You #DeleteFacebook. What next?
How to avoid the Network Effect and take back control of your data
So, you’ve finally taken the big step. After the Cambridge Analytica revelations, you’ve finally gone and deleted your Facebook account.
What happens next? Chances are, you’ll soon be searching for an alternate social network — if not signing up again on Facebook itself.
Of course, there are some people who find that Facebook really isn’t for them, that their lives are much better without social media. But let’s assume you do want a place to connect with your friends, to share links, post your thoughts, put up your photos, or simply scroll mindlessly through when you have nothing better to do.
You need, in other words, a social network.
But which social network? How do you choose a social network that respects your privacy, that won’t use your data for creepy purposes or sell it off to unknown companies?
The truth is that any company running a social network will probably want to mine your data. If they’re offering a free service, they’ll obviously want something in return. And selling your data is one of the most straightforward solutions.
They won’t do it at first, of course, When Facebook started out, it had very strict limitations on what it would do with your data:
No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.
Over time, however, it slowly gave itself more and more power to do what it liked:
The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” … Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.
By that time, people were too hooked to leave.
It’s not just Facebook, of course. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram — all of them collect and use your data in ways that, if you had a choice, you would rather not allow. In this article, I’m using Facebook as an example, but much of it applies to other social platforms as well.
But if all companies are like that, then what choice do you have? Well — you could use a social network that’s not run by a company.
There is no one website you visit to join the Diaspora social network. Diaspora is a decentralised network: anybody can start their own server (called a “pod”) and use it to share their content.
Of course, not everyone has the time and skills required to set up a server. Luckily, there are many pods run by volunteers, allowing you to sign up on any one of them. One list of Diaspora pods can be found here: feel free to browse through and choose any one that you like.
But what about contacts? How do you know which pods they are on? That’s the nice part: you don’t need to know!
Diaspora pods talk to each other, sending messages or posts or whatever needs to be sent. You and your friend can be on completely different pods, and still be able to follow, message, and share with each other.
And yet, your data is safe. It doesn’t leak out to every single Disapora pod in the world. It only goes to your pod, and your friends’ pods: there, it stops. Your data is safe because you can choose a pod you trust (or better still, run your own). Most pods are run by volunteers, individual people just like you and me.
And if one pod starts misbehaving with your data, you can always pull it out and move your account to a different pod instead.
Diaspora has all the basic features you’d expect from a social network, as well as some extra ones. There’s only one thing you might find missing there: your friends.
Most social networks grow using the “Network Effect”. Everybody uses Facebook because everybody uses Facebook because everybody uses Facebook. And there’s no point using Zorpia because there’s nobody there for you to use it with.
The Network Effect is what websites like Facebook use to lock you into their platform. If you’ve been there for a while, you won’t want to move somewhere else — because that means getting all you friends to move too.
But for a network like Diaspora, I think it’s worth the effort. Here’s why.
The Diaspora network doesn’t trap you with the Network Effect. It can’t. That’s because it’s a “federated” network: it uses an open protocol, which other social networks can use too. What’s more, there are several such networks coming up — which can all connect to each other.
“Federation” means the social networks are interoperable. Friendica users can follow their Diaspora friends, who can also see posts shared on Socialhome and Hubzilla. Whichever social network you join, your friends will be there with you. (Personally, I would recommend Friendica: I like its features and interface)
It’s a bit like email, where you can message someone regardless of which email service they use. But here, it’s not just a simple message. It’s your friends-list, photos, status updates, social stream, and anything else you could ask for.
And it’s all still private, provided you and your friends trust your pods. Even if you don’t, pods are small and can access only their own users—so nobody can do data gathering on the massive scale of Facebook.
There’s only one question: do ‘big’ social networks like Facebook federate? No, they don’t. Your Facebook friends are still stuck in Facebook, and you can’t connect with them if you leave Facebook. That’s what we — all of us —need to work on now.
Imagine if email was closed off like Facebook. If you had to use Gmail to contact Gmail users, and Yahoo to connect to Yahoo users, and an internal Amazon email service to contact Amazon Customer Care.
In today’s world, email providers would never do such a thing. Why not? Well, the idea of email being open runs too deep People expect to be able to contact other email users. Companies expect to be able to use their own custom email addresses and servers. If any email service closed its doors, masses of users would leave it at once — or at least create an alternate email account to use as well.
There is no world where social networks are expected to behave the same way. But by joining a federated social network, and encouraging others to join as well, you can help to build that world.
If enough people get used to federated networks, corporate providers like Google+ and Facebook will be forced to open up too. In such a world, closing the doors wouldn’t lock people into Facebook. It would only lock them out.
Are you thinking of leaving Facebook? Have you already left? Do you plan to join a federated network? Any thoughts, doubts, or questions? I’m in the process of leaving too, so do leave a comment! Then, we can all figure it out together.