I gave up on Facebook the day it kicked me off for using a fake name. I can't remember now if it was 2006 or 2007, but I do remember a Facebook support staff member asking me via email to verify that I was actually named "Snuffles Caulfield." I couldn't, and after briefly considering some mock letterhead, I thought, Screw this stupid thing, and that was that. Five (or four) years later, I'm still saying, "Screw Facebook." The only difference is that I'm in the minority. According to a study released yesterday, 51 percent of Americans over the age of 12 now use Facebook, and the site is gaining strength around the world. That makes me a dying breed, a unicorn of the digital era. Still, I refuse to give in, and if you've held out this long, I suggest that you join my abstinence. (Full disclosure: I signed up for a new Facebook account whilst drunk at a party in 2009, but after logging out that night I forgot the password and haven't been back since.)
Facebook is one of the most ingenious time-sucks known to man. I'm fully willing to admit that I'm not above looking at the vacation pictures of every single crush I've ever had, and all while on deadline at work, but that's why I don't give myself the temptation. The Internet outside of Facebook is an endless black hole of procrastination opportunities; toss in the chance to wallow in schadenfreude while staring at dozens of pictures of your ex's lame new significant other, and it's a wonder anything gets done at all anymore.
And speaking of lame people, who in their right mind wants to open up their lives to everyone they meet or, worse yet, met decades ago? I was a totally different person back in high school—a worse person, I think—and the idea of having to field friend request from some of the guys with whom I associated back then terrifies me. And yes, I know that Facebook's enhanced privacy settings prevent most unwanted nosiness, but you still get to snoop around your friends' friends lists, and that opens up a whole world of agony if you're friends with even a few people from years past. Maybe this wouldn't be a problem if I weren't such a coward afraid of hurting someone's feelings, but I am. The very thought of ignoring a friend request makes me cringe.
Of course all those complaints are peanuts when you begin to think about the real privacy concerns associated with Facebook. To begin with, Facebook owns the data that you upload to the site. In fact, it outright tells you that it gets to use your pictures and videos "royalty-free" on its terms of service page. What's more, even if you delete your account but you've shared your intellectual property with someone else who hasn't deleted it, Facebook maintains rights over it.
This policy stands in stark contrast to several of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's more idealistic statements. Consider this one from a 2010 60 Minutes interview: "When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power."
Power to the people, however, seems to be the last thing on Zuckerberg's mind these days.
Facebook has come right out and said that it is "allowing too much, maybe, free speech" in autocratic nations, thereby making itself more attractive to the brutally authoritarian Chinese government. Facebook has also made it a goal to deceive users into sharing more information than they think they're sharing. This is the real reason Facebook is worth more than $50 billion. It's so damn valuable because it harvests user information in order to court advertisers and developers, who exist only to sell you stuff. Probably the best explanation of Facebook, and the best explanation for why Zuckerberg is such a rich man, came from a Metafilter thread last year: "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."
That's Facebook in a nutshell. A place for friends, sure. But pull back the curtain and it's a place for getting people ages 13 and over to willingly offer up the most direct ways to sell them things. It's like being at a big party with all your friends but then realizing that the party is really a Pizza Hut focus group. And also, any pictures you take at the party are owned by the focus group forever. Sound fun to you?
Yeah, it sucks that I miss out on Facebook invitations to things from time to time. And I'm probably ignorant of about 5,000 funny jokes that have been made on various friends' walls over the years. Still, I can't help but think that there's a lot of value in not offering up my life as a good to be bought and sold by major corporations. When I hang out with my friends, I do so because I love them, and also because they let me momentarily escape advertising, greed, and duplicity. If I'm ever in the mood for more of that, I'll be sure to sign up for Facebook.