I have been feeling quite smug in the last few days. That is, more smug than usual, a certain kind of cultivated perennial smugness is required if you are an academic, but I digress. My disproportionate sense of self-satisfaction comes from the fact that I quit Facebook one year ago. Going by the scandal unleashed by Facebook’s new privacy settings, I would say I made the right decision.

Unlike previous Facebook-related privacy scares, the current affair seems to have legs. The blogosphere and the mainstream media have exploded with analysis of the new privacy setting; my favourite are two staggering visual representations of what has been happening. In the first one, Matt McKeon has gone through default privacy settings throughout Facebook’s history, and has drawn a map of the amount of profile information that is shared to the world. In the second one, the New York Times displays the labyrinthine new privacy settings. The changes have prompted some widespread anti-Facebook sentiment in the technophile classes the likes of which have previously been reserved for people who are cruel to kittens. For example, a group of students in New York have started a project to produce their own privacy-aware social network (adequately named Diaspora).  Even that bandwagon-jumping paragon of institutional rectitude, the European Commission, has criticised the changes. The situation has not been helped by an avalanche of bad news, including a leaked IM exchange where Mark Zuckerberg calls people on the network who trust him “dumb f*cks”.

So, having read that, will you be quitting Facebook as well? Facebook will only change their privacy practices if enough users threaten to leave (as of today, they have hinted that they will do just that). The problem is that as much as I have heard many complaints about Facebook and privacy, I have seen only a few people who have actually quit. There is a lot of talk about migration, and quitting Facebook has become the new “I will start going to the gym”, that nebulous promise you make to yourself but never really intend to fulfil. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this in the last few weeks, and the consensus seems to be that most people are attached to Facebook because they use it to stay in touch with family and friends. Interesting choice of words, because apparently you cannot stay in touch using other communication tools, like Skype, phones or email. Some blogs even offer advice on how to quit Facebook without actually quitting, or even more depressing, Gawker has a list of 10 reasons why people will not quit Facebook even if they want to.

It seems like Facebook is relying precisely on this reluctance to quit. But why such reluctance? This comes back to the question at the heart of the current debate, why do we need Facebook in the first place? What do we use it for? It seems like for most people, it is indeed a matter of “staying in touch” with close friends and family. It is an easy application where to post pictures to people close to you, even if those pictures will be used by the Daily Mail in yet another exposé of ladette culture. On the other hand, for a lot of people, the reason to stay on Facebook may be more mundane, such as being able to play Farmville, or being able to see what their ex is up to. So as usual, we exchange privacy for convenience even if deep down we know that perhaps it is not such a good trade-off. Even if our online persona has little relation to who we are in real life, our online face is often the only presentation card people will ever get from us. Do we want it to be our Facebook persona? Not for me, thankyouverymuch.

So, dear reader, can you quit Facebook too? Do you even want to? Are you even tempted?



geeklawyer · May 15, 2010 at 6:51 am

I id quit Farcebook a couple of days ago. I experienced the same angst you mention. In the end I realised I didnt use FB that much: with Twitter I could still get my social networking fix. There are bits I will miss but not hugely I am more relived to be out of douchebag Zuckerberg's clutches.

I suspect though, that for all the outrage, I will be the only one signing up to the gym.


John H · May 17, 2010 at 11:13 am

I haven't quit and don't plan to, mainly because there are a number of people for whom it's the easiest way to keep in touch with them. However, I've unallowed pretty much every app, locked down the privacy settings, and am being more parsimonious in what I put on there.

That's probably the long-term problem for FB: people will still use it, but only grudgingly and in a mistrustful way.


Ruth · May 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

The only reason I can't quit Facebook is family. It's how I keep in touch with my cousins (except the one who tweets). If it weren't for them, I'd probably drop it altogether. I've deleted almost all the info except pictures and status updates. I plan to delete the remainder and just use it for photo-sharing & occasional updates. I've unfriended over 1/3 of my "friends" (cut out all the acquaintances) and am now down to a bit over 100 people. I could cut it to family & make it more like 30.


Lilian · May 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Near 500 m ppl will be on Facebook soon I hear. That's apparently c 40% of every active Net user on the globe. Given that kind of network effect, FB can't lose. Frankly if a few (or even more than a few) geeks leave, they aren't going to be sorry – Bonneau's study a year back showed that having privacy conscious people using your network actually diminishes its market success (because they sensitise others to risks and show people how to lock down personal data). I'm not saying "You have no privacy get over it" , I'm saying the way to get better privacy control on FB is through regulation (as EC is looking at in ongoing DPD reform process) not expecting the magic market to solve everything by urging teenagers to vote for their equivalent of turkey Xmas, ie, not getting invited to parties by their friends. Look at the Canadian privacy commissioner decision – made more difference to FB privacy across the globe with one regulatory stroke than a thousand FB group protests. (And because it's global software, regulation in one jurisdiction leads to better privacy for all jurisdictions, if the Canadian example is replicated.) As for individual action in this blip time before regulation, I'd suggest ppl'd do better to stay on FB and show their mates how to use the privacy settings than leave and let the less technoliterate sink without help. Plus, they'll never be able to organise their social lives by email, as your own example shows 😛

Me.. I prefer Twitter 🙂


    Andres · May 18, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Social life? I didn't have one even when I was on Facebook 🙂


stopped · September 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm

You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. ~Attributed to both Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi


Quitting Facebook · July 11, 2011 at 1:45 am

The default settings are always going to be on the side of over-sharing. On the other hand the default information on all Facebook profiles is name and date of birth. If you want to add more information you need to change the settings.


Roni Thomas · March 2, 2013 at 3:18 am

I Quit using facebook two days back. Decided to update my 31 days experience of quitting facebook.

After 30 days i will answer to your blog post heading. ronithomas.com/how-stop-using-facebook/

Cutting Edge Privacy: Facebook and Google : Beyond Search · May 17, 2010 at 7:03 am

[…] Read about the latest Math Club folly in “Google Data Admission Angers Europe.” Now flip to “Can You Quit Facebook?” These two outfits seem to be doing pretty much what they want and then scurrying in different […]

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