates, but only to share what I really want to. It does seem to have driven quite a lot of traffic to thegeorgous.

    Much as I like the idea of constant conversation on Twitter, I just can’t get ‘into’ it. Having said that, my very first ‘conversation’ was the one I left for you 🙂