The social media dilemma

Facebook is objectively evil. But at the same time, it’s so delicious. It’s like an evil donut that you can’t resist nibbling on, but it’s going to kill you in the end. I have friends on Facebook! It’s where I go to get my grandbaby photo fix! I have connections there!

But now I’m thinking I really ought to #DeleteFacebook. The arguments are annoyingly strong.

Some say, “I don’t want to stop using Facebook, I want them to change.” And that is wrong. Keeping up with your friends is good. But Facebook’s business and data model is fundamentally flawed. For you, your data is who you are. For Facebook, your data is their money. Taking it from you is their entire business, everything else is fancy decoration.

Others will say, “I need Facebook because that’s where my audience is, and my livelihood depends on that.” And it is true. But depending on Facebook is not safe in the long-term, as others have learned the hard way. Ever changing, opaque algorithms make it harder and harder to reach “your” audience. So even in this case it’s wise to look for other options and have contingency plans.

It would make it easier for me to leave if all of you would go, too, because it’s not Facebook I like (it’s evil, remember), it’s the people. We need an alternative, but the Zuck seems to have devoured them all. Is there something similar emerging from the non-corporate world, like Mastodon, the better Twitter alternative?


  1. prostheticconscience says

    (Copied from Mastodon post)

    We are working on a Facebook-like federated social media platform called #Aardwolf. You can read about it at, but it is not anywhere near done.

    There are a couple that exist already, #hubzilla and #diaspora, but neither of them really seems to have the special sauce that make Mastodon as successful as it is.

  2. rorschach says

    I seem to remember Greg Laden recommending some as yet obscure platform not so long ago, but can’t remember what it was.
    The default suspicion with any of these should probably be that their business model involves selling your private data.

  3. cartomancer says

    I use an ad blocker and a plug-in that lets me get rid of all the bits of facebook I don’t like. Which is most of it. And I mostly use it for trying to get hold of my friends (very few of whom actually check it more than once a month, but it’s the most reliable medium I have since they stopped responding to text messages and emails and phone calls). Also for catharsis, by means of long, angry, depressed rants on my Wall about everything I hate in the world and why I am so miserable and lonely. The sort of stuff I used to just write in a diary and keep under the bed.

    So I’m not exactly sure how anyone could use Facebook to do nefarious things at me – I don’t see anything on it apart from my own posts and the messages from my friends when they occasionally trickle in. As for my “data”, well, I don’t mind them having it – they’re welcome to the outpourings of my depression and all the bleak, miserable love poetry I produce.

  4. llewelly says

    The whole time I’ve been on facebook, I’ve often thought: I spent years talking about the dangers of facebook. And I spent years refusing to get an account on it, and other services like it. And I’ve never been comfortable with what it does. And I was called “paranoid” every time I tried to explain.

    I’d like to abandon it, if only for my own psychological comfort. And I may do so, regardless of whatever my friends do.

    However – I find all these ideas that leaving social media might make anyone safer to be poorly thought out.

    Part of the reason I gave in – beyond the continual browbeating, that is – is that I came to the conclusion that staying away from facebook and its ilk doesn’t make anybody any safer. There are thousands of other ways to harvest all that data – there are ad networks, there are grocery store discount cards, there are blogging platforms, there are search engines, and on and on. All of them provide ways to harvest all that data. Most are run on business models that include harvesting that data.

    And they’ve little incentive to protect that data well, either by their policies for not sharing it, or by way of having good computer security. Did LinkedIn fall when their entire password database was stolen? Well, I don’t know, but I still get people telling me I can’t find jobs in the tech world if I don’t maintain my LinkedIn account.

    And if the business does go downhill? … well, then the data still gets sold. Like with Livejournal, sold to Kremlin crime lords. Weakening the business doesn’t actually protect anyone.

    But most importantly – do you think many of the people who were manipulated into supporting trump will leave facebook over this stuff?

    I don’t think they will. They’ll still be on facebook, available for CA, or whoever comes along next, to manipulate them. That remains true even if everyone who wanted Clinton to win leaves facebook.

    Protecting your own privacy doesn’t prevent election meddling; it only means the meddlers have fewer opportunities to influence people they probably failed to influence last time around.

  5. Artor says

    I have never gotten a Facebook account. People are constantly advising me to bite the bullet, but I am even more constantly reminded why I will never get one. The only surprising thing about this newest development is that people seem to be surprised by it. This has always been FB’s MO. Nothing has changed. Nothing will.

  6. says


    Part of the reason I gave in – beyond the continual browbeating, that is – is that I came to the conclusion that staying away from facebook and its ilk doesn’t make anybody any safer.

    That’s arguable, to say the least. Anyroad, that’s not why I deleted my account ages back, when it was damn near impossible to do so. Before deletion, I had let it sit for a long time, never went near it. I found the whole thing to be utterly exhausting, people sending this stupid thing, that stupid thing, it started looking like a full time occupation just to keep up with all the crap.

    I really question just how much people actually need something like FB. It’s not like there’s no other way to stay in contact with people. Granted, I’m very private, introverted, and not overly social, but I don’t think being immersed in the constant minutia of other peoples’ lives is socially healthy. I know it isn’t healthy for me, so I opted out.

  7. mikehuben says

    As I see it, we need two things.

    From government, we need data and privacy rights and protections. Those are better in Germany and the EU already.

    From software developers, we need tools that are strongly resistant to being scraped for data, both by the owners and by hackers.

  8. says

    I can’t leave facebook, because I was never there.

    As for an alternative — I thought blogs were pretty good for communication. Unfortunately, “facebook” has stolen some of their users.

  9. F.O. says

    When I deleted my FB account, I noticed that I started calling family more frequently, and in general put more effort into people.
    FB cheapens human relations.

    Recently, I opened a new account because I moved in a new city and wanted to meet people with my interests, and while is dead here, I found plenty of interesting FB groups.
    However, FB kept disabling my account, telling me to provide a pic where I am recognisable or a pic of my official Id, I assume because on this new account I had no “friends”.
    I got genuinely pissed that my social life depends so much on the whims of a private company.

  10. rietpluim says

    Oddly enough, Facebook is nothing but the internet on a smaller scale. Everybody has their own news feeds (homepage) and blogrolls (timeline) and websites (pages) and forums (groups). Search function completes it. So why do we need Facebook in the first place?

    The only differences are: 1) everything goes under one domain name and 2) it is pretty user friendly, in the sense that it is easy to operate. Posting something on Facebook is a bit less effort than maintaining my personal website. Is this enough to explain Facebook’s success?

  11. F.O. says

    @cartomancer: it’s not only the information YOU put or the apps YOU block: when a friend of your uses an app, that app can collect YOUR personal information.

    Depending on where you live, surprisingly little information is necessary to impersonate your online identity.
    If you piss someone off enough, they could call your utilities and leave you without electricity/internet/water/telephone until you fix it (or more likely, hire someone who can do it).
    Or health insurance companies may decide that you are prone to suicide and increase your premium.
    Or allow someone to stalk you, your friends or your relatives.
    The alt-nazi are becoming bolder and bolder, maybe they’ll want a list of all the local liberals and what they do and when and with whom?
    It’s a world of possibilities.

  12. F.O. says

    Also, I tried to use Mastodon, and every time I don’t know what I’m doing, and the feeds I am following seem utterly useless.

  13. chrislawson says


    I think you’re absolutely right to point out that Facebook isn’t the only culprit in town and it’s good to remind ourselves that many, many organisations are harvesting data with varying degrees of accountability. But I think you’re being far too generous to Facebook.

    Sure there are other companies to worry about, but Facebook’s failure was spectacular on every level and their managerial response shows not just wilful neglect of user privacy but actual hostile contempt for the concept.

    And it’s not just that they didn’t protect user data, it’s that they allowed themselves to monetise the spreading of deliberate falsehoods using their data, often collected on people who had opted out, to achieve maximum effectiveness of the lies. And they’ve stalled at every attempt to get them to improve the quality of the “news” they spread — which they keep claiming is so hard on a technical level while at the same time they are eminently capable of, say, censoring breastfeeding groups for showing a breast picture. Which just goes to show that they have the technical capability to censor using sophisticated image recognition and data trawling tools, but they choose to allow political lies (because people are paying Zuckerberg for the privilege of spreading them) while censoring useful health information (because the sight of breastfeeding is apparently repellent to enough people that Facebook doesn’t want to risk potential customers abandoning the platform if they accidentally stumble on a breast image in an identified breastfeeding group).

    I guess what I’m saying is, just because there’s always some risk associated with roller coasters doesn’t make the Georgia Six Flags Batman ride OK.

  14. kestrel says

    I sincerely loathe Facebook, but it has helped me to connect with customers. I use AdBlock and in addition, I post on my business page and that way I don’t see the garbage being pushed on everyone or have to read the boring drivel posted by a lot of people on FB. If there were a better site I’d be really interested in using that instead. Congrats to anyone who manages to delete their account there… it seems it is nearly impossible, from what I have been told by friends.

  15. says

    @12, rietpluim

    Yes I think inconvenience is a powerful barrier to any leisure activity! Though what I remember from 2008 was my teacher saying she was addicted to looking at it and updating her info, so that kind of thing (whatever it is) is also a factor.

    Speaking of “it’s just functionally the same as what already exists”, I run into this a lot with my own website ideas. But you have to look for certain variables that are higher or lower, for example: efficiency and convenience. I wrote a bit related to that here:,_from_Simple_to_Advanced

  16. joel says

    Next time you use social media ask yourself: am I paying to be on this platform? No? Then how do they keep it running?

    All social media pay their bills by selling targeted ads, and those ads are targeted by gleaning your personal information. They gather that info from what you post, but also from your browser history, your zip code, the type of device you use, and other things that we don’t know about.

    Yes, they all do it, because the only alternative is to charge user fees, and the network that starts doing that will be the network that dies the next day.

    Welcome to the internet.

  17. says

    @19, joel

    the only alternative is to charge user fees

    Wrong. Non-targeted ads are possible. And Wikipedia uses donations.

    I think it’s also possible to make a website system where people “donate” some of the capacity of their computer/internet connection, to host data and transmit it.

  18. joel says

    “Non-targeted ads are possible”. Sure. But they are also nearly worthless. Even FreethoughtBlogs uses targeted ads, as PZM has carefully noted before.

  19. says

    On the general topic of massive data gathering, does anyone else think that there is a lot of potential for good? Think of the social sciences, always in need of more data from larger sample sizes, in a timely manner. Think of the possible uses you yourself might have for all kinds of data.

  20. says

    I deleted my facebook account in November and I was genuinely surprised by how hard it was to do it, after I decided. I deleted for a numerous reasons, but mainly because I think facebook is bad and the feeling of connection that comes from seeing people’s posts is illusory and makes me feel like I don’t need to put energy into maintaining the actual relationship with that person. And also that I think getting many disconnected pieces of information in one long scrolling window is bad for my mind and memory.

    For a few weeks after deleting I kept opening a browser window or my phone and feeling frustrated, the internet was no longer a distraction-on-demand machine of the same power. But that feeling went away, and I have very few regrets about pulling the plug. For me, friends are people who give or get the honest answer to the question “how are you doing?” Facebook does not facilitate that at all, in fact what people present there is an extremely edited and curated version of their life.

    So many people seem to agree with my assessments of facebook but remain completely 100% unwilling to even entertain the notion of deleting their account. Its unthinkable. People gasp when I say I did it, like I just admitted casually to committing a serious crime. The whole experience of deciding to delete and talking about it with people has made me even more of a deleteFacebook cheerleader.

  21. says

    For me, I use FB to maintain a thin line of connection to people I specifically *don’t* want to call or email but also don’t want to completely lose touch with. Most of them are not savvy enough or interested enough to move to a different platform so that is where I am too.

    As far as my data being compromised, I’m not terribly concerned as I don’t have anything out there I don’t want out there. If they want to sell my click to “15 life hacks you won’t believe” oh well.

  22. llewelly says

    Let me put this another way. Imagine everyone who wishes Clinton had won the last election leaves facebook. Does that make future big data driven election meddling less likely?

    No, because the people who were most affected by the meddling in the last election are still on facebook to be meddled with there, and most other people can still be influenced by other means.

    I’m not saying facebook isn’t evil – I have in fact argued that their very business model is irreparably evil, and their “apology tour” is fraud (Ironically, I’ve made many of those arguments on facebook itself, ha! )

    What I am saying is – me leaving facebook, or you staying away from facebook, isn’t a solution. It’s nothing like a roller coaster ride, because facebook’s income isn’t a simple function of the number of riders.

    Any boycott will still leave the big data industry with lots of personal data to sell – all that will change is that a bunch of people who were using ad blockers anyway (certainly I always have) still won’t be seeing facebook’s ads.

    Any solution must include pro-active international regulation that prevents the collection of the data in the first place – you can’t progress just by convincing a bunch of individuals to opt out.

  23. vucodlak says

    I really don’t give a damn that Facebook does sleazy things with the information I give them. I gave them that information with the understanding that, yeah, they’re a corporation and they will use it to screw me over in some way. This is the crapsack world we live in, and I consider the minimal contact I have with old friends through it worth that price.

    Did they help sway the election to Trump? Yep. So too did the MSM, who I also continue to watch/read. Hell, even publications I formerly considered somewhat respectable, like Mother Jones, helped Trump. The fact that Facebook helped Trump in a round-about way doesn’t make me happy, but since I get none of my news through them, it’s not enough to make me cut myself off from people I’d otherwise have no contact with.

    I don’t even check in all that much; maybe once every couple of days. It’s nice to remember that I have (or once had) friends. It’s also useful for keeping up with some of the bands I like. That’s pretty much it. I can’t imagine FB gets much money from a user like me.

    Of all the companies that have personal information about me that they sell and use without my permission, I’m a hell of a lot more concerned about the credit ratings bureaus. They’re an absolute blight on the face of the earth, and they ought to be torn down, burned, and have their ashes dissolved in acid. No private company should be allowed to have the powers they have. After all, Facebook isn’t the company that put my most important financial information in an insecure vault, then waited 6 months to tell anybody that it had been breached. No, that was Experian. Experian is a company that gathers all that information, WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, and then demands that I pay them to keep it safe.

  24. Zmidponk says

    I have not really ever understood why having a Facebook account is so popular. When Facebook began to be a thing people were talking about, I opened an account, just out of curiousity, logged in, poked around for about 20 minutes, quickly came to the conclusion that it was all about monitoring what I do and collecting data about me and finding ways to make money from this, decided I didn’t want to be a part of that, and logged out. That was about ten years ago. Since then, I have never logged into Facebook for any reason whatsoever, and I have never felt I am missing out on anything because of this. I don’t regard myself as being unusually perceptive or some kind of super-genius, so it surprises me that so many people either don’t see what seems obvious to me, or accept it in order to use the functions of Facebook, which don’t seem all that spectacular to me.

    @llewelly: In a way, Facebook’s income IS actually a function of the number of riders. One of the principle ways Facebook makes money is selling targeted advertising, with that targeting being driven by the data Facebook gathers about you. Less people using Facebook means less people seeing adverts, which means advertising space on or via Facebook being worth less to advertisers, which results in Facebook being hit where it hurts them the most – the wallet.

  25. paxoll says

    Reminds me of people learning about the psychological manipulation advertisers use and getting pissed off. When was the last time I made an impulse buy at the checkout of a store? Maybe a year ago. Does that 1 dollar candy bar hurt me? No. Does that one purchase help the company? When you aggregate all the other people who buy one it becomes significant. Is there any reason for me to be angry about it? No. What makes me angry is people who ARE hurt by it, who are manipulated into buying stuff they don’t need and are in massive debt because they do not have self control. For the most part these people are adults and are responsible for their own actions and behavior. Not only is it not my place to tell others how to behave, but it is insulting to everyone else to do so. The same is true for facebook, smartphones, ect.ect. I am not hurt by these things at all, so I’m going to continue to use them, and I’m going to treat other adults who use them as adults and not try and babysit their activity by demanding laws and action by the companies. Make legislation to protect children? Sure. Demonstrate where there is a problem and a solution that will fix the problem and I will happily sign on to support that.

  26. oddie says

    I deleted facebook along with several of my friends. i wasn’t really using it and now that they are allowing for deletion again I decided not to miss the opportunity.

  27. kaleberg says

    When Xerox machines were the big new technology, people copied stuff that they were going to read, and they never read it. When VCRs were the big new technology, people recorded stuff that they were going to watch, and they never watched it. Now that Facebook is the big new technology, people “friend” people that they are going to socialize with, and they never socialize with them. Technology is great.

  28. psanity says

    This is an appropriate time to heed the wise advice of Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. (All the more memorable for being catchy.)

    And the main reason I’m not on Facebook is that it kind of creeped me out from the get-go. It really gave me pause that they insisted on my meatspace name, instead of allowing me the nym that connected with all my previous internet activity, including many years of usenet. On a personal level, that seemed non-functional to me. It also seemed obvious that there were plenty of people for whom it would be unwise, or dangerous. So I balked, then turned out pretty pleased with myself as it shortly became blindingly apparent that FB’s business was to be a giant data mine. I have sometimes thought that it would be nice to have a way to track down old friends I’ve lost touch with, but Facebook has never seemed worth the price.

    It’s true that Facebook is not the only data mine on the planet, but it’s more opaque and way less manageable than most. (Ex: I have two “loyalty” cards that are unconnected with any name, address, or phone number.)

  29. billyjoe says

    I use Facebook only to keep contact with fellow trail running enthusiasts to see what mountain trail we’re running over next weekend. I’ve never use Twitter. And I use text messaging only for when a phone call might be inconvenient or non-urgent.

  30. freddy72nz says

    I did make a fake Facebook account years back, probably only logged in twice. Never been back.
    I have been concerned about the amount of data gathering going on for some time. I still have a GMail account as my primary, was part of the closed beta for the service, but am seriously considering shifting my email to Proton or something similar.
    This makes me wonder what information this site is gathering, but it doesn’t really bother me as I have Firefox Quantum and UBlock Origin and never see any ads anyway :)
    I never understood why anyone would use Chrome as a browser either.

    Have a good one,

  31. chrislawson says

    Brian Pansky — yes, there are huge potential upsides to “big data” analysis. The problem is that we need a legal framework based on good ethical principles to make sure that it doesn’t get abused but we live in a society where the dominant political paradigm is to reduce regulation even for industries that are known to cause massive harms to large numbers of people.

  32. chrislawson says

    llewelly — you’re using the perfect solution argument, that is, “a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it were implemented.”

    I take the opposite approach. If large numbers of people were to abandon Facebook, not only would this reduce Facebook’s malign influence, it would also encourage Facebook and its competitors to change policies. And I think we have pretty good evidence that this is what has happened. Zuckerberg spent most of last week ignoring the problem, refusing to talk about it or even give a press release and hoping it would go away — but when FB’s share price dropped 30 points in a week (and we don’t have access to the data, but I bet FB saw a huge exodus of users this week — and that would scare Zuckerberg much more than a stock price drop), only then did he make his statement, mealy-mouthed as it was, about the importance of privacy to FB. It wasn’t much, but at least it shows he felt pressure to address the issue.

    I’m not saying people leaving FB would stop all unethical data manipulation any more than having murder statutes prevents all murders. But if enough people leave, it will make a difference. And not just to FB.

  33. says

    Aside from keeping some “game data” for some stuff on my tablet, about the only thing I have *ever* done with facebook was the recent decision to force it to give me updates for something that changes in its terrible algorithms started to recently hide from people that followed their pages (it was a positive social justice organization), while, at the exact same time, adding a block to the atrocious content if one of its major detractors. I felt that, if someone decided to mine the f-ing data, it made a clear statement about what I thought of both Facebooks BS and the BS of the people that where paying them to basically feed crap to people, while blocking the content they actually requested updates from.

    But, yeah.. I don’t believe for a moment that the company itself will ever learn a damn thing, right up until they screw up so badly that even the GOP get pissed at them for it, and slap them down.

  34. TGAP Dad says

    Just a thought: if you’re promoting Mastodon as a preferred social media platform, perhaps your tech-whizzes could whip up a quick sharing widget, and, for FTB at least, use it in place of the existing Facebook widget.

  35. davem says

    Mastodon doesn’t have that vital aspect of FB – volume of users. Just be aware that there are no free lunches to be had, and play FB at their own game. FB want your data, so tell them you’re 95 years old, and of the opposite sex . Don;t fill in a correct birthday. Then they’ll not send you much that’s relevant. An ad-blocker will fix most of the rest.. …and just don’t follow clickbait (an obvious data-collection method).

  36. Dunc says

    Just be aware that there are no free lunches to be had, and play FB at their own game. FB want your data, so tell them you’re 95 years old, and of the opposite sex . Don;t fill in a correct birthday. Then they’ll not send you much that’s relevant.

    Call me crazy here, but if I have to be subjected to advertising (and I use an ad-blocker too, so I don’t get much) I would much rather be subjected to advertising that at least has some chance of being relevant to my interests.

    I can’t be the only person that actually uses FB to keep in touch with people that provide goods and services that I am actually interested in, can I?

  37. TGAP Dad says

    @davem: Perhaps we should make an effort to get a few marquee personalities- like PZ – to publicly abandon FB for Mastodon.