Friday, 5 April 2013

Why I am no longer on Facebook

Between 2007 and yesterday I had an account on Facebook.

I originally joined the site because I thought it would be useful for keeping in touch with family members and ex-colleagues, and to some extent it was useful for this.

Later, I set up an account for our business with the hope that this would be a useful way of keeping in touch with customers.

However, over time Facebook became something that I really did not like. Perhaps it's my own fault that my "friends" grew beyond those people who I'd actually met, but that's the nature of the thing and it's certainly not all negative. I met plenty of pleasant and perfectly rational people online on Facebook who I would never have met in real life and of course I don't regret that at all. However, as the number of "friends" grew and the number of "friends" of "friends" who could see my posts and comment on them grew, it became clear that what was posted on Facebook was no longer for my actual friends and family at all.

The big problem with the site is the signal to noise ratio. For every person posting items genuinely of interest and including some original thought there are a thousand others re-posting "amusing" pictures of cats, taking photos of their dinner, links to pointless games, automated updates from some self-important piece of software or other or offering an unwelcome glimpse into their sex-life, not to mention the unthinking knee-jerk "judge and jury" reactions to stories in the news. While I'm interested in reading sensibly written pieces by people who have actually thought about what's going on in the world, I have no interest at all in any of this other stuff. Too much time is taken up sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Facebook also has a quality problem. Their software changes too often and their quality control is poor. There are now a bewildering array of configuration options which make it difficult for people to tell who they are sending their messages to (hence receiving things which clearly were not meant for a wide audience), every single irritating app must be blocked individually and while the Android app is better now than it used to be, that also has enough bugs and user interface funnies that it adds another layer of tediousness to the user experience.

A fake conversation generated by Facebook between myself and my alter-ego.
They wanted me to pay to generate more meaningless noise on their website.
The final straw came yesterday when Facebook attempted to sell me a pointless service for replying to emails. They illustrated their offer with a made up conversation between myself and my alter-ego in which no real information was transmitted either one way or the other.

This is almost a perfect example of what is actually wrong with Facebook. There is no information in that "conversation", just noise which wastes time. I don't want to automatically reply to my customers with such banalities as this. If they've asked a sensible question (i.e. not a spammy "thanks for sharing...") then they deserve a sensible answer. They can get that through the email contact on our company website. We give further support on the company blog, where it remains readable rather than disappearing under a future wave of noise.

It's not just Facebook
As for Twitter. I still have an account there, but I post infrequently. Twitter is in many ways even worse than Facebook. 140 characters is enough for a knee-jerk response to anything, but is rarely enough to make a reasoned argument. People use it largely to promote themselves and therefore they post the same things repeatedly in order to be noticed. I find its effect to be similar to that which would be achieved if everyone in the neighbourhood bought a loudhailer and used it to pontificate continuously about themselves from their roof-tops. A majority of tweets do not get read even once, and the problem of fake twitter followers seems to be growing.

And what about LinkedIn ? I have an account there too, but while it masquerades as a jobs site, I don't see that it is in fact much different to Facebook in the way that it works. People clearly accept invitations from others who they don't know (I receive enough such invitations) and endorsements of skills seem to flow freely from people who don't know how well the person they are endorsing can perform a particular task. I've received plenty of endorsements there from people I've not actually worked with. LinkedIn is a website which, just like Facebook, encourages people to accumulate lots of "friends" but doesn't actually lead to anyone knowing any more about anyone else.

And what about all that data collection ?
Many people also have fears about the amount of data collected by social media websites. I don't personally subscribe to conspiracy theories, but there is still something a little creepy about websites sometimes seeming to know too much about you, and more so when they use this simply to try to convince you to buy stuff.

Conclusion
Social media had some sort of promise, but it's not really achieved it. For now I'm bowing out.

Update 2016 - Facebook destroys democracy
We've now seen the effect of fake news items on democracy. After Brexit, now Trump as US president. In both cases, voters were being informed by false news spread on social media sites, of which Facebook was the largest.

Amongst the winners were a group of unscrupulous Macedonian teenagers who had no real interest in the US election but who found that they could make €10000 per month through online advertising by inventing click-bait fake news articles which would be spread via Facebook. They found that appealing to the worst excesses of the right wing was the best way of generating clicks.

News items about the post-truth world of fake news over the last few days are summarised quite well by this video:



I'm no luddite. In the mid 1980s I found myself in trouble at the Polytechnic which I attended because I'd written an email tool and was encouraging people to use it ("waste of computer resources", apparently). Twenty years ago I was trying to think of useful things to do with the world's first tablet computer with wireless link to the internet. I keep abreast of technology, but I'm not controlled by it.

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