Me and Facebook

tl;dr: I don’t use Facebook much. If you want to contact me, I would prefer nearly any other mode of communication. I am also going to stop autosharing posts from this blog onto Facebook. RSS readers are great; get yours today.

Recently I checked Facebook and it said something like “You’ve added N friends this past T units of time! Thanks for making the world more connected!” and I just couldn’t any more. Facebook friends are not friends. Dunbar’s number is around 150, maybe double that if you want to stretch it; humans cannot handle that many human relationships. Facebook’s siloed ecosystem is the opposite of connected with the rest of the Internet.

That is one of many reasons I pretty much don’t use Facebook any more. This is not new, but I’ve never formalized it. Also, I figure others might assume otherwise since I still do have an account and still accept friend requests and post sometimes. Thus, I’m writing this post.

Here are all of the reasons:

  • Facebook has some sketchy practices and privacy implications. Specific things that jump to mind are allowing the proliferation of unattributed video1 and the 2014 emotion manipulation study, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg; if you want a longer list, read “Get your loved ones off Facebook.” or “What should you think about when using Facebook?”.
  • Facebook wants your attention. It encourages widely-shareable content and promotes things it thinks will get you to keep interacting. The result is a lot of clickbait articles, cheap memes, alarmist assertions, every kind of garbage. This drowns out intelligent, thoughtful discussions and analysis, not to mention distracts me from more productive things I could be doing. I hate this.
  • Facebook operates on likes. You can ignore them, but you can’t turn off the stream of notifications that people liked your posts. I do not know how much this generalizes, but in this environment I can’t help but slide into at least a partial mindset of fishing for attention and likes, which is a very unhealthy mode of sharing and communication.
  • Relatedly, Facebook’s concept of “friend”ship is just too blunt and indiscriminate to be useful to me. Another reason I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself candidly is that (as I wrote recently) I understand that most people “friend” me like they “friend” everybody else, as a vague gesture that they know this person and might want to message them and invite them to events and stuff, not as a commitment to subjecting themselves to 2,000-word rants whenever (which, admittedly, I write much more rarely now). I think I expect that, in practice, Facebook has settings and black-box news feed algorithms that make this not happen to anybody who doesn’t actually want that commitment, but I’d still rather spill my soul to people who’ve more explicitly consented.
  • Facebook makes it hard to search or discover conversations. It might be the only platform I use where, if I’m thinking of a specific thing I wrote somewhere, I can’t be sure I’ll reliably find it. See “Don’t have conversations on Facebook”.
  • Add to all this the simple fact that, in spite of all the data it apparently collects and engineering effort it must put into its site to keep its content engaging, its newsfeed still gives me a horrible signal-to-noise ratio. This is probably just me — maybe it’s super engaging to 99% of users — but I’ve discovered comparable amounts of interesting material off Google ads.

I don’t want to bash Facebook unduly. Clearly it does something people want; there are many people and communities that can connect more effectively thanks to it; it can be and has been used for good as a powerful tool for organization and information dissemination; there’s probably other socially beneficial angles I haven’t looked into. Less seriously, Facebook provides me with my go-to pragmatic example of who uses Haskell in industry and gave the internet this story of one guy pranking his roommate with targeted ads.

I’m also not permanently off Facebook. I’ve considered deleting my account many times in the past, but there are still far too many people and communities I want to keep in contact with, for which I think Facebook is our primary or even sole means of communication. My unprincipled soft-hearted pragmatist side wins. So, at least for now, I’m going to keep my account kicking and continue using Messenger and occasionally checking specific groups.2 I will also continue accepting friend requests from people I definitely know.

Just know that a lot of things about Facebook work very poorly for me. It happens that I have a sufficiently large technologically-hipster friend group (many of whom have gone the extra mile and deleted their Facebook account, or just stayed away from it in the first place) and feel sufficiently comfortable using other ways to discover content that I can get most of the benefits of Facebook elsewhere, and if any of these conditions might apply to you, I think you should also consider using Facebook less. If I don’t accept your friend request, you’re not missing much. And most importantly, if you want to message me and I have any power to convince you to try to reach me on a different platform instead, please do so:

  • Email is great, just asynchronous; sometimes I miss emails and don’t get to them until after a few days. If you feel like I might have missed an important message, feel free to bump it. It’s probably my fault and I get so many emails that receiving extra bumps costs approximately zero.
  • Google Chat / Hangouts is probably the most mainstream synchronous alternative. It is an OK platform — I trust Google at least a little more, although I think sometimes I’ve had messages skip my Gmail tab and only notify me on mobile, which is not great.
  • If you have my phone number, I can be contacted on Signal, which pretty much every privacy-conscious person I know recommends as the standard for encrypted communications.
  • I’m usually reachable on Telegram, which is… dubiously encrypted, so it doesn’t score that many privacy points, but has stickers.
  • I’m also active on Discord, same username. It’s neither open-source nor a platform that goes out of its way to make privacy guarantees, and also more designed for group communication than individual messaging, but it has a friendly UI and modern featureful messaging (read: emoji reacts), and I’m not aware of any sketchy practices or signs thereof.

If, instead of messaging me, you want to explicitly commit to reading my 2,000-word rants whenever, well — first, wow, I’m flattered, don’t feel compelled to do this; are you sure? Second, I’m going to stop autosharing WordPress posts to Facebook after this one. I probably should have decided this after my last post, but I guess I was hanging on to the concern I might need some place to announce things as publicly as I have the ability to. I’m going to tentatively keep that to Twitter and maybe keep the autoshare from that to Facebook, but that’s a whole other debate and post. Anyway, this blog is still here, and my other blogs are still where they are, and you have a couple of options. WordPress lets you subscribe to this blog via email, but I highly recommend finding an RSS reader you like to subscribe to content in general online. It’s one additional site you have to check, but it has impressive compatibility with most things you can subscribe to. RSS is a fantastic example of the internet’s decentralized open nature producing a lasting standard. Nearly every updating thing online you’ll find — blog, news site, webcomic, podcast — will provide an RSS feed, and if it doesn’t and is popular enough, somebody out there might have written a hack that makes it do that. I personally use The Old Reader for reasons I briefly mentioned after Google Reader shut down, but there are a lot of great options out there. Use your favorite search engine.

That’s all, except for this JelloApocalypse video. Eh.

  1. This might seem like kind of an unusual stance for me since I’m pretty for the free flow of information and against draconian creativity-stunting copyright policies, but directly ripping videos from another platform is not creativity, period, and more often actively malicious because you could have just shared the YouTube link, whereas people who upload random copyrighted stuff to YouTube may at least be motivated by sharing something cool instead of somehow building their brand or profiting off it. This also grinds my gears extra because, even though I’m not much of a creative producer of arts and stuff, I know society consistently undervalues these people. 

  2. It’s not a terrible messaging app — they care enough to add formatting and LaTeX, and Yuttari Dragon is a reasonable stickers pack. 

(note: the commenting setup here is experimental and I may not check my comments often; if you want to tell me something instead of the world, email me!)