The writing is on the wall. Facebook is detrimental to global discourse, has harmed democracies around the world, and, because of its dependence on advertising, has responded to criticism by making only minor, cosmetic changes. Mark Zuckerberg and his team will continue to allow the social network to be a haven for fake news, hoaxes, threats, and much, much worse. It’s gotten to the point that Zuckerberg said this summer that Holocaust deniers won’t be removed from the platform, and pages of known hoax or hate purveyors like InfoWars aren’t getting booted until the damage is long done.
Facebook has had several opportunities to show that it understands its responsibility as the world’s largest social network — a platform that now has 2.23 billion active users worldwide, sees 4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily, and is responsible for one out of every five page views in the United States. But it has failed completely.
If you don’t #QuitFacebook, you’re part of the problem.
Irresponsibility has real-world effects
The first sign of trouble was the 2014 election of Narendra Modi in India. Behind his charismatic, calm persona were rampant rumors aimed at getting the country’s Hindu majority to see the Muslim minority as a threat and vote for his right-wing, Hindu-nationalist party. Facebook was a key platform in the spread of viral videos and fake statistics about Muslims, and it worked. Along the way, religious violence claimed the lives of dozens of Indians.
Then it was government supported trolls from Russia and China spreading disinformation and harassing women, journalists, and critics that led to the early 2016 election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. But that, like the election in India, was far away from Silicon Valley, so Facebook did nothing (and its stock price kept rising). Duterte’s election has resulted in 12,000 extrajudicial killings and severe clampdowns on freedom of the press in the country.
Then it happened in the U.S. The platform allowed Russian-linked trolls to send viral, fake news content that may have played a role in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in late 2016. A little more than a year after, we learned that Facebook gave access to our data to a firm called Cambridge Analytica, which used that data to drive a massive, pro-Trump operation. As more details emerge, this begs the question — what else has Facebook done or allowed that we don’t know about?
Nearly every time Facebook has been given a clear choice whether to act or not, it has chosen the path of least resistance, only acting when overwhelming outside pressure forced it to, and always too slowly.
If you perhaps thought seeing this happen closer to home would make a difference, you’d be mistaken. Months after Trump’s election, the worst case of violence connected to Facebook so far took place when the Myanmar military began attacking Rohingya villagers in Rakhine state, killing thousands and forcing a mass exodus of people into neighboring Bangladesh. It was predictable — local nonprofit organizations saw hate speech and violence-inducing content on Facebook before the violence erupted and attempted to inform Facebook.
The company did nothing. Facebook is the match to the flame that is destroying societies around the world.
Facebook’s inaction keeps it profitable
Facebook is proving itself completely unable to address any of the challenges facing its platform for a simple reason: The company is doing fine financially. Its stock price now is higher than it was right after the 2016 election, and its profits are still growing quarter by quarter. Clamping down on ads of viral content is not a financially sound decision for the platform. Facebook seems to value profit over the safety of its users, and it is reticent to cut off what is a massive and growing source of its revenue — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and a growing number of other state and non-state actors who see Facebook as key to their strategies of dominating the global online debate and pushing their worldview.
For example, China is already the second-largest ad market for the company, $5 billion in total and growing fast. This is a country whose government denies the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, has a massive online troll army, and is building out a global media apparatus to influence discourse across the world. You can bet China plans to invest heavily in using the Facebook platform to spread its worldview, either via ads or through its legions of trolls. Facebook depends on these countries for its revenue and lofty stock price — hence, inaction.
The only way to hold Facebook responsible for allowing for hate speech, online trolls, and Holocaust deniers on its platform is for us to quit.
Facebook wants you to perceive improvements, though, and what it will do is blanket metro and subway stations around the world with ads claiming it is doing something. But nearly every time Facebook has been given a clear choice whether to act or not, it has chosen the path of least resistance, only acting when overwhelming outside pressure forced it to, and always too slowly. It took a year after the horrific, well-documented violence in Myanmar for Facebook to take the dramatic step of blocking a few accounts.
Here’s the thing. We — users, especially those of us in the U.S. and Europe — are what Facebook values. They make money from each of us. A lot of money. In 2017, each U.S. user was worth $20.21 (and Canadian users, $26.76). At some point, we have to accept the reality — continuing to use Facebook means we’re complicit in the drug killings in the Philippines, the rise of hate content, the harassment of women and minorities, and the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya. As long as we stay on the platform, Facebook will continue to make money selling ads from unsavory characters. It’s time to quit and make a statement.
It’s not easy to quit, and limiting use isn’t enough
Facebook is, by design, an addictive tool. For years, the key metric mentioned by the giant during its quarterly earnings calls was user engagement, the time the average user spent on the platform. All of its innovations were designed to get us to spend more time on Facebook, like with the News Feed, launched in 2006, which essentially introduced endless scrolling to the masses. There is even evidence that Facebook is studying how to manipulate our emotions and running psychological tests on us. They claim they won’t use that information to target us. Then again, they also said they wouldn’t share our data with outside vendors or track us on other sites, and they are.
Another key factor is the network effect. We tend to stick to a platform if our coworkers, friends, neighbors, and family are on it. This is likely the biggest barrier to quitting Facebook. People dislike Facebook but find it so useful — checking in on the aunt you’d otherwise never talk to or keeping in touch with friends from high school — that they can’t not use it.
There are alternatives that replace the functionality of Facebook without sacrificing the ability to communicate and share information with friends.
One idea is limiting your Facebook use, but this will not make a difference. Facebook forces advertisers to “bid” for our time. If we check Facebook consistently, we will get served more ads at what is likely a lower rate per ad. If we check infrequently, the rate advertisers pay per ad will get higher. We aren’t hurting the platform at all. And, unless you log off, clear your cookies, and use a privacy plugin, Facebook can still track you across the web and sell that information to advertisers in order to target you more specifically — both on Facebook and other sites.
The only way to hold Facebook responsible for allowing for hate speech, online trolls, and Holocaust deniers on its platform is for us to quit. We’ve given the social network enough opportunities. And there are alternatives that replace the functionality of Facebook without sacrificing the ability to communicate and share information with friends. And these alternatives carry the added benefit of more privacy and security.
Alternatives that care about privacy exist
I’m not going to tell you to join another social network, like Minds or Diaspora, because it will be useless. Your friends and family are not on there, and getting them on a new platform is not worth the effort. My recommendation is to switch bit by bit to other avenues, maybe some of those listed below, and slowly disentangle yourself from Facebook. For the few instances where you need to access Facebook, you can use a tool like Mozilla’s Facebook Container so you can do it with more privacy, along with an ad-blocker like uBlock or Adblock Plus.
Slack has become the default communication platform for organizations and workplaces. It has far more functionality than a Facebook group and can be used easily on multiple platforms, including a web browser. Each channel has a unique login, so getting people to join is easy. Discourse is an even better option than Slack because it is open source, has better privacy protections, and gives users full control of data (Slack does allow companies or channel owners to pay to see all messages, even private ones).
Chat apps can allow you, in a more intimate setting, to share photos and communicate without the worrying oversight of Facebook’s algorithm, which can both hide content and harvest data for use in creating ads. Many have encryption embedded so you know no one except participants can easily see your content.
Avoid WhatsApp; it’s been ruined by Facebook, which acquired it in 2014, with even the former founders leaving huge sums of money to depart early. It already is backtracking on privacy promises and might start including ads. Also avoid WeChat, China’s do-it-all app, which has even more worrying privacy concerns than Facebook.
My recommendation is Telegram. It has good functionality, including real moderator capabilities, and it works on many platforms and operating systems and can even be used without a phone connection. Other options — Line, Signal, and Viber — are popular in certain countries, although all three lack the functionality and ease of use of Telegram. But if privacy is your main concern, you can’t beat Signal.
Facebook seems attractive for posting photos, but anything uploaded can be utilized by the company for nearly any purpose — even if you delete it. Moreover, the compression reduces the quality, and it’s incredibly difficult to later organize and download photos. Also avoid Instagram, another Facebook property that has been slowly integrating facets of its parent company, like ads and a manipulated algorithm. Avoid Google too, which also harvests data from your photos and has its own shady advertising apparatus.
Instead, try Dropbox, which has useful features to organize and share photos. Photobucket is also popular and very user-friendly. More secure alternatives are Unsee or Cluster, which has some great family-sharing features.
Studies show that fake news goes more viral than quality news, and Facebook’s solution to that has been to reduce how much news we get overall in our news feeds. Publishers are seeing dramatic drops in inbound traffic, which has another goal — keeping us stuck on Facebook.
Instead of relying on Facebook for news, try Pocket, a great app that lets you save news and makes personal recommendations based on the stories you like. It works on multiple platforms, and the developers are focused on building better ways for users to find quality news. To support a sustainable news media ecosystem, there’s Blendle, which carries a diverse selection of newspapers and allows you to pay based on what you read. Other news curation tools include SmartNews and Pulse, or you can set up your own RSS feeds through a reader like Feedly.