Escaping the economy of souls — starting with Facebook (in 4 steps)

“I think it’s time for a reclamation movement.”

Tim Wu author of The Attention Merchant in a talk at @ Mozilla Toronto last week

A little over two months ago, I removed the web-warping, soul exploiting, goggles of a ‘free’ Facebook account — free as in guinea pig. I lost my best friend and partner to cancer around this time, and Facebook knew that.

I found myself staring at content curated just for me — a Ted Talk about end of life care, cancer foundations, hospital foundations, an ‘inspiring’ story of a boy who survived cancer, and a review of ‘Option B’, Sheryl Sandburg’s book on grief… I had joined her Facebook group, but they knew that too:

And there I was, as if waking in a horror movie finding vile tentacles of a venomous creature wrapped around me, I saw; I witnessed and felt the cost of free. The cost of my well being, of dignity and for all those around me — the cost of my attention, focus and awareness of the world around me.

Was my feed part of an experiment or just really shitty and cruel algorithms? Facebook doesn’t hide the fact it’s learning from people like me during personal crises. Rather, it publishes reports on the findings:

 

And probably what upset me the most was that Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook, whose book I liked and shared, who should be protective of people in grief was bringing large numbers of people to her Facebook group —so much heartbreak, so much trauma data. And Sheryl is aware…

“ However, the company was widely criticised for manipulating material from people’s personal lives in order to play with user emotions or make them sad.

In response on Thursday, Facebook said that it was introducing new rules for conducting research on users with clearer guidelines, better training for researchers and a stricter review process.

But, it did not state whether or not it would notify users — or seek their consent — before starting a study.”

— BBC News “Facebook admits failings over emotion manipulation study”

The reason I write this is to wake you up as well, although you are likely partially there — you need to get all the way there. Please stumble with me to some type of reclamation movement, it’s important for humanity (no exaggeration). Facebook, and others in the economy of souls design addictive technology to keep us there.

I’ve used the same excuses you are. The spine of Facebook’s business model is your contact list — and this should be the center of reclaim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the steps I’ve taken to wean myself off Facebook and my contact list off Facebook for good. I want an empowered online life, and I want that for you too.

Step 1 — Snap out of it!

I really hope you don’t have to lose someone close to you, or go through a trauma or tragedy to see the impact of your data being used against you. If you need inspiration watch Tim Wu’s talk and embrace the message that ‘free’ is not free. Read Facebook’s data policy, and remember they never said they would stop doing this.

Step 2— Get Facebook Messenger, Disable Facebook

Didn’t see that one coming did you? As much as Messenger annoyed me, being a separate App, what it provides is the ability to fully disable Facebook itself, but keep messaging for a transition period — which can be as long as you need it to be. You can still talk to, and share photos with grandma.

Think of Messenger as nicotine gum for FB addiction. Not great, still being tracked, but will likely get you further than cold turkey.

This one step means you you’re unplugged from:

  • Fake News
  • Like/Reactions
  • Mindless feed scrolling
  • Interacting in groups
  • Unsolicited emotional reactions to content

But keep:

  • Messaging
  • Sharing photos,
  • Group conversations

And slowly start migrating people to other tools for chat and conversation. Let them know why.

Step 3— Curate Personal Content

Even though you spent a lot of time reading content on Facebook, chances are you’ve read fake news, crappy click bait and remained in a filter bubble of your own opinions. There’s a whole world out there!

  • Subscribe(yes pay) to actual newspapers with real reporters. I now subscribe to the New York Times, and support local journalism with a subscription as well.
  • Use good tools. I like Flipboard, and organize all ‘read later’ content into Pocket, which is my goto for the times I would normally have opened Facebook. Remember we’re dealing with addiction — replace habits with new ones.
  • Watch Netflix or read a book. Step away from news and the world and escape. ‘Attention Theft’ of Facebook really makes sense to me now I realize how many extended periods of time are available to me.
  • Follow people unlike yourself on Twitter. I know Twitter has issues, but one thing at a time.

Step 4 — Influence others

I feel like a tiny drop in the ocean, but when people tell me their <insert information thing here> is on Facebook, I tell them I’m not on Facebook and so require another way. I see others doing this too. Even public pages on Facebook are not public — they’re draped in a kind of ‘free membership paywall’, that hides half the page if you’re not logged in.

Facebook groups are not good for forums, there are (much, much) better and open source forums. Suggest alternatives.

Tell people why you’re not on Facebook, but not in an arrogant kind of way — more like ‘I quit smoking because my kids need me to live’ kind of way that makes people reflect on their own health.

Public Pages are trapped in a ‘Free Membership Paywall’

Step 4 — Turn off Facebook Messenger

Turn off Facebook Messenger. I haven’t done this yet, but I am using it less and less. I probably use it 3 x a week for people I haven’t moved over to other communications yet.

Go explore the web again.

https://twitter.com/clintlalonde/status/868661574914891777

Step 1 — Snap out of it!

I really hope you don’t have to lose someone close to you, or go through a trauma or tragedy to see the impact of your data being used against you. If you need inspiration watch Tim Wu’s talk and embrace the message that ‘free’ is not free. Read Facebook’s data policy, and remember they never said they would stop doing this.

Step 2— Get Facebook Messenger, Disable Facebook

Didn’t see that one coming did you? As much as Messenger annoyed me, being a separate App, what it provides is the ability to fully disable Facebook itself, but keep messaging for a transition period — which can be as long as you need it to be. You can still talk to, and share photos with grandma.

Think of Messenger as nicotine gum for FB addiction. Not great, still being tracked, but will likely get you further than cold turkey.

This one step means you you’re unplugged from:

  • Fake News
  • Like/Reactions
  • Mindless feed scrolling
  • Interacting in groups
  • Unsolicited emotional reactions to content

But keep:

  • Messaging
  • Sharing photos,
  • Group conversations

And slowly start migrating people to other tools for chat and conversation. Let them know why.

Step 3— Curate Personal Content

Even though you spent a lot of time reading content on Facebook, chances are you’ve read fake news, crappy click bait and remained in a filter bubble of your own opinions. There’s a whole world out there!

  • Subscribe(yes pay) to actual newspapers with real reporters. I now subscribe to the New York Times, and support local journalism with a subscription as well.
  • Use good tools. I like Flipboard, and organize all ‘read later’ content into Pocket, which is my goto for the times I would normally have opened Facebook. Remember we’re dealing with addiction — replace habits with new ones.
  • Watch Netflix or read a book. Step away from news and the world and escape. ‘Attention Theft’ of Facebook really makes sense to me now I realize how many extended periods of time are available to me.
  • Follow people unlike yourself on Twitter. I know Twitter has issues, but one thing at a time.

Step 4 — Influence others

I feel like a tiny drop in the ocean, but when people tell me their <insert information thing here> is on Facebook, I tell them I’m not on Facebook and so require another way. I see others doing this too. Even public pages on Facebook are not public — they’re draped in a kind of ‘free membership paywall’, that hides half the page if you’re not logged in.

Facebook groups are not good for forums, there are (much, much) better and open source forums. Suggest alternatives.

Tell people why you’re not on Facebook, but not in an arrogant kind of way — more like ‘I quit smoking because my kids need me to live’ kind of way that makes people reflect on their own health.

Public Pages are trapped in a ‘Free Membership Paywall’

Step 4 — Turn off Facebook Messenger

Turn off Facebook Messenger. I haven’t done this yet, but I am using it less and less. I probably use it 3 x a week for people I haven’t moved over to other communications yet.

Go reclaim the web.


Feature Photo by Marco Gomes Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

Cross posted to Medium

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2 thoughts on “Escaping the economy of souls — starting with Facebook (in 4 steps)

  • First of all Emma, let me say I’m so sorry for your loss. I knew it was aiming that way (via a retweet I think from Scott Leslie in twitter) but not from facebook.

    I really like your practical approach. Failing some kind of horrific public data exploitations, I see little change in broad scale reclaiming away from the blue monster. I’m baffled by staunch open advocates who manage to rationalize their presence.

    And no offense, Clint, but when I hear those reasons, that they would lose contact with family members, it’s everything I can do to not call that as a lazy cop out. I never do. But it is. There is absolutely no reason to say that Facebook is the only way to keep in touch with people you care about.

    Can I suggest– direct messaging, text messaging, phone calls, visits, post cards? What they are not saying is that it is only convenient, and at a minimal amount of effort/time to click a button. It is a cheap form of expression; and I prefer to have meaningful contact with people that may take effort on both parts. So as much as I respect people, I cannot accept that as an argument. It says that Facebook is inevitable. And it is not.

    Before I used Facebook, and the period (a few years that I did) it was always with a state if unease. I frankly always felt, and still do, that there is something evil at operation. I have no basis for this, but when I see or hear their leaders, I cannot help but feel like they are totally lying and are some kind of Stepford robot.

    I own my hypocrisy for using Twitter, which too munges my data for its own advertising purposes. Or Google, Or name any other site that you create an account on. But it’s always been in my gut that there is something much more vile at work in Facebook.

    Just a hunch.

    I have no hopes it can turn on a broad scale. And it’s never my place to tell people they are wrong for their choices. But I wish they would own it rather than wrap it in lazy excuses.

    I don’t buy at all that it is the only way to stay in touch with grandma, it’s just something people can do at low personal cost and provides the empty calorie sugar rush false feeling of being connected.

    Keep on reclaiming!

  • Thanks Alan, for kind words and other support. I so agree something vile is at work – and in many ways I feel horrified at myself for waiting until the obvious, was so obvious. As a society I hope it doesn’t come to horrific exploitations for a shift to occur.

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