I tried leaving Facebook. I couldn’t

When I was in college, my best friend from high school and I had a terrible fight. It was exclusively by Facebook.

"I think Allison got engaged?" Our mutual friend Kaitlin sent me a text message one day. "I think I saw it on Facebook?"

I denied that it could be true. Surely Allison would have told me if I had, not publish it on the Internet. But when I came in, effectively, she had announced her commitment to her boyfriend to everyone without even a text message for me.

We had a fire dispute soon after. Were they friends if I could not make the effort to tell myself before telling others? Who even does that?

In the black and white world of a girl in her teens, I thought of things like Internet etiquette as obvious, regulated institutions. Facebook was Facebook, the texts were texts, the emails were emails, the chats were chats, the webcamming was webcam, the phone calls were phone calls. I thought iPhones were a fad and I did not imagine that smartphones would eventually elude many of those distinctions. Allison and I finally spoke to each other again, but our relationship never fully recovered.

In the first days, I loved Facebook. I loved being able to monitor hundreds of classmates all at once, to be able to tag all my roommates in the photos we took with our 7 megapixel garbage cameras, crawl on the masses, keep up with every person I met. at a party or in a classroom without doing a lot of work. It was awfully awkward and a little loose, and as a result, I never developed the skills that my parents' generation cultivated to maintain their social networks.

Of the twelve years since I created a Facebook account, I only really spent one year off the platform. And during that year, I think I glimpsed what Facebook is and what retention it has on us. For years, mocking the frivolities of social networks has become practically a national pastime, an easy way of snobbery. In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, one response that is frequently heard would be: "Well, why not give up?" Or "Do not give your data to technology companies."

It's not that simple, since Facebook has managed (and in some cases, succeeded) to become indispensable. Even if you manage to live without it, it is possible that Facebook already has a "hidden profile" based on the metadata of your contacts they have [Facebook].

But Facebook did not become omnipresent because it's useless or easy or it wastes time. In the year I was away from Facebook, I thought a lot about what I was missing.

Facebook had replaced much of the emotional work of social networks that consumed previous generations. We have forgotten (or perhaps never noticed) how many hours our parents spent keeping their address books updated, knocking on doors to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was invited to the weekend barbecue, making the rounds of phone calls with family members , clipping publishes interesting newspaper articles and sends them by mail to a friend, collecting the cards for Valentine's Day, Easter, Christmas and more. We do not think about carefully filing business cards alphabetically in a Rolodex. People spent a lot of time on this kind of thing, once, because the less they did, the less social network they would have.

Facebook allows me to be lazy in the same way that a man in a stereotypical office of the 50s can be lazy. Facebook is the digital equivalent of my secretary, or maybe my wife, yelling at me not to forget to wish someone a happy birthday, or to inform me that I have a social commitment tonight. If someone is on Facebook, I have a direct line with them immediately, as if an operator of the switchboard had already put them on Line 1 for me. Facebook is one step away from buying my Christmas gifts for my children because I am too busy to choose them.

Facebook turns a necessary love job into a profitable business.

Maybe that's what scares Cambridge Analytica and the general model of surveillance-based advertising. Like a black widow or a murderous butler, Facebook is the poisoner inside your home. Even with the years and years of warnings from privacy advocates, Facebook settled so firmly in the emotional niche of work in our lives that we resisted the truth that it was spying on us to turn us into quick money. When the realization finally arrives, we feel the kind of intense betrayal (and buried self-recrimination) that is at the heart of an ancient murder mystery of Agatha Christie. Maybe if we did not want our data leaked, we should have brought our own drinks and opened our own damn doors.

Of course, the protagonists at the end of the classic murder mystery simply change the butler for a new, less murderous one. No one wants to change himself or his habits, because even if transferring that job to another person means depositing a dangerous amount of trust in them, doing the job sucks. That's why #deletefacebook has only arrived so far: there is no real one-to-one alternative for Facebook, and only a few are willing to put aside their habits and dispense with it altogether.

"Who is your biggest competitor?" Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Mark Zuckerberg at one of the Congressional hearings on Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg struggled to respond even after Graham compared him to a car company. If you do not want to buy a Ford, you can buy a Chevy. But what is an alternative Facebook? But in reality, the most difficult question is: what is Facebook and why is it so hard to leave it?

In this new national debate about Facebook, it becomes clear that it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly what Facebook is.

When technological innovations arise for the first time, we first understand them only in terms of replacing something older. E-mail replaces the postal service, video transmission services replace CD players, e-readers replace books and travel-sharing applications replace taxis.

Facebook, implicit in its name, is a replacement for a school Facebook. We did not all have this, but I assure you that they used to exist: they were a kind of yearbook that was distributed at the beginning of the year, a list of your companions with names and faces. But Facebook is not all Facebook. It is structured around a network of contacts, but it is not an address book either. You can post status updates, but it's not a blog. You can send messages to people, but it's not a chat program. The fact that the news publications associate with him does not make him an editor (not simply an editor, anyway). And just because video producers publish video does not make it a television channel.

It is difficult to specify what Facebook is because the platform replaces the work that was previously invisible. We have a hard time figuring out what Facebook really is because we have a hard time admitting that at least part of what it replaced is emotional work: hard and valuable work that nobody wants to admit was a job to start with.


Facebook opened its doors to everyone, not just university students, in 2006. As more and more people, especially parents and older relatives, joined, the social network started to irritate me. I can still remember with burning details an incredibly tedious conversation that I had with my partner's mother, who had just joined Facebook and was giving me a glimpse of a status update I had made and each comment and I liked that I had followed, in chronological order.

The more people tried to add me there, the more paranoid I was about the publications I had done when it was just a university network for my college friends. I aggressively monitored the privacy settings of my publications, reviewed and verified what type of information was available. Just when I was preparing to leave the network, I decided to go to law school and, as a result, Facebook is an essential law school.

Everything was coordinated through a Facebook group section: events, parties, exchange of notes, even a ridiculous Word of the Day game in which we give each other points by putting a word at random in a comment made in class. We were all on Facebook, each one of us, including a student who "did not use Facebook", but was in the section group through his girlfriend's Facebook, because even if his privacy is too valuable, of course his girlfriend does not it is. Locked in our apartments and libraries, law students adored Facebook, publishing with a kind of frantic regularity that faded noticeably after graduation when we all had jobs that we really had to pay attention to. Facebook was a scourge that students regularly removed their Facebook during the finals. Some discovered that they could reactivate too easily in a moment of weakness and resorted to more drastic measures: they gave their password to a friend, who changed it and protected it until the end of the finals.


Even as Facebook assumed an increasingly important role in my social life, I began to dive into the law and privacy policy, starting with a reading group in which my teacher Phil Malone guided us through the frightening world of intermediaries of data, registering cookies, orientation of announcements, predictions based on the massive collection of information, the surveillance of both companies and governments. Malone, a former prosecutor, was willing to provide a balanced but informed perspective. In spite of everything, the source of information about where our data went and how it was used could only lead the students of the reading group to the rather unanimous conclusion: Facebook was the worst .

After having been assigned a reading on how social security numbers can be predicted using a date of birth and place of birth (both, for many people at that time, were publicly transmitted on their Facebook), I changed my date of birth birth on Facebook in a fit of paranoia. However, I forgot to change the privacy settings, which meant that the following year I had a flurry of birthday wishes on the wrong day.

When I joined Tinder some years later, I had to change my birth date one more time to better reflect my actual age. Telling my possible dates that I was five years older than it really was was too high a price to pay for my privacy.

Phil Malone, the man who instilled in me the lifelong mistrust of Facebook and all the data brokers, is notoriously bad at email. It was well known that you would have to go to his office to get an answer if you did not hear from him in a day. When he moved to the coast to teach at another school, we stayed out of contact, until he gave me his friendship on Facebook. Now I read the articles you are reading, I look at the pictures of your children and I hear all about your family vacations. Finding Phil is just a click away.


I've never been able to leave Facebook on my own. My year off Facebook was something like my choice, but it was actually because Facebook temporarily banned me until I agreed to stop impersonating a Pokémon.

In 2015, at the height of the controversy over Facebook's real-name policy, I connected to Facebook one morning to find that I had suddenly been charged with a big bright blue mark. Several hours passed before a Facebook representative finally sent me an email. Surprise! Congratulations! You are a verified user on Facebook!

The election was revolutionary. Why did they check my profile without my consent when they did not have proof that I was who they claimed to be? I had not even added my work email to my account.

When I sent him an email to ask why he had been selected, the answer was that, like most press releases from technology companies, completely opaque and inconsistent, something about blossoming relationships with public figures. As much as it suits my vanity, it was and still is an exaggeration to call myself a public figure.

After a few days, I decided to have some fun at the expense of Facebook: I changed my profile picture to a Pokémon and my name to "A Literal" and my last name to "Psyduck".







The result was that I could now answer all my friends with "PSYYYY?", While the bright blue check mark appeared next to my non-name.

Fun and games only ended when I posted screenshots on my Twitter. Alex Stamos, security director of Facebook, followed me and asked me to thank me in a friendly way for "discovering an error". The next day, my Facebook account was blocked pending the submission of identity documents that proved it was a literal Psyduck. .

Stamos was nice about it, but that only encouraged my stubborn streak. I was not going to introduce myself to the identity police, I was going to be a Pokémon on Facebook if he killed me. An editor agreed to provide a letter confirming that I had the name A Literal Psyduck and an entertaining administrator at Yale also drafted an endorsement.

According to Facebook guidelines, at least one of the documents had to include a ID with photo and a date of birth, presumably to avoid tricks in the same line as my stupid trick. But therein lies the problem: in fact, Facebook could not verify if any identification with a picture corresponded to my Facebook profile. My profile picture was a Pokémon; My date of birth had been incorrectly entered years ago, in a paranoia attack on how much personal information Facebook was collecting. Even if I wanted to verify my name backed by the royal government, there was no real way to do it.

I refused to provide documentation or to change my name, and I simply left Facebook.


The first free week of Facebook was stimulating: an annoying responsibility had vanished suddenly from my life. No more unpleasant Facebook statements of people that I just did not like or knew, no more viral news articles worthy of credit, no more impossible fallacious "I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE" memes.

Then the inconveniences began to appear. They closed me the services of third parties like Scribd (who used to upload documents) and MindBody (who used to book haircuts). In most cases, I was able to create an account only by email and continue to use the service, but in a handful of cases, there was no recourse.

Sometimes I missed being able to contact someone with the immediacy that Facebook provided, but in general, if I really needed to contact someone, I could find an easy way.

The real problem started to appear much later. I missed great personal news from people I knew. I missed the dance parties, the parties at home and the informal meetings. I was the last one to find out about births and the last one to see pictures of babies. The classmates got engaged and got married, and I did not find out until after my break.

The epitome of this phenomenon was when I sat down to interview my friend Dia Kayyali, an activist who was organizing against politics of real Facebook names. "You're going to come to my birthday party, right?" They said, as we left the cafe where I had interviewed them.

I froze dry. "What a match?"

" Oh ," Dia said. "I forgot you're out of Facebook."

I experienced a severe attack of depression in the year I was off Facebook. It's hard to say if Facebook had anything to do with that, but that year it gave me a lot of time to think about how fragile my support network was.

It was completely my fault, of course. I have a morbid fear of voicemail. I do not like to talk on the phone. I'm bad at answering emails, much less initiating a conversation via email. Friends naturally disconnect from me for long periods of time. I am one of the worst emotional workers I know.

I do not do the work in part because in the age of the Internet, I really do not have to – nobody is going to be truly disconnected, almost all theoretically are a few clicks away. But I do not do the work either because I do not know how.

Every year I wonder if this is the year I start sending Christmas cards. How could I start? I would probably ask people to fill out a Google Docs form and link it to him on Facebook.

In any case, it was not the environmental loneliness that finally broke me and made me change my name to "Sarah Jeong" and reactivate my profile. (Facebook, for whatever reason, did not request to see authentication documents for that name). It was that I suddenly needed some of the pictures of my baby and did not have any digital version of them anywhere except on Facebook.


In the twelve years I've been on Facebook, I almost always had an uncomfortable and conflictive relationship with the platform. He was an avid user of Facebook at the university. I published photos, tagged my friends, added interests, fed the data beast with a granular image of my adolescence that would eventually embarrass me in Tinder more than a decade later.

As the privacy scandal after the privacy scandal appeared on the news, I started withdrawing from Facebook. I added less information, I commented less about the states, I stopped taking pictures of my friends.

Like any other technology reporter in the country, I downloaded my Facebook data shortly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The information they had about me was frozen in amber, bands I really did not listen to anymore, movies that I was now ashamed to say that I had ever liked. (They were correct in saying that I like to click on the clothing ads, so it's not that my reluctance completely frustrated the targeting of the ads).

Mark Zuckerberg wanted Facebook to be a complete reflection of my life, so Timeline would revolutionize my way of looking back. I wanted Facebook not only to replace the address book and the family photo album, but also all the assorted, uncomfortable and time-consuming rituals that unite us. Of course, Facebook must still supplant everything, but it has made its way in more insidious ways. Facebook events, Facebook pages, Facebook photos and Facebook videos are for many people an integral part of the church picnic, the Christmas party, the class reunion and the baby shower. (The growing scourge of genre revelation parties with its elaborate "revelation" rituals and made-to-order cakes seems specially designed to complement documentation on social networks). Facebook's integrity allows people to create better substitutes for in-person support groups in a wide range of increasingly narrow demographic groups, from casual interests such as Instant Pot recipes for Korean food to life-altering circumstances as rare forms of Cancer.

Of all people, I know why I should not trust Facebook, why my presence in his the network contributes to the collective problem of his monopolistic control of people. They are all on Facebook because they are all on Facebook. And because everyone is on Facebook, even people who are not are collecting their data in hidden profiles. My inaction affects even people who have managed to stay away. I know, I barely use Facebook, I do not even like Facebook, and I find it almost impossible to leave.

Perhaps it would be easier if I could somehow port all my contacts in a standardized format, to wrest control of Facebook from my extended social network away from a single platform. But even then I wonder what the point is if I am not willing to do the hard work of being sociable.

There is a hint of hope, at least, I realize that I am turning more and more to different technological means to keep myself as "friends".

These are the applications that connect to the phone numbers: iMessage, Signal, Whatsapp, Telegram: all versions of brighter SMS. Change from one to another in a fluid way, depending on what the friend prefers. It does not matter, they all work with the same identity system, the telephone number, a standardized format that is regulated and administered outside the scope of Silicon Valley. (Of course, if you change your phone number, you can be one of those people who lets everyone know through Facebook).

Although WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) could be suspect here, the rest is not covered in the advertising business, and as a result, does not go out of its way to get as much information as possible. possible. While all of these services would undoubtedly prefer to triumph over others, none of them seeks to absorb your entire existence in a timeline. If they carry dangers, they are different from the ones presented by Facebook.

I have to work harder to keep in touch through these means. I have to think a little more about making sure that I have touched the base recently or starting contact to share great news. And it is more difficult to cultivate that wide field of simple acquaintances to which I prefer not to give my telephone number. But these are, perhaps, sacrifices that must be made. We are all committed to the project of reconstruction and remodeling of our social rituals in the era of technology. It is an inevitable project that will require invisible, sometimes unreflective work. I suppose that if we have to do it, we could start doing it intentionally and reflexively.