Hitting the ‘delete’ button on Facebook: a Dispatch from the quiet zone

In 2007, I was on national television and in the New York Times for being one of the first “old” people on Facebook.

On April 10th, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

I was going to just leave quietly, but it feels disrespectful to so many of you who I care about. I joined Facebook quietly in December of 2006 as a puckish joke on one of my kids, and it quickly became a mechanism for staying in touch far-flung friends. It also helped me make new friends, and valuable connections. But for a lot of reasons, it’s time to go. I’m reassessing a lot of things in light of Mom’s death, and the way I engage with social media platforms is on that list.

 Regarding Facebook, I know enough about what privacy means in an electronic environment to have kept my settings set at maximum privacy, not take any of those damn quizzes or list my forty favorite songs, colors or facts about myself I wasn’t willing to share. But the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made it okay for anyone who let the vampires in to also let them in to their friends’ houses was not okay.

Two days later, I clicked “Delete my account.” I was informed that if I logged in within two weeks, all would be forgiven and my account restored.

Now, that’s a non-option.

And then, with a single keystroke, I flushed Facebook.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Facebook’s lack of respect for user privacy, but knowing what I knew about the ways in which data gets collected, mined and used, I was less surprised about the outrage than I was at the constant (see blog archives for a paper I wrote about it in 2008) insistence by Zuckerberg, Sandberg & Co. that they had no idea that FB data could be used for anything other than good.

If I, a nobody sitting at my kitchen table in 2008, could identify multiple ways personal data was being (and continues to be) used for less-than-savory purposes, there’s no excusing ZuckeSands’ implausible transformation into a pair of outraged Victorian ladies, all atwitter at this assault on their constitutions.

Still, a lot of people, whether or not their data was scooped up by Cambridge Analytica (mine was, unsurprisingly), are sticking with Facebook.

Not me. When I left, Sumner & Jessica were about to become first-time parents. I wonder how my fellow librarian pal Keith in Syracuse is faring, whether Celia got to the beach for the annual sea turtle rescue and how many impromptu house concerts and other adventures Marge has had in the last week (probably about 20, knowing her IRL as I do).

But the truth is that Facebook had also become an avoidance strategy.

In the time Mom was declining, it was a way to decompress and get away from having to face what was going on. The energy it took to give her what she needed left no energy to address my house, which was becoming more cluttered, and the long-form project I’ve been working on – mostly in my head – for decades.

Cambridge Analytica was the final push forward.

Since leaving Facebook, I can’t say I’ve made major strides on any of these things. But I have made strides.

As I write this, the radio is on and I’m half-listening to an episode of Hidden Brain. A young mom is talking about how reluctant she was to portray anything on Facebook but the perfect life while spending way too much energy comparing her perfect life to other peoples’ perfect lives.

The dog is begging for a bite of waffle. Sweetheart broke a dessert dish in the microwave warming syrup. There’s a load of laundry in the wash. The litterbox needs changing.

Mark Zuckerberg may have needed me back when I was “Facebook Old,” but he sure doesn’t now. At the time I quit, I had more than 1,500 contacts. All of them were there for a reason, whether or not we’d met in person.

I used Facebook to connect people with each other, stay in touch with far-flung friends and remain current in my job. There are times when I miss the ease of being able to manage those connections.  But I managed just fine before Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be fine without him.

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