Quitting Facebook is pointless; challenging them to do better is not

I’ve been critiquing moves made by Facebook for a long time and I’m pretty used to them being misinterpreted. When I lamented the development of the News Feed, many people believed that I thought that the technology was a failure and that it wouldn’t be popular. This was patently untrue. I was bothered by it precisely because I knew that it would be popular, precisely because people love to gossip and learn about others, often to their own detriment. It was hugely disruptive and, when it launched, users lacked the controls necessary to really manage the situation effectively. Facebook responded with controls and people were able to find a way of engaging with Facebook with the News Feed as a given. But people were harmed in the transition.

Last week, I offered two different critiques of the moves made by Facebook, following up on my SXSW talk. Both have been misinterpreted in fascinating ways. Even news agencies are publishing statements like: “Microsoft wants Facebook to be regulated as a utility.” WTF? Seriously? Le sigh. (For the record, I’m not speaking on behalf of my employer nor do I want regulation; I think that it’s inevitable and I think that we need to contend with it. Oh, and I don’t think that the regulation that we’ll see will at all resemble the ways in which utilities are regulated. I was talking about utilities because that’s how Facebook frames itself. But clearly, most folks missed that.) Misinterpretations are frustrating because they make me feel as though I’m doing a bad job of communicating what I think is important. For this, I apologize to all of you. I will try to do better.

With this backdrop in mind, I want to enumerate six beliefs that I have that I want to flesh out in this post in light of discussions about how “everyone” is leaving Facebook:

  1. I do not believe that people will (or should) leave Facebook because of privacy issues.
  2. I do not believe that the tech elites who are publicly leaving Facebook will affect on the company’s numbers; they are unrepresentative and were not central users in the first place.
  3. I do not believe that an alternative will emerge in the next 2-5 years that will “replace” Facebook in any meaningful sense.
  4. I believe that Facebook will get regulated and I would like to see an open discussion of what this means and what form this takes.
  5. I believe that a significant minority of users are at risk because of decisions Facebook has made and I think that those of us who aren’t owe it to those who are to work through these issues.
  6. I believe that Facebook needs to start a public dialogue with users and those who are concerned ASAP (and Elliot Schrage’s Q&A doesn’t count).

As I stated in my last post, I think that Facebook plays a central role in the lives of many and I think that it is unreasonable for anyone to argue that they should “just leave” if they’re not happy. This is like saying that people should just leave their apartments if they’re not happy with their landlord or just leave their spouse because they’re not happy with a decision or just leave their job if they’re not happy with their boss. Life is more complicated than a series of simplified choices and we are always making calculated decisions, balancing costs and benefits. We stay with our jobs, apartments, and spouses even when things get messy because we hope to rectify problems. And those with the most to gain from Facebook are the least likely to leave, even if they also have the most to lose.

In the last few weeks, a handful of well known digerati have proudly announced that they’ve departed from Facebook. Most of these individuals weren’t that engaged in Facebook as users in the first place. I say this as someone who would lose very little (outside of research knowledge) from leaving. I am not a representative user. I barely share on the site for a whole host of personal and professional reasons. (And because I don’t have a life.) None of my friends would miss me if I did leave. In fact, they’d probably be grateful for the disappearance of my tweets. That means that me deciding to leave will have pretty much no impact on the network. This is true for many of the people who I’ve watched depart. At best, they’re content broadcasters. But people have other ways of consuming their broadcasting. So their departure is meaningless. These are not the people that Facebook is worried about losing.

People will not leave Facebook en masse, even if a new site were to emerge. Realistically, if that were enough, they could go to MySpace or Orkut or Friendster or Tribe. But they won’t. And not just because those sites are no longer “cool.” They won’t because they’ve invested in Facebook and they’re still hoping that Facebook will get its act together. Changing services is costly, just like moving apartments or changing jobs or breaking up in general. The deeper the relationship, the harder it is to simply walk away. And the relationship that Facebook has built with many of its users is very very very deep. When transition costs are high, people work hard to change the situation so that they don’t have to transition. This is why people are complaining, this is why they are speaking up. And it’s really important that those in power listen to what it is that people are upset about. The worst thing that those in power can do is ignore what’s going on, waiting for it to go away. This is a bad idea, not because people will walk away, but because they will look to greater authorities of power to push back. This is why Facebook’s failure to address what’s going on invites regulation.

Facebook has gotten quite accustomed to upset users. In “The Facebook Effect,” David Kirkpatrick outlines how Facebook came to expect that every little tweak would set off an internal rebellion. He documented how most of the members of the group “I AUTOMATICALLY HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK HOME PAGE” were employees of Facebook whose frustration with user rebellion was summed up by the group’s description: “I HATE CHANGE AND EVERYTHING ASSOCIATED WITH IT. I WANT EVERYTHING TO REMAIN STATIC THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE LIFE.” Kirkpatrick quotes Zuckerberg as saying, “The biggest thing is going to be leading the user base through the changes that need to continue to happen… Whenever we roll out any major product there’s some sort of backlash.” Unfortunately, Facebook has become so numb to user complaints that it doesn’t see the different flavors of them any longer.

What’s happening around privacy is not simply user backlash. In fact, users are far less upset about what’s going on than most of us privileged techno-elites. Why? Because even with the New York Times writing article after article, most users have no idea what’s happening. I’m reminded of this every time that I sit down with someone who doesn’t run in my tech circles. And I’m reminded that they care every time I sit down and walk them through their privacy settings. The disconnect between average users and the elite is what makes this situation different, what makes this issue messier. Because the issue comes down to corporate transparency, informed consent, and choice. As long as users believe that their content is private and have no idea how public it is, they won’t take to the streets. A disappearance of publicity for these issues is to Facebook’s advantage. But it’s not to user’s advantage. Which is precisely why I think that it’s important that the techno-elite and the bloggers and the journalists keep covering this topic. Because it’s important that more people are aware of what’s going on. Unfortunately, of course, we also have to contend with the fact that most people being screwed don’t speak English and have no idea this conversation is even happening. Especially when privacy features are only explained in English.

In documenting Zuckerberg’s attitudes about transparency, Kirkpatrick sheds light on one of the weaknesses of his philosophy: Zuckerberg doesn’t know how to resolve the positive (and in his head inevitable) outcomes of transparency with the possible challenges of surveillance. As is typical in the American tech world, most of the conversation about surveillance centers on the government. But Kirkpatrick highlights another outcome of surveillance with a throwaway example that sends shivers down my spine: “When a father in Saudi Arabia caught his daughter interacting with men on Facebook, he killed her.” This is precisely the kind of unintended consequence that motivates me to speak loudly even though I’m privileged enough to not face these risks. Statistically, death is an unlikely outcome of surveillance. But there are many other kinds of side effects that are more common and also disturbing: losing one’s job, losing one’s health insurance, losing one’s parental rights, losing one’s relationships, etc. Sometimes, these losses will be because visibility makes someone more accountable. But sometimes this will occur because of misinterpretation and/or overreaction. And the examples keep on coming.

I am all in favor of people building what they believe to be alternatives to Facebook. I even invested in Diaspora because I’m curious what will come of that system. But I don’t believe that Diaspora is a Facebook killer. I do believe that there is a potential for Diaspora to do something interesting that will play a different role in the ecosystem and I look forward to seeing what they develop. I’m also curious about the future of peer-to-peer systems in light of the move towards the cloud, but I’m not convinced that decentralization is a panacea to all of our contemporary woes. Realistically, I don’t think that most users around the globe will find a peer-to-peer solution worth the hassle. The cost/benefit analysis isn’t in their favor. I’m also patently afraid that a system like Diaspora will be quickly leveraged for child pornography and other more problematic uses that tend to emerge when there isn’t a centralized control system. But innovation is important and I’m excited that a group of deeply passionate developers are being given a chance to see what they can pull off. And maybe it’ll be even more fabulous than we can possibly imagine, but I’d bet a lot of money that it won’t put a dent into Facebook. Alternatives aren’t the point.

Facebook has embedded itself pretty deeply into the ecosystem, into the hearts and minds of average people. They love the technology, but they’re not necessarily prepared for where the company is taking them. And while I’m all in favor of giving users the choice to embrace the opportunities and potential of being highly visible, of being a part of a transparent society, I’m not OK with throwing them off the boat just to see if they can swim. Fundamentally, my disagreement with Facebook’s approach to these matters is a philosophical one. Do I want to create more empathy, more tolerance in a global era? Of course. But I’m not convinced that sudden exposure to the world at large gets people there and I genuinely fear that possible backlash that can emerge. I’m not convinced that this won’t enhance a type of extremism that is manifesting around the globe as we speak.

Screaming about the end of Facebook is futile. And I think that folks are wasting a lot of energy telling others to quit or boycott to send a message. Doing so will do no such thing. It’ll just make us technophiles look like we’re living on a different planet. Which we are. Instead, I think that we should all be working to help people understand what’s going on. I love using Reclaim Privacy to walk through privacy settings with people. While you’re helping your family and friends understand their settings, talk to them and record their stories. I want to hear average people’s stories, their fears, their passions. I want to hear what privacy means to them and why they care about it. I want to hear about the upside and downside of visibility and the challenges introduced by exposure. And I want folks inside Facebook to listen. Not because this is another user rebellion, but because Facebook’s decisions shape the dynamics of so many people’s lives. And we need to help make those voices heard.

I also want us techno-elites to think hard and deep about the role that regulation may play and what the consequences may be for all of us. In thinking about regulation, always keep Larry Lessig’s arguments in “Code” in mind. Larry argued that there are four points of regulation for all change: the market, the law, social norms, and architecture (or code). Facebook’s argument is that social norms have changed so dramatically that what they’re doing with code aligns with the people (and conveniently the market). I would argue that they’re misreading social norms but there’s no doubt that the market and code work in their favor. This is precisely why I think that law will get involved and I believe that legal regulators don’t share Facebook’s attitudes about social norms. This is not a question of if but a question of when, in what form, and at what cost. And I think that all of us who are living and breathing this space should speak up about how we think this should play out because if we just pretend like it won’t happen, not only are we fooling ourselves, but we’re missing an opportunity to shape the future.

I realize that Elliot Schrage attempted to communicate with the public through his NYTimes responses. And I believe that he failed. But I’m still confused about why Zuckerberg isn’t engaging publicly about these issues. (A letter to Robert Scoble doesn’t count.) In each major shitstorm, we eventually got a blog post from Zuckerberg outlining his views. Why haven’t we received one of those? Why is the company so silent on these matters? In inviting the users to vote on the changes to the Terms of Service, Facebook mapped out the possibility of networked engagement, of inviting passionate users to speak back and actively listening. This was a huge success for Facebook. Why aren’t they doing this now? I find the silence to be quite eerie. I cannot imagine that Facebook isn’t listening. So, Facebook, if you are listening, please start a dialogue with the public. Please be transparent if you’re asking us to be. And please start now, not when you’ve got a new set of features ready.

Regardless of how the digerati feel about Facebook, millions of average people are deeply wedded to the site. They won’t leave because the cost/benefit ratio is still in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering because of decisions being made about them and for them. What’s at stake now is not whether or not Facebook will become passe, but whether or not Facebook will become evil. I think that we owe it to the users to challenge Facebook to live up to a higher standard, regardless of what we as individuals may gain or lose from their choices. And we owe it to ourselves to make sure that everyone is informed and actively engaged in a discussion about the future of privacy. Zuckerberg is right: “Given that the world is moving towards more sharing of information, making sure that it happens in a bottom-up way, with people inputting their information themselves and having control over how their information interacts with the system, as opposed to a centralized way, through it being tracked in some surveillance system. I think it’s critical for the world.” Now, let’s hold him to it.

Update: Let me be clear… Anyone who wants to leave Facebook is more than welcome to do so. Participation is about choice. But to assume that there will be a mass departure is naive. And to assume that a personal boycott will have a huge impact is also naive. But if it’s not working for you personally, leave. And if you don’t think it’s healthy for your friends to participate, encourage them to do so too. Just do expect a mass exodus to fix the problems that we’re facing.

Update: Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post reiterating their goals and saying that changes will be coming. I wish he would’ve apologized for December or made any allusions to the fact that people were exposed or that they simply can’t turn off all that is now public. It’s not just about simplifying the available controls.


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56 thoughts on “Quitting Facebook is pointless; challenging them to do better is not

  1. anonannie

    I think you’re dead wrong about people leaving FB. I know plenty of people who’ve
    left, myself included. We’re enjoying emails, phone conversations and lunches again,
    without the FB B.S. If another platform becomes available which isn’t a corporate
    shill, we’ll think about coming back. But ’til then, you’re off your rocka if you
    think people haven’t had ENOUGH. I could care less about changing FB.
    Fool me once, that’s on “I’m CEO… Bitch”. Fool me twice, I’m out.

  2. Ram

    Quitting Facebook is an effective way of challenging Facebook to do better. It is a mistake to assume that one precludes the other.

  3. Jay Fienberg

    Great post. I wonder though if this situation isn’t challenging the techie elites: while some may be leaving Facebook as an expression of their status (“we are above this”), I wonder if those who feel regret for promoting hegemonic websites like Facebook have to leave to change their own ways.

    Facebook is dependent on techie elites in some ways–a lot people who work ther eare in that same techie status sphere. And, while a small exodus of Facebook users won’t take the steam out of Facebook’s user base, it will eventually hit them internally–e.g., as it’s finally hitting Yahoo.

    But, in any case the techie elites (myself included, as applicable) who have promoted how “cool it is” to conform to digital sheep herds of Flickr, Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, etc., need to be challeged to do better–leaving all of those services, and changing their story altogether, might be a useful change.

  4. Clint H

    This is like saying that people should just leave their apartments if they’re not happy with their landlord or just leave their spouse because they’re not happy with a decision or just leave their job if they’re not happy with their boss. Life is more complicated than a series of simplified choices and we are always making calculated decisions, balancing costs and benefits.

    I think this is about more than just being ‘unhappy’. If my landlord invaded my privacy, or if my spouse did everything in his/her power to abuse my trust, or if my boss showed total disregard for an agreement that we signed in good faith, then yes, I would leave. Without hesitation. Facebook, in my opinion, has done all of these things.

    You are right that changing services is costly. It is made even costlier by the fact that Facebook does not allow other services to integrate with it, even though these other services allow Facebook in. Facebook is counting on this. Facebook is also counting on people continuing to use the service at any cost because it has become such an integral part of their everyday communication. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Facebook has become more bold in their changes as their market share increases.

    Regardless of your position – whether you are a Facebook Quitter, a Facebook Survivor, or a reduced-profile Facebooker – it is imperative that you continue to educate those around you about Facebook privacy settings and possible implications. If you believe so strongly about the perils of Facebook that you quit it altogether, then you should be doing everything your power to tell people why you quit: it’s not enough just to say “I’m out, it’s no longer my problem.”

  5. Hugh

    In each major shitstorm, we eventually got a blog post from Zuckerberg outlining his views. Why haven’t we received one of those?

    He has an Op-Ed in today’s (or yesterday’s, or tomorrow’s?) WaPo.

    The Times piece/iv with Schrage was just embarrassing. He sounded arrogant as hell and made the company seem like they weren’t even listening to complaints.

  6. Ed Daniel

    I had the fortune, or perhaps mis-fortune, to get an early insight into the revolution of social networking via participation in an online business social network in the UK at the beginning of the last decade. One of many things I was able to learn is that the problems and challenges we face in the real world are very easily mirrored in the online world. More so, as many have commented over the years, the internet amplifies the positives and negatives of human behaviour. Fundamentally it’s all very political I believe…

    What I am most concerned about with centralised networks such as Facebook is the benefit they bring to the owners that is not shared with the members – i.e. data-mining for members usage is minimal i.e. basic search compared with what the owners are able to perform and just like the data issues people discuss regarding Google there is a very significant similarity with these social networks.

    The only way to dis-empower the social network owners is to move to a de-centralised model, a peer to peer model. Now sure, as you note above, there is a challenge for ‘jane public’ to use and administer a p2p solution today however, again as you note above, the progress in cloud computing (more so the popularising of cloud computing and software-as-a-service such as Gmail) is paving the way for providers to offer p2p social network apps that are pre-configured and maintained by the provider thus removing the technical administrative burden. Coupled with open standards and data portability the issue of lock-in is also removed. Every owner of a social network business is fighting to avoid commoditisation of their proposition and all play a fine balance between offering the ability to integrate your data with external services while maintaining a strategy to hold onto their users leading to crowd envy amongst social network owners.

    If Facebook was a non-profit that actually worked for the users and shared revenues it would be a much more powerful force, sadly this is not the case thus I don’t want to see Facebook fixed, I want to see a better alternative that does not give the keys to the kingdom to a single entity as this leads to dictatorship and we all know what that means in the physical, offline world.

    Let’s hope Diaspora can forge fruitful partnerships with cloud service providers such as Google, Amazon and others to help them achieve a go-to-market solution – along the way they should explore many ideas… one of which is how to empower the user to opt-in to data-sharing revenue models (that consequently will influence the liquidity of tomorrow’s consumer market-data trading).

    I and others called out the p2p solution as being the way forward many years ago – it’s now just a case of allowing the community to divine the solution and for entrepreneurs to bring it to market. Diaspora has plenty of pre-existing knowledge to tap to help them give it their best shot and I very much hope they and all the other entities exploring open p2p social network solutions will succeed in this endeavour.


  7. Mike

    If I quit, Facebook immediately becomes less valuable to my friends. The only value Facebook has to the vast vast majority of its users, is it’s ubiquity.

  8. Debra B.

    To reclaim privacy, I had to remove information that was going to be exploited by Facebook’s “Community” pages. Now acquaintances I’ve trusted over time know absolutely nothing about me. People can say all they want to “just change your privacy settings, DUH,” but the outcome leaves me frustrated and sad. Hence I haven’t been on Facebook since the changes, other than to “go into hiding.”

  9. Mark

    I left Facebook for two reasons.

    1) The only way to avoid sharing personal information publicly was to remove it. This includes location and employment networks, it includes biographical likes, it includes profile pictures, etc. The reason I continued to use Facebook was to share this type of information how I wanted and with whom I wanted – just as it says in the Facebook principles http://www.facebook.com/principles.php. Facebook took that usefulness away and I no longer had a benefit. To come to that conclusion, I had to really think it through.

    2) The changes over the past several months, beginning with picture, name, networks, location, etc back in November/December 2009, compromised the principles Facebook published and had accepted by its user base. The continuing actions that do not have integrity with these principles are indicators that Facebook will only use those principles for Marketing and will not adhere to them. It is not over – more will be publicly exposed until Facebook is completely transparent with zero control over privacy (except, do not share what you do not want shown publicly).

    As always, great work. I am very glad and grateful you do what you do.

  10. Wogan

    So, basically, your argument is, “it’s entrenched, let’s not uproot it, for fear of people having to adjust again?”.

    Alternatives to Facebook were entrenched before, and people made the switch because Facebook was easier to use. There’s nothing to suggest that a new service might displace even Facebook for ease of use and simplicity. Maybe it’s Diaspora, maybe it’s not.

    No, I didn’t use Facebook heavily, and yes, I’m quitting. I’m sorry, but there’s something about the (reckless) ways Facebook goes about these things that made me lose my trust in them. Facebook is pushing for the vision of a transparent and tolerant world – a vision I agree with – but they’re seemingly blind to the intolerant realities of life in 2010.

    On top of that, Facebook’s open App ecosystem has allowed a proliferous amount of junk into our streams, and they’ve opened many more vectors for social engineering attacks than they’ve closed. I understand the need for revenue, but I wish it didn’t have to come at such a cost.

    And maybe, yes, Facebook represents the leading edge of mass social media. Given the amount of personal and financial information people post online, it’s probably about time the Internet as a whole was regulated to some degree, along with the gatekeepers of information and sharing – Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    We can’t always trust our security to corporations and boards that don’t have our interests first in mind. When appeasing the userbase becomes secondary to running profitably, something is going to give.

    ~ Wogan

  11. maplestar

    If I leave Facebook, it won’t be because I have any illusions that my actions will in any way help bend Facebook into submission; it’ll be because I don’t want to take the time to make sure that Facebook only does what I want it to for me, and because I don’t want to spend the time over and over again to see what new way Facebook wants to exploit me this month. When that burden outweighs the benefits I get from Facebook in connecting to friends, then I’ll be out the door.

  12. Aleister Worcestershire

    Pft… Boring angsty article. I think that people should challenge themselves & their friends to find — or build — new and exciting alternatives to the boring main-stream super-sites that dominate the web. WOTD: fragmentation

  13. TaosJohn

    Quitting Facebook is NOT pointless. It sucks, management is immoral, nobody needs it, I hated it, and I quit! And BOY DO I FEEL GREAT!!! You know, just a few years ago, people had real friends, not fake ones, and Facebook didn’t exist… Whenever I see commenters on various websites logging in w/ Facebook, I feel sorry for them. Websites that implement the “like” buttons and festoon their pages with umpteen social media badges look sad and shallow. I spend less and less time at them.

    An entire industry built on self-justifying fluff and froth. There’s not a centered jackass in the bunch.

  14. Alan

    There’s no reason at all to help them in a supposed challenge. Facebook is based on lies and dissimulation.I mean toward the end users.
    I won’t challenge them to do better, it’s another lie. This time you are just asking pple to work for free for Facebook, it ‘s both a nonsense and totally immoral. Let Mark Zuckerberg and fb face their responsibilities for once, and alone. Arrogance and lack of respect have still a price to pay and there’s nothing “Rock’n roll” in cheating pple .

    It’s all about responsibility, we can’t ask ppl to help a company warned ten thousand times, it’s not precisely like if it was the first time…
    Now we’ll face efforts in… communication ? ( aka manipulation )Again ?

    One point highlighted by Clint H is critical “If you believe so strongly about the perils of Facebook that you quit it altogether, then you should be doing everything your power to tell people why you quit: it’s not enough just to say “I’m out, it’s no longer my problem.”

    Without the shadow of the doubt, because all the fuzz around fb will be totally pointless, if we don’t explain why.


  15. Emily Francis

    Facebook is built on lies, and profits from continual deception. Classic bait and switch. Promise privacy, then once people have invested time and exposed themselves, change the rules to make even more money off of them. Marketers need to be on it right now, given that they claim >100 million USers on the site. But once you give up personal data on FB it is forever. The next big thing will be here soon enough. People used to believe MySpace had locked itself in as the winner. I’ve left FB and now just use a fake name account to monitor it and use it for marketing. (No one ever wants to discuss how many of those FB accounts are multiples or just people marketing to each other.)

    Life after FB is just fine. It’s only people trying to make money from FB who argue that no one should leave.

  16. Jacob

    I nominate Danah Boyd as the Most Annoying Person in the World of Social Networking at the moment.

  17. Bill Bushey

    I think you are right now how people should not leave Facebook as a protest or message to its management. A site that has 400 million users is not going to be affected by a few thousand people leaving. As you have said, the best think that techies can do is spread the word on what is going on, and Facebook is an excellent tool for sharing information with a social group. So really, it doesn’t make sense to quit using what may be the best tool techies have available for creating a solution to this problem.

    As for the peer-to-peer social networking sites – frankly, I don’t see how they will solve the problem. I hope they do, and the nerd in me wants to play with some of these tools (by the way, how come nobody is talking about already existing platforms like elgg?) However, there are two issues. One is that a system built on decentralized peer-to-peer technology is not going to be a suitable platform for non-tech users. The hassle will be too great for people to host their own installations, people may be less likely of even owning a generative machine that can host an installation, and the limitations of Internet connectivity speeds (especially upload), plus the introduced lag, will make the system a much slower performer than a centralized or enterprise platform such as Facebook (for an example of the slowness of a peer-to-peer based network compared to non peer-to-peer see Tor.)

    The other issue is that, if people aren’t going to host the p2p installations, than the cloud will (?). I feel like cloud based installations of p2p platforms misses the point of a p2p social network. If I run my own installation on my computer then I own the hardware that is processing and storing my data. Thus, I have considerable legal power over my data. However, if my installation is in the cloud, now the company that provides the could service owns the hardware, and they have considerable power over my data. Considering that cloud services have the same economies of scale as social networking services, I think we will be in a similar situation – a monopoly on service and a disconnect between those with power over data and those whose lives are represented and affected by that data. So to reiterate. I don’t think that cloud served p2p platforms will be a solution.

  18. Lilly

    I find your rhetoric profoundly disempowering. Social movements and social pressure doesn’t happen only from everyone marching to the beat of one drum. I’m sure more moderate feminists told radical lesbian separatists that their actions were pointless too but the movement needed all these different ways of acting to build the solidarities and arguments that it did.

    I think you might be reacting to tech elites who are presuming that because they quit, they will be taste leaders. I think that is crap. However, quitting is NOT point less because:
    1) As anonannie said, it actually creates time for other modes of sociality. Making those other forms, in some cases by going back to straight up talking on the phone and in others, playing and experimenting (as my lab did by making LUCIbook with whiteboards). Quitting, then, is an opening to a set of experiments. But you don’t *have* to quit to experiment.
    2) If quitting is meaningful and feels good to some people, why deny them that? Why slam it and call it pointless?
    3) Quitting seems, to me, a better alternative than hoping FB gets its act together, changes its corporate culture, and starts actually being responsible and responsive. It doesn’t even have to be an anti-corporate mobilization. Frankly, Google and Twitter are amazing at being responsive and simple to understand compared to Facebook, and they are right there right now, ready to use.
    I’m no corporate purist, but too many of my interactions were going through Facebook and I wanted to see if there were other ways.

    Even if my quitting facebook does not make facebook change it’s ways, it makes me and my friends feel great and it makes facebook less of my problem. Quitting facebook did hurt (maybe I’m not just a broadcaster), but it has also been a win for me. I’ve gotten more calls, visits, and SMSes from friends than ever before. Instead of keeping *tabs on me*, friends actually keep *in touch* with me in a mutually co-present way.

    The point of quitting wasn’t just to stick it to facebook. It was to simplify my life and ditch things that were making things hard and complicated.

    A final note. I’m a little worried that setting up this argument as one that figures tech elites vs non-tech elites leads us to some problems. It’s almost like your post figures the non-tech elites as a subaltern who cannot speak. If someone reads or comments on your blog, they are automatically the tech-elite and their frustrations don’t count because they’re not those of the real masses. But you’re the only spokesperson for the non-elite we have since, again as readers, you’ve negated our experience by rendering it as essentially different than those of the sublatern. Can the techie subaltern speak? You have a unique opportunity to make your blog somewhere where these voices that you summarize and cite can actually speak out in their own words, without your paraphrases. I’m not saying it would be a panacea, but it would be an interesting experiment with authority and voice in this debate.

  19. zephoria Post author

    Lilly – my frustration is that the blogosphere is filled with techies talking about how the “right” response should be to quit. This is what I get in the comments of my other posts, in the emails that I’m getting from people. In short: “stop complaining and just quit already.” My point in writing this post was to resist that. As I wrote in my update, I don’t care if people quit for their own reasons. That’s the whole point of choice. What bothers me is the folks floating around saying that quitting is the only mechanism of resistance. And what angers me is the tech folks who think that they’re such influencers that their choice to quit will force Facebook to address these issues. I’m also frustrated that a lot of people aren’t actually telling their stories because when they open their mouth, they’re being told to just quit. Quitting has become the only acceptable form of resistance in Twitter and the blogosphere and that’s not OK with me. It’s also silencing the reasons why people are staying and the fact that most people will stay, regardless of what we think. I also think that speaking up and speaking loud is going to be much more effective than just quitting and forgetting about it all. Because there are a lot of users who will be affected by these decisions.

  20. Jim

    Ironically you can use the Open Book website to look for “quitting facebook” and “leaving facebook” to see that it’s not just the digerati that are skeezed out by Facebook’s privacy debacle.[1]

    Are over ten thousand people leaving (if you believe Quit Facebook Day’s sign ups) going to make much of a dent in their astronomical sign up rates? No. probably not.

    However, other sites have also had meteoric rises and colossal falls. Myspace still has millions of users, but how many people think it is still a rising star? How about Xanga before it. Network effects from a large (if not mass) exodus will eventually kick in.

    The question is, when?

    [1] Open Book is an in your face illustration of the problems with Facebook’s privacy stance using searches on public FB status updates.

  21. Matt Perez

    You’re not “doing a bad job of communicating.” Quite the opposite. But misinterpretations and turning any subject into a horse race “sells” more copy than just stating the facts or honestly critiquing an argument such as yours.

    Keep up the excellent work and being on the look out for these injustices for us all.

  22. Todd Sieling

    I have to admire your optimism, danah. For myself, I chose to leave Facebook a couple weeks ago when the new settings were rolled out. It’s been one abuse too many of the trust I put in them to run the service responsibly, so I’m done believing that they’re ‘trying to do better’.

    Facebook have a belief that the member base is their experimental zone, that they can put any kind of stimulus onto them and then test the response. They seem willing to give themselves a pass on damage caused by sudden and radical changes in the service, so long as they offer the confessional ‘we got it wrong and will try to make it right.’

    It’s an extreme comparison, but it really starts to sound like an abusive spouse who keeps saying ‘baby I’ve changed’ and then goes back to the same behaviour. For my participation, we’ve gone past what can be forgiven.

  23. Mike

    Facebook absolutely should be regulated. Diaspora is the social networking equivalent of white flight: a small group of elites with the time, money and/or skills creates a sanctuary which is really only accessible to them, and excludes the vast majority.

  24. Lilly

    Thanks for your response, danah. I do hope to hear more voices in this debate as well. You seem really well-positioned to make something like that happen. CNN did a story on facebook last sunday where they had their i-reporters — here, college students on webcams — talk about what they thought of the debates. Both of the stories were about why they didn’t feel like they could quit, but that they were bothered with what was going on. I think assuming one cannot quit, however, is an opening to some discussions about assumptions about power relations, about what people feel they need to do to get hired at a time of extreme job insecurity, etc. The sound bites on CNN were too short to trace out how facebook’s deep relationship connects to these broader questions of making a living in America today.

  25. Claudia Putnam

    How do you challenge FB to do better if there’s no danger of people leaving? You already mentioned that they’d already grown numb to the backlash–precisely because people had protested, FB had not responded, and people had not left. People DID leave MySpace, because FB provided a better alternative. And even when people didn’t think FB was better (a lot of people thought FB was kind of the suburbs–ie, too much white space and organization), they left because their friends did, and if they wanted to be where the party was, they had to be on FB. If someone provides a better alternative to FB, people will leave that too, and their friends will follow. No one has come forward because FB had it nailed for a while. But all FB has to do is make some dumb decisions, become vulnerable, and then it’s worthwhile for someone to come up with something else.

    I’m not saying they will, or that FB won’t come back and be better. But without the danger of people leaving, there’s no effective challenge.

    Also, what do you mean by deeply wedded to the site? We have our pictures up and stuff? Pictures that we already also have on our hard drives? That we could just as easily copy over to some other site? And that all our friends have already looked at anyway, so who really cares if we start over?

    I think we’d get over a move to another networking site in …. oh, I don’t know, about as long as it took us to adjust to each of FB’s changes to the homepage. What was that, really…24 hours? A week?

  26. zephoria Post author

    Lilly – I couldn’t agree with you more. And I would *love* to hear your analysis of power relations. Love, love, love to hear it!

  27. Sean Loiselle

    You equate Facebook to shelter, marriage, and employment. It is none of those things. It is a modern frivolity. It is a nicety. It is not a pillar of a culture, nor is it a necessity.

  28. Frank Paynter

    For me it’s not about privacy. I can manage that, TYVM. What it is about is the limiting architecture, the gift my friends and I give facebook when our conversations are stored away on their servers, the greater gift we give them in terms of data for social network analysis. The marketing/ad revenue/third party cookie stuff is a pain. Targeted ads can be a little disquieting; but, in the final analysis–for me–it’s a matter of personal bandwidth and aesthetics. That blue and white three-column lockstep that all facebook users are trapped in is ugly and boring. What they do to pictures is awful. The character limits they impose on comments are stultifying. The numbers game they play is embarrassing: half a billion members? There’s so much to say about that, about what it means and what it doesn’t.

    Mark Elliot’s presentation, “Confidentiality and Disclosure in Social Network Data,” gestures toward the “privacy” issue and I recommend it, but the question of the facebook’s privatization of web-space is broader and deeper than all that. Stay or go, but if you’re adding value to the facebook, consider whose pockets you’re lining.

  29. Natalie Hanson

    Thanks for the post, danah. Among other things, I didn’t realize that the privacy instructions were only in English. I’m not terribly surprised that Zuckerberg is explaining without apologizing – he would just be opening himself up for attack if he took an apologetic stance now.

    I agree that resistance should take many forms … if only the submissive or unaware stay on FB, who will protect my mom and my mother-in-law by speaking up? 🙂

    Readers of this post who are still using FB might find this new utility of interest:

  30. macbeach

    I don’t see how you support the notion that very few people will leave, or the notion that Facebook is destined to ever greater success, to the point of needing to be regulated.

    Before Facebook there was a very popular and growing MySpace. And Orkut, very popular in India and Brazil (even now). If there is a special feature that Facebook has that the others are not capable of duplicating (or improving on) I don’t know what it would be. MySpace now gives every user an e-mail box. A real one, that can be e-mail to from anywhere. What a concept! Orkut allows users to save photos and videos and they are cross pollenated from Picasa and Youtube. Almost everyone’s photo service saves pictures at full resolution. Facebook scrunches them down to postage stamp size before even uploading. Facebook’s servers are often painfully slow and their programming errors reek of zero testing.

    The combination of shortcomings in the Facebook service itself as well as the many individuals and companies out there with higher standards (ethically and otherwise) tells me there is still plenty of room for Facebook to be upended. Read the comments attached to the Zuckerberg Washington Post Editorial. They are almost universally negative, and quite hostile in tone. The only thing that saves Facebook from a mass exodus is the general apathy and ignorance of a large portion of it’s user base (just the sort of people advertisers are after you think?)

    It has already been suggested that Facebook’s “hockey stick” growth pattern was getting ready to plateau, having grabbed most of the US market share it is going to get and there being much less interest in the rest of the world in a US-centric social network. While the “boycott” itself may not be all that effective, it’s small effects, coupled with a natural slowdown in the uptake might certainly make an impression on some people. Horror stories of Facebook stalkers, identity theft, and the companies own sloppy programming efforts are now suddenly front page news. The notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity is oversold. The same negative-mindshare effect that causes people to now hold their nose as they confess to running Windows may take effect in the Facebook user base and in fact may already have. The same people who convinced friends and family to drop their AOL e-mail addresses in favor of Gmail, may eventually shame the masses into moving off of Facebook, which I now refer to as the Darwin Awards for Social Networking. If you use Facebook, you are an accident waiting to happen.

  31. Lilly

    Well, maybe not a deep analysis, but a blog post perhaps. I’m deep in my diss topic proposing and this facebook thing is my side obsessing. I’ll let you know when I write something. 🙂

  32. Wogan

    @Sean Loiselle: No, *communication* is essential, Facebook has made itself useful and ubiquitous, and is therefore a large influence. For <5% of the global human population.

    Something just occurred to me. Yes, Facebook's done a lot of work, and enough pushing in the right direction might make them truly open and free and unevil. Noble goal. Trouble is, the kind of people who care enough to push are probably the kind of people quitting right now.

    The people that *don't* want to push are the large masses sitting on the network, unbudging, hoping for a miracle. It's as if no matter what we do, there'll be no mobilizing them into action. And no, a Facebook group is not action.

    While thousands of people quitting might not dent Facebook's numbers, they might dent Facebook's *credibility*. Opinions have changed over a lot less, and the mainstream media is helping, with all the leaked Zuckerberg IM conversations and privacy scares and court dates. They might make people truly think twice before signing up – and for the quitters, that could be considered a victory.

    ~ Wogan

  33. Don

    Just a quick thought on P2P options …

    I sort-of see the opportunity with systems like Diaspora being the ability to segment the larger social network into smaller “trust” zones [much like our *real* social networks].

    Not everyone needs to run their own server. I can set one up for a group of friends and family who trust me. Maybe a local school creates one for it’s students and their families. Etc.

    I think that the real power of this model would be the ability to federate these small systems with each other [forming a larger, networked, system] without having to add another layer of trust.

  34. Oren Tsur

    It’s hard to quit if you don’t have an account to begin with, but I agree with others that massive quiting (or avoiding any activity) will make the impact.

  35. Mari Smith

    danah – you are my shero!! I agree with all six of your points here 100% hands-down. Quitting is just not the right answer at all. I’m in for the long-haul.

    Facebook has become all-too-pervasive, helpful and useful to just dump it because of some upsets. Facebook has helped us go from “six degrees of separation to one or two.” I’m certain there have been more family and school reunions in the past four years than the previous forty, because of Facebook. More business is being done because of Facebook… for both large and small companies, and solopreneurs. An entire industry has sprung up.

    Yes, this could all sound unappealing to those individuals who have been directly affected by privacy issues, or the morass of Community Pages, for example. But, like you, I really believe we must speak up louder, make it clear what exactly it is we *want.* Robert Scoble is doing a great job of this too and keeps challenging Zuckerberg.

    I started checking out OneSocialWeb.org and am keeping an eye on Diaspora – likely they’ll gain traction and others like them. But, Facebook is just far too appealing and lonnnng established to be “overtaken” by any competitors for quite some time.

    Keep up the great work!!

    (psst – sidenote: I’m wondering why you don’t use a reliable commenting system like Disqus? Fortunately I had copied my comment to my clipboard… cuz when I got the answer to the question wrong and got an error message, then went back, the comment field was reset. :|]

  36. montaigne


    How about if we digerati (and friends of digerati) get together and create a petition to be delivered publicly to Facebook, and also start a private campaign for friends and acquaintances of Zuckerberg, Cohler, Moscovitz, etc. to let them know that we think this is manifestly uncool (in a very literate and well-supported way)?

    I think they are all stuck in their Silicon Valley echo chamber and are not hearing from any group that is not “data privileged” as you so eloquently put it.

    If you are interested in starting something like this with me, please drop me a note!

  37. maliha

    Its not just about facebook or google or their forced opt-out features or their disregard towards user-privacy, its doesn’t end with criticizing them. A change is required in our attitude and which networks we choose to sign-up for,(honestly how many of us read the terms and conditions/privacy policy?), what we choose to share and with whom, if we search there is a lot information available on fixing our settings on any network. Its going to be a while before the regulations (if ever) step in, education and awareness are the keys. A very well written post, thanks for your effort.

  38. Roni

    Agree – Quitting is pointless as an act of protest to effect change.

    I doubt that’s why people are looking for a designated Quit day though. I think a lot of people have been tired of Facebook for a while, for a whole bunch of reasons, but they’ve been nervous about leaving because Facebook’s ubiquity implies a potential for ostracism for those that don’t participate. Privacy is a neat, universal concern that attracts enough interest to mobilize a Quit Day. Suddenly a lot of people have not only a defensible excuse for leaving but a community of fellow quitters to ease the separation.

    And for this reason I disagree there’s any point challenging Facebook to do better, over Privacy at least. The dissatisfaction is more complex than that, perhaps even going back to a “fake sense of intimacy .. both misleading and dreadfully disappointing” that you so cleverly predicted in your News Feed blog, and this will not be fully understood by the people who choose to remain.

    If sweet little old ladies abandon their accounts because they feel a bit ick about posting pictures of their grandchildren there’s nobody on Facebook who can challenge Facebook about this. People without grandchildren don’t really care. The digerati don’t really care. The sweet little old ladies themselves probably don’t care. The only people who care are the ones who have something to sell to sweet little old ladies. And they happen to be the only ones with any real power to effect change in this environment.

    If you want change, enlist the advertisers. Get them to step up now and say “Oi Facebook, you idiots! Quit freaking out my customers or I’ll take my advertising budget elsewhere.”

    Meanwhile, if anyone would like to sell me some educational toys, you’ll find me on MySpace where there is a photo of me and my grandchild that’s still protected by the same privacy setting I applied in 2006.

  39. Haywood

    You really do feel strongly about facebook and not quitting. My only question is, is your opinion biased by the fact that your employer, Microsoft, is partial owner of facebook to the tune of $240 million dollars?

    Also, I hardly believe a social diversion, can hardly compare with a dwelling with which there is a legally binding contract, ie the unhappy tenant.

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