A response to #deletefacebook: why we can never leave the network

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For many (myself included) #deletefacebook is paradoxically both a movement we will support but also know full well that we won’t be participating in.

The #deletefacebook movement is an alarming reminder of modern dependence on social media, and becomes a particularly hard pill to swallow when the network in question has gotten away with abusing its access to consumer data for years.

The recently exposed Cambridge Analytica scandal has revealed that Facebook profiles in excess of 50 million were harvested in 2014 with political motives, and since, the boycott of the site has been joined by figures such as Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton. In deleting their profiles, many users have been horrified at the extent of Facebook’s grasp, finding logs of every single outgoing and incoming call and message sent over the app. Despite this, however frustrating it may seem, #deletefacebook may be a misguided response.

By design, the company is hard to leave for the social benefits it offers us. Like other social media sites, Facebook provides a shortcut to emotional stimulation with both less risk and less effort than real life. Online, we are able to control our self-image and receive controlled responses: having 35 likes on your profile picture adds a quantifiable status. These interactions form the basis for psychological addiction, with positive reinforcement for using the site.
Another issue is that Facebook has no reasonable competition.

The immense reach of Facebook with its 2 billion monthly active users is unmatchable, and if you’re going to delete Facebook, you’d have to delete Instagram and Whatsapp too, because Mark Zuckerberg owns all of them. There are no alternative sites that offer the same extensive user base; switching would only work if everyone else did so too. The company has effectively created a monopoly on social media.

For many, the reliance on Facebook is not just psychological, but personal and professional too, catering to business, events and life updates with unbeatable convenience. Some argue Facebook has become so integral to our modern lives that being able to delete the app is a privilege, and that the #deletefacebook movement is insulting to those who cannot afford to remove themselves.

This convenience of Facebook often outweighs the concerns about privacy. People can’t relate to a global phenomenon such as Cambridge Analytica, as for the everyday user, Facebook consists of merely local interactions. Thus, the threat does not feel real, or if it does, as an individual we feel powerless to challenge it.

In a similar sense, it is hard to recognise the ability of Facebook to exploit its users. The fact that the service is free maintains an illusion that no value is changing hands, with the phrase “If you’re not paying, you’re not the customer – you’re the product” coming to mind. By signing up to Facebook, you consent to the company using your data for advertising – something you always knew in the back of your mind, but never fully comprehended the potential of. You were always slightly freaked out at how the Topshop jeans you were just admiring somehow appeared at the side of your newsfeed but thought nothing more of it.

The #deletefacebook hashtag understandably comes out of users not knowing what else to do, and exercising the little leverage they have over the company. But rather than promoting an individual response to the revelations, we need state regulation to ensure that something like this does not happen again. It is not surprising that leaving Facebook is difficult, when like any business, the company has endeavoured to retain customers. I fear they may have reached the point where now, it is unfeasible for its users to leave.

Caitlin Tilley

Photo credit: Pixabay