This has been pending for months, as more information comes out about how Facebook.com is selling me and my info up the river to its marketers; as more Facebook privacy concerns come to light; as more annoying, unsolicited emails flood my inbox from Facebook services i never signed up for.
What pushed it over the edge tonight was three things:
- Carelessly and inadvertently missing a writers group meeting i was looking forward to, spending the time instead in front of a computer, checking (among other things) my Facebook account.
- This Mashable.com post — Users for Sale: Has Digital Illiteracy Turned Us Into Social Commodities? — making quite clear to me what i’ve known all along about whose interest Facebook is really serving.
- The realization that “socializing” — indeed, “living” — on-line is not healthy for me, and it’s time to back out and spend
a littlea lot more time and attention on the old way of doing things, i.e. face-to-face, or at least with my “content” not mediated and data-mined by a massive corporation.
So at about 10:40 p.m. tonight i impulsively began deleting my Facebook account.
I know there’s a “deactivate account” button buried somewhere in the menus. But i wanted to do this right. So i began individually unfriending every one of my hard-earned “friends”. (There’s no way to do it en masse.) My resolution wavered a bit at this point; some of these people i have no other way to get in touch with. There’s L– in Hawaii, for instance, whom i’d love to visit if i ever get to Hawaii. Now, i thought ruefully, L– is gone for good.
But wait: later, i realize that’s a fallacy of Facebook-thought (a sub-branch of Orwellian NewSpeak). There are many ways i can find L– again if i need to: Google, probably, but more importantly, mutual friends. Which is what this decamping is all about in the first place.
Christ, what a fuckload of tedious work. I spent a good half-hour defriending 180-odd people, and wondered whether i’d have persevered if i had, like some people (my sister included) thousands. Then there’s all that juicy profile information. I usually lie, especially about birthday, and don’t go into much detail about favourite movies, books, sports teams, and all the other shallowlalia that are presumed to define us in the age of consumption.
Then there’s the photo albums — i only had 13, they went in 20 minutes. Then i got bored with it all, hooked up CBC Radio 2, which was an esoteric jazz show that didn’t fit the busting-out mood at all, so switched to Radio 3 indie-Canadian music. That worked better.
Then i thought i should be documenting this virtual suicide, so i started this rambling blogpost. (By the way, i know about the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine — Sign out forever! Meet your neighbours again! — but Facebook sent them a cease-and-desist order in January 2010 that forced them to stop offering the automatic zap-your-Facebook-account script.)
Okay, now to save a draft of this post and get back to wiping Facebook of my presence and data. (Not that i have any delusions about them keeping all my info in their bottomless database forever and ever, amen.) The chore list:
- “Leaving” about two dozen pages i’d joined, of interest at the time….
- “Removing” 42 groups i’d joined, all good causes or worthy enterprises in on way or another, but none, i daresay, greatly enhanced by my Facebook membership….
- “Deleting” the remaining 19 messages in my inbox….
- “Deleting” the 98 accumulated invitations to events past and present (i didn’t know they were accumulating here, deep in the FB menu system) from all the above groups and pages…. (Mercifully, they can be deleted 20 at a time with a couple of clicks.)
- “Deleting” the 231 sent messages, 20 at a time, that i also didn’t know were accumulating….
- “Removing” the 15 events (3 clicks each) to which all my former friends and pages/groups/causes invited me….
- Setting the privacy setting to “only me” for 16 separate categories (5 clicks each).
- Changing my email address to firstname.lastname@example.org — a random, 60-minute disposable email address courtesy of the invaluable guerrillamail.com — and deleting my working address.
- Changing my official FB name to Joe Btfsplk (“Warning: Name changes are limited. Please use your real name or you may be blocked from making more changes in the future.” — a rather disingenuous admonition from an outfit with such proprietorial interest in my privacy and personal information.)
- (Crap, and i thought i was done!) Joe Btfsplk is tagged in 70 photos taken by other people. Long and tedious clickfest, and i was only able to delete about a dozen of the tags. JB lives on … at least until the final click:
- Penultimate final click: changing my Primary language to “English (upside down)”. Wait, that makes it too hard to read for the next step; revert to “English (UK)”.
- A-a-a-and finally, Deactivate account! Hmm, they want a Reason for leaving (required) with the choices:
- My account was hacked.
- I spend too much time using Facebook.
- I have a privacy concern.
- I don’t find Facebook useful.
- This is temporary. I’ll be back.
- I have another Facebook account.
- I receive too many emails, invitations and requests from Facebook.
- I don’t understand how to use Facebook.
- I don’t feel safe on Facebook.
- Other (with a text box)
Wait a second…! At the top of the page it says, “Deactivating your account will disable your profile and remove your name and picture from anything you’ve shared on Facebook.” Then there’s the chilling codicil confirming that, like the Hotel California, you can check out of Facebook any time you like, but you can never leave: “Note: Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events, tag you in photos or ask you to join groups.”
WTF?! I want OUT, dammit. I don’t want to be shelved, i want to be off your server, out of your system, free of you entirely! Cleverly using one gigantic corp against another, i google “how to delete my facebook account” and come up with, irony of ironies, a Facebook group called How to permanently delete your facebook account. It links to a Facebook “delete_account” page which does indeed seem to do the job. I enter my password, fill in the Captcha, click “submit” and Facebook gives me the message:
Your account has been deactivated from the site and will be permanently deleted within 14 days. If you log into your account within the next 14 days, you will have the option to cancel your request.
Gosh, they really like me. They want me. They don’t want me to leave, do they? The aforementioned advice page expands on this:
Your account will be deactivated for two weeks, and if you DO NOT USE FACEBOOK IN ANY WAY during that period, your account is permanently deleted.
I REPEAT: Your profile isn’t deleted right away! You must NOT log in to, or interact in any other way with Facebook for at least two weeks, as it will cancel the deletion request. That includes NOT logging in to Facebook using any client (like the iPhone app or IM:s like Pidgin), NOT clicking embedded Like-buttons on other websites, NOT logging in to other services using Facebook Connect (like Digg) etc etc.
I wonder if i will have the willpower not to log in. There’s nothing there to check, anyway — i have no friends anymore. (Typing that sent a pathetic little chill through me.) But Facebook is everywhere; will i be able to get through the next two weeks without tinkling it’s little love bells inadvertently? We shall see….
And now … i feel i should apologize to all my friends, as well as my “friends.” It was nothing personal. I’m not avoiding you. I still care about your causes. It was a late-night, spur-of-the-moment thing. It was a cri de coeur against the creeping corporatization of personal space. It was a last-ditch bid to recover hours a week from this elegant bitch machine with the gloweye and the hungrykey. Probably i should have made a public announcement — on Facebook — of my departure. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was in the grip of revolutionary frenzy. I hope you will forgive me and talk to me next time we meet — in meat space somewhere.
It’s 3:12 a.m. Ditching Facebook took 4 hours and 45 minutes (including this overelaborate blog post). Part of me feels unburdened, like i’ve turned a significant corner, like my days will be an hour longer now that i won’t be checking Facebook two or three times a day. Another part of me, though, hopes i haven’t shot myself in the foot here.
Well, see you on Twitter. Or on the street.