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
Photo by Marco Gomes Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

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.

Facebook knows what you tell people, and what they say to you — obviously.

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:

Facebook Data policy tells us how they track our interactions, with groups even private ones.

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:

A Facebook research paper on how people interact after the death of a friend (AKA someone on their contact list)

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

Additionally… (from comments and feedback)

  1. Download your data (see Greg’s directions in comments)
  2. If you are a moderator for a group, or for any reason cannot leave a group — create an alternate profile using an email/FB account for only this purpose.

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, go reclaim you.

Cross post from my own blog at