Let me start this post by saying that I was active on Facebook for about ten years. Depending on the year, as well as Facebook's choice of flavor for algorithm of the day, I had numbers of followers peaking somewhere in between 5000 and 30 000 followers. Most of them photography-related. On December 20th 2018, I half-pulled the plug by publicly announcing that on January 1st 2019, I would permanently delete my account. This is what I wrote:
As of January 1, 2019 I will no longer have a Facebook account. My Instagram account was deleted on December 20th.
There comes a time when enough is enough, and I can no longer personally support this company. As a web design teacher, I also ought to lead by example and help students build communication tools that don’t rely on Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp.
Anyone wanting to contact me can do so via my web site at https://www.ericg.photography, @ericg_photo and (currently) @jacgwd on Twitter, via email at my johnabbott.qc.ca address or using the encrypted Signal messaging app.
My public abdication from the ranks of the users of the world's #1 social network seems to have caused some stir among my FB friends, most of them either past graphic & web design students from John Abbott College or fellow nature / landscape photographers. Once I hit "Send" on the copy of the statement I cross-posted to the private JAC PDHT Grads page, the first reaction was a single word comment: "Whoa".
A few of the commenters expressed the desire to know more about the decision process that led me to stop playing on the world's most successful web site (after Google). Well, here we go.
A growing disappointment palpable on the web
If you any pay attention to the web development & design social media scene you already know that #DeleteFacebook has been a thing for a while now. I am far from alone in paying attention to the current and rather toxic mix of the economic, financial, political and technological/communications sectors making it into mainstream and social media news headlines.
Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are big American business. They are the Ford, GM and IBM of their generation. These days American big business, finance and politics are highly intertwined. As one person put it, Facebook is this generation's Big Tobacco.
A Brief History of Getting Tired of this Shit
In a nutshell, 2018 was a series of events that made me reconsider the WWW and the role of social media.
1.5 Million followers. Who cares?
Back in March, Dave Morrow—a popular American nature photographer with 1.5 million followers went viral by dropping his social media platforms—all of them. Except YouTube. Check out his YouTube vlog about it here. Naturally, that made an impression.
Since then, it has become both increasingly and painfully obvious that Facebook is led by people who will do anything in the name of the growth of the company. Moral boundaries are not 'a thing' at Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg had a bad 2018. Everyone has heard of Cambridge Analytica and some of you have also heard of the security bugs. He was hauled out to face a public senate hearing where he looked visibly uncomfortable. The UK tried to get him to testify but he refused. Then the British MPs made this public.
Facebook's motto was "move fast and break things". But Facebook is in the big leagues now. When things break now it is at the scale of national autonomy, personal freedom and privacy, and the institution of democracy. It's time for Zuckerberg et al to grow up and accept the responsibility that goes along with the success they have created. But it's not looking good. When you lose public support from people like veteran Wall Street Journal tech journalist Walt Mossberg and celebrity Cher in the same week, you know things are bad.
Seriously, 2018 has been the year a tech demi-god received a world-wide public criticism for successfully building a web site while displaying the binary lack of nuance that geeks are often criticized for. Zuckerberg famously called those who in-trusted their private information to his platform dumb fucks. Thankfully, he says he has grown up since then. Yeah. He's 34 years old. That's still too young to wisely wield enough power to be #13 on Forbes's The World's Most Powerful People. But not too young not to throw his #2 woman under the bus when accused of PR strategies usually reserved for Donald Trump's Republican party.
And let's not forget this nugget from about a year ago: Facebook designed to be addictive on purpose.
There's no surprise in my saying that the world seems to be politically shifting to the right. That's true in Europe and the Americas. Fascist tendencies are being decried by leftists in many nations. The issue is that one of those nations is the United States, where our Big 5 companies reside. Without getting into to it too deeply, the problem here is that we have a concentration of financial, military and IT resources in a capitalist nation that is becoming more of an oligarchy than a democracy. This has been described as "surveillance capitalism".
One should be worried when the staff of a web site—Google—strike against their employer because of national defense contracts.
2018 hasn't been a good year for the cause of individual privacy and digital rights either. Australia just passed a controversial legislation that will allow the country's intelligence and law enforcement agencies to demand access to end-to-end encrypted digital communications.
So what to do?
To sum up my reaction to all that, I personally was at a crossroads. On the one hand, to continue to allow the Tech Bros out in California in general, and Facebook in particular, to monetize my personal computing habits in ways I never acquiesced to, and in morally ambiguous if not strictly illegal ways at that.
Over the last few months I slowly transitioned to a more private and secure computing experience: I started using Switzerland-based ProtonVPN to encrypt the connection of my computers and mobile device to the internet, and a secure encrypted email address from ProtonMail. Coincidentally, both these services come from CERN. FYI, both Switzerland and Iceland (see here and here) have very strict data policies.
I stopped using Google a few months ago in favour of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not track you.
I am also looking forward to 2019 in hopes of a solid and secure Linux mobile platform (I'll be looking at Plasma Mobile, Ubuntu Touch and especially the early 2019 launch of the PureOS phone). Hopefully these platforms will offer the apps I need so I can switch.
I also installed the Lubuntu operating system on my laptop. As a web design teacher, the secure and open source Linux system has pretty much every application I use on an every day basis, except for the Adobe Creative Cloud suite which I actually rarely use for actual web coding.
So why did I switch?
As I mentioned in my original post, as a web design teacher I have always and hope to continue to lead by example in the proper application of the technological tools at our disposal and help students learn to build communication tools that don’t rely on services that are against their personal and professional best interests. There was a World Wide Web before Facebook and in many ways returning to a decentralized model of independent web sites, blogs, and RSS feeds isn't a bad solution to the excessive concentration of power in a small handful of corporations. For example, in a W3C meeting or standards discussion, the room should not be 60–70% Googlers. Text messages shouldn't be monitored, censored, or blocked by telecommunications companies. And Facebook shouldn't let Netflix and Spotify read my private messages. FFS.
I'm Quitting Facebook But I'm Still Very Much Online...
Anyone wanting to contact me can do so via my web site, on Twitter at either my personal account @ericg_photo or the GWD departmental account I am currently moderating @jacgwd, via email at my johnabbott.qc.ca address (if you were my student, you should already have it in your address book) or by using the encrypted Signal messaging app. If you want to connect via Signal, email me and we can exchange phone numbers.
Plus I am investigating the possibility of starting a Mastodon instance. Let me know what you think of that in the comments below.