Fb is a Machine that Extracts your Emotional Responses for Profit
The time has come to reconnect with each other.
The time has come to reconnect with the streets and the gathering spaces.
The time has come to reconnect with the forests and the waters.
The time has come to reject isolation and loneliness.
The time has come to quit facebook.
This has been a long time coming.
How fb has changed
For years I posted a lot on facebook. Like, five times a day. Like, a solid hour most days, with smatterings throughout the rest of the day. I’ve made over 10,000 posts, including hundreds of self-made memes, some of which have been shared by over 10,000 people, and livestreamed videos with over 10,000 views. My fb presence has not been small, nor has it been passive.
For much of that time I believe I was having a positive impact on the world and using my time wisely, investing my time in a way that would lead others towards their own liberations, and reaching a wider audience than I otherwise could. The fb algorithm (which decides what a person sees in their stream) appeared to be encouraging grassroots Pages and disseminating their content widely. I was also curious to see where the experiment-that-is-fb would go.
Fb’s datascape has now changed.
Instead of being a platform for grassroots pages and groups to spread information and get their messages out, the spreading of information has become industrialized. Pages now need to pay to promote their posts as adverts, and fb has become extremely adept at extracting money from us. The manipulation of the fb algorithm has been mastered by Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and militarized thinking. The spread of lies (“fake news”) is just the tip of the iceberg.
Computer models are being used to change who you are
Dopamine is a powerful chemical that your brain creates when you experience pleasure, which has strong connections to addictive behaviour (drugs, gambling, sex, food, etc.). When you ‘Like’ something on fb you’re effectively telling fb “that’s given me a dopamine hit”, which fb interprets as “give me more of this”. The more you ‘like’ things, the more fb can tailor its algorithms to give you more dopamine hits in your feed. So liking things is effectively training your own addiction, and spending time on fb is literally addictive.
Fb is a machine that extracts your emotional responses for profit. It uses knowledge of your ‘Likes’ (and other behaviour) to keep you addicted and coming back for more. Its profits (and therefore its existence as a corporation) depends on your continued usage of the platform, and so it basic business model is to foster your online addiction.
Indeed, what you ‘Like’ can be used to understand you surprisingly effectively. A major study by Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre found that with just the knowledge of 150 ‘likes’ the computer models could predict a person’s personality better than their spouse; with 300, better than you could predict your own.
However, those computer models are not only being used by fb to keep you addicted. They’re also being used by highly-organized, insidious companies and spy agencies to not only predict your behaviour, but to change what you think, what you like, what you consider socially acceptable, and even how you react.
Carole Cadwalladr writes (her article is worth reading in full),
“Cambridge Analytica has the technological tools to effect behavioural and psychological change… but it’s [the parent company, SCL Group] that strategises it. It has specialised, at the highest level — for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others — in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs. SCL… [worked] on Margaret Thatcher’s image… and the company had been “making money out of the propaganda side of the war on terrorism over a long period of time. There are different arms of SCL but it’s all about reach and the ability to shape the discourse. They are trying to amplify particular political narratives. And they are selective in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.”” (Emma Briant, Propaganda and Counter-Terrorism: Strategies for Global Change, 2015)
These computer models are used by companies (like Cambridge Analytica) that are backed by billionaires (like Robert Mercer) who don’t have your best interest in mind. They’re being used to manipulate societies, wage wars, and elect shitty politicians. They’re being used as weapons in a new form of global guerilla warfare to change the course of history. And not for the better.
Fb elected Trump, Fb caused Brexit
Carole Cadwalladr’s article connects a series of dots that brings the power relationships to light. As mentioned her article is worth reading in full. Here’s a few quotations that reveal how much influence fb has had in the Brexit vote to Leave and the election of Trump:
“Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the [Brexit] Leave campaign. When Mercer supported Cruz, Cambridge Analytica worked with Cruz. When Robert Mercer started supporting Trump, Cambridge Analytica came too. And where Mercer’s money is, Steve Bannon [Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist] is usually close by: it was reported that until recently he had a seat on the board.”
“It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart — a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.”
“Facebook was the key to the entire [Brexit Leave] campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert… The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.”” (emphasis mine)
I have realised that by staying on fb I would be contributing to Trump’s power, and opening myself up to further manipulation in the future. I came to the conclusion that it was time to leave, and I want to encourage you to ask yourself: is this something you want to do too?
But I can’t quit
I mean, it’s possible for me to. And I could. But I’m not quite ready to do so yet.
If I were to de-activate my account then I would silently remain in fb’s databases. I don’t want to silently disappear, leaving my friends subject to the predation of the artificial intelligence that is being used to harm you. I want to make a political statement. Against fb.
I’m not hard-quitting. I’m strategically quitting.
I recognize that not everyone will quit fb overnight. I still want to be able to ‘friend’ new people I meet, and to stay connected with them over the long term as phone numbers and emails change. So I’m keeping my account active in order to do so. You’ll still be able to reach me on messenger, tho I’ll encourage you to switch to Signal instead: https://whispersystems.org/ (free, easy, open-source, end-to-end security that is recommended by Edward Snowden).
I’m also an admin on several fb pages, and I’ll probably still create fb events until I find more efficient ways to post and share events that I help to organize. Yet the point of this organizing is not to keep people on fb, the point is to get people off fb and into face-to-face gatherings. The goal is to find ways for us to re-connect and foster deep and meaningful relationships. Relationships of resistance, relationships of liberation.
How to quit fb
Fb is an addiction. Like other addictions, it has already changed the neural pathways in your mind by learning how to trigger chemical releases of dopamine. The power of such addiction should not be under-estimated. If you think you’d struggle to quit, these are the steps I suggest:
Stop Liking Things
I stopped liking things at the start of 2016. Over the next few months I noticed that the things in my feed weren’t as exciting or as relevant to me as they were previously. And that lack of excitement allowed me to get the distance I needed to go on fb less and less. The less you “like”, the less fb can control your brain chemicals.
The additional side effect of this was that I found myself commenting on things more instead of liking things. This led to some interesting conversations that might not have otherwise happened. When you put your creativity into something, you harvest returns.
Make Yourself Private
In the “Timeline and Tagging Settings” turn off people’s ability to tag you.
Use the “Privacy Settings and Tools” to limit your past posts (to just your friends) and adjust your settings as far as possible to be “Only You”.
Find Other Outlets
Maybe start a blog. For example, you’ll find me on www.medium.com/@plaosmos/
If you want to get updates from me when I post on it, sign up for occasional emails here: http://eepurl.com/bGX349
Go Out And Meet People
Easier said than done, I know. Yet both my own experience, and the stories I’ve heard from friends, is that once they reduced their time on fb they had more time — and more inclination — to go out and meet people face-to-face. Friendships deepened, and more real connection occurred. Loneliness started to disappear and social skills increased as the imposed isolation of fb loosened its grip. Well worth it.
Turn Off The fb Feed
This browser extension for Chrome replaces your entire news feed with an inspiring quote:
Uninstall the fb App (and Turn Off Notifications)
If you’ve got the fb app installed on your smartphone, uninstall it. If your phone won’t let you uninstall it, then logout from it, disable it if you can, and turn off all it’s permissions, notifications, and auto-launch in your phone’s settings. If you need to, you’ll still be able to view fb in your mobile browser, so you’re not completely cut off.
As an added bonus, this will also increase your phone’s battery life!
Do a Deeper Purge
If you want to delete everything from fb, you’ll find this isn’t so easy (remember, fb’s business model is to keep you addicted).
Before you do so you may wish to download a copy of the pictures and posts you’ve made. Fortunately fb makes this part easy. Go to the fb General Account Settings and under the options there’s a hardly-noticeable link to “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” Do that. Of note, this doesn’t download any Notes you’ve written, so you might want to do that manually. Hopefully you don’t have too many.
You can then delete your previous posts using this Chrome browser extension:
I had to run this repeatedly over a few weeks in order to clear out my timeline. Since fb doesn’t want you to delete your presence, methods for deleting your posts are likely to change with time as fb blocks the various methods that people come up with. If that extension didn’t work for you, try searching for the latest ways to do this.
You’re Not Gone
Even after doing that purge, the things you’ve previously ‘Liked’ are still out there, still giving precious data to those running the computer models. Additionally, people will still be able to tag you, even if it doesn’t show up in your timeline.
However, while all the data that has previously been downloaded about us will remain in the hands of Cambridge Analytica and such, they won’t be able to get new information about us (at least via fb). If you’ve taken the steps I suggested, they also won’t be able to target us with advertising (at least via fb) since we’ve turned off the feed and won’t be spending time on it. That’s positive progress, and greatly reduces their power over our lives. In my view, it’s worth it.
Maybe one day I’ll quit fb completely. For now I’ll still be around, but don’t expect to see me on there much. Hopefully instead we’ll spend more time together in person. :)