Leaving Facebook

I’ve had mixed feelings about Facebook for some time. Some talks at the WebSci summer school — and discussions with Rene Pickhardt — have helped me crystallise my thoughts: my previous post describes just how tough it is to understand one’s online audiences, and I’ve definitely struggled with that at times, thinking “Who will read this?” when I write a status update, wondering whether the tone is right, how it will be read. (Yes: I overthink things.)

And that’s the thing: I have 295 ‘friends’ on Facebook at the time of writing this, and I have no idea how many read my feed, what updates are interesting or dull to them, how they perceive our relationship. (Well: obviously I have knowledge about some, of course. But in general…)

I find it hard to handle that network of contacts online. The overhead is high. Some of my contacts on there are the old school friends I’ve lost touch with, or people I met once at a conference. Which is fine, but… what is the purpose of such connections on Facebook? What, if anything, do they want to get out of being connected with me there?

Spiders web of fury

Are you ensnared in the Facebook web?

It’s about more than that, though.

I have been aware of Facebook’s horrific stance on copyright and IPR for pretty much as long as I’ve been on the site. People are notoriously bad at handling areas such as copyright, and the apathy I (and every other active Facebook user!) have felt in this area is symptomatic of that.

I’m also concerned about data mining. It’s at least a few years since I first heard about work showing you can predict people’s sexual orientation, religious and political views from their networks, and such work continues apace. It doesn’t matter what I share on Facebook, my network of contacts implicitly reveals a lot about me.

Of course, my network of contacts also explicitly reveals a lot about me — am I the only person in the world to find being tagged in photos a little weird?

Also, I just don’t trust Facebook.


I was surprised by the extent of people’s responses on Twitter when I idly tweeted my plan:

I instantly got a wave of replies, including:

  • :O no more Clare on FB?! :O
  • What will happen to your events on there?
  • Why would you do such a thing??!!

Facebook is clearly an accepted part of how we live our online lives!

How I use Facebook and what I am leaving behind

I will be leaving behind 295 connections, and although I have mixed feelings about the Facebook platform, the people are important.

Here’s how I use Facebook:

I read status updates from the full set of connections, minus people that frequently post updates that aren’t interesting to me. However — here’s a secret, internet — I have a ‘close friends’ list too. I want to see those people’s updates in detail, to see their photos and exchanges and activity beyond status updates.

This is the bit where I talk about strong ties and weak ties. Facebook supports weak ties: is that worth the compromises with privacy, self-presentation and so forth?

I don’t know. That’s why I’m leaving. I’m not comitting to leaving Facebook forever. I’m leaving to try out life away from Facebook, to see whether the benefits really do outweigh the downsides. It’s a hard question to answer, and a very personal one, too.

Things I’ll miss:

  • seeing the rich material from my ‘close friends’ lists
  • the odd important (or amusing) status updates from people in general
  • event invitations!

I won’t miss being tagged, or overthinking my updates, or feeling uncomfortable about my privacy and my data.

I’ll keep you posted.

Addendum: a few people have asked if I’ll move to Google+. I might: I’m on there, although I’m not fully engaged with it, and meanwhile I’ll continue using my Twitter and LiveJournal accounts. My focus is not “leaving Facebook for X social network” but “leaving Facebook”.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by quirksthemagpie on July 12, 2011 at 14:24

    This is something close to my heart: I nearly didn’t join Facebook in 2006 when I arrived at Soton, I nearly left it while there, I nearly left it after there.

    How important are these ties? I have a collective community I am mostly in touch with through Facebook, and my isolation from this community has made my life feel like a platonic variant on XKCD 352. I am somewhat (possibly) atypical in that I derive significant utility from a large network of weak connections, probably more than I do from a handful of closer ties. That means the Facebook model, unfortunately, works for me.

    If it didn’t, I’d have left years ago…


  2. Its a brave decision. What are you going to do about people putting up pictures of you and you not knowing about it? I can understand why you are doing it but I think for me I’d rather know the enemy and know whats being put up of me rather than not know. Maybe when you come back a super limited profile might do the trick? Will miss you on here!


    • Thanks, Reena. Regarding pictures, I could never control what people post: for all I know there’s a swathe of images on Flickr (or Picasa, or Facebook) that I’m completely unaware of. I’m not certain that’s a good enough reason to stay on Facebook — it’s impossible to monitor the internet anyway!

      Super limited profile is a tempting idea, but I don’t think it’d work. Facebook is insidious: it’s tempting to share information once you’re on there. Besides, the network of my connections would still be exposed, I’d still be exposed to being tagged in things, and my concerns about copyright and privacy remain.

      That said, perhaps in the next while I’ll find that I miss the functionality I was getting from Facebook, and that the advantages of Facebook outweigh the negatives. If so, I’ll return.

      We’ll see.


  3. Well we discussed this. You will receive an video of your leaving process soon 😛


  4. […] already over a week since I deleted my Facebook account: that went fast! Some brief […]


  5. […] further thought on my leaving Facebook: I remarked that as an expat, Facebook was useful for seeing updates from UK friends. I realised […]


  6. […] further thought on my leaving Facebook: I remarked yesterday that as an expat, Facebook was useful for seeing updates from UK friends. I […]


  7. […] prior posts on this topic: initial departure, reflections one week in, realising I miss close […]


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