I wrote this opinion piece — better known as an op-ed — for The Dallas Morning News, where I’ve spent nearly 22 years as a copy editor who also writes every so often (much less than I’d like). We published it in our Sunday edition a week ago, and I thought I’d share it on the blog. I also posted the DMN link on Facebook, which I plan to desert very soon. Hope you enjoy the piece and give serious thought to taking a stand too, even though it may seem a tiny drop in a universe-sized bucket.
Aside from the unending negativity that has arisen from the platform, only some of which I list in the op-ed, I neglected to mention the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot. Facebook was a stage for those who attacked the Capitol to spread 2020 election lies and misinformation that erupted in that day’s violence, and to make plans to carry out the insurrection.
Friends hate to see me leave Facebook, and I hate to leave them too. One says all of the problems resulting from activity on Facebook aren’t the fault of the tech giant’s owners and operators. That simply couldn’t be more ludicrous. But it’s for you and the other billions who use the platform to choose whether to stay on a social medium that seethes with the divisiveness that has helped land our country — our world — in its current state, or to find another way to stay connected with friends and family.
Here’s that piece I wrote for the DMN. Thanks for reading!
I’m quitting you, Facebook. And it’s all your fault.
Don’t bother trying to win me back, although with almost 3 billion other monthly users (actually, you’re using them) I know you won’t try to make up with me. You’ve had years to fix things, so why should I trust you now?
The social media behemoth, dreamed up by Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard buddies, has been sucking up humans’ existence since 2004. If you think it’d blow your mind to see how much of your life you spend stuck in commuter traffic, try guesstimating your Facebook time (DataReportal puts it at 19.5 hours a month — seems a bit low to me).
Since joining in 2008, I’ve cherished the hours connecting with friends and family, sharing photos and developments about my life and loved ones while embracing the steady stream of updates, pics, opinions, emotions and even the sad news my list of connections that’s grown to almost 1,500 has posted in return.
Face it, fellow Facebookers: We’re addicted. It gives us pleasure, making us smile, laugh, cry and discover. It gives us a chance to show off, spout off and feel fulfilled when others react positively to what we’ve shared.
But for several years, I’ve wrestled with the truth that behind all the wonderful images, the moving, nostalgic and informative posts, the beautiful life moments that so many have let me be a part of, Facebook has been a debacle. For over a decade, the world’s largest social media network has been a constant target of criticism, shrouded in unending controversy.
The backdrop to all the engaging scenery we’ve been commenting and clicking like, love, care, haha, wow, sad and sometimes angry on is plainly evil.
Most users are like me: They only want to stay in touch with friends near and far to know what’s happening in their lives — and reciprocate, and they consider Facebook a free, easy way to do that. They find so much to love about it. But in reality, there’s so much to hate.
Facebook’s mantra has always been about bringing the world closer together. Instead, it has fostered division, allowing the platform to be a cesspool of hate, misinformation, fake news, hoaxes and conspiracy theories (Holocaust denial and the like). Too many use it as a place to whip people into a lather on politics and social issues, transforming timelines from peaceful places where photos of babies, families, dogs and weddings reside into arenas for verbal fisticuffs.
Those who live to incite violence and fear and to spread lies have had a field day on the platform. And those who run Facebook — bringing in $86 billion in revenue in 2020 — along with Instagram (which I’m not on), haven’t taken enough steps to make it a safer, less hostile environment.
Some accuse Facebook of undermining democracy with its failures. I agree.
Many Facebook users get much of their news through the platform — I’m not talking links to legitimate journalism that I and others post — and much of it is false or misleading content from dubious sources.
Facebook has made various changes to its content policies and has banned inflammatory public figures including Alex Jones, David Duke and Louis Farrakhan over their hate speech. But the moves haven’t worked to rid the network of its most destructive elements and scrub it clean so the original intent will be all that’s left. Like in the Alien film series, getting this monster under control seems almost impossible.
There have been numerous lawsuits against Facebook as well as security breaches, one of the largest involving Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that illegally obtained the information of millions of users in 2018, which Facebook failed to disclose. Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections was linked in part to Facebook ads and accounts created to carry out the meddling.
Facebook posts have played a role in political uprisings and violence globally, and U.N. investigators blamed the platform for spreading hate speech that incited the Myanmar military’s genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority. Two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for violations of user privacy, a record fine for a tech company. Chillingly, Facebook Live has been used to broadcast murders, suicides and other acts of violence. More recently, Facebook has been criticized for its role in perpetuating COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
These are just a fraction of the reasons I’ve finally made this decision. The prospect of losing immediate contact with so many loved ones and not being able to keep up with what and how they and their families are doing saddens me. But this is about doing the right thing.
My wife, who had a Facebook account a couple of times briefly but closed it for the same reasons I’m shutting down mine, has pleaded with me for years to give it up. I’ve explained that while I get why I should, I simply can’t because I’d lose touch with so many people.
“Pick up the phone,” she said a couple of months ago, before I decided to bail. Anyone who relies on Facebook for the same reasons I have knows it’s not as simple as that.
The convenience of swiping or clicking to find out what’s up with friends — whose children are getting married, when anniversaries and birthdays are being celebrated, when grandchildren are born, who’s changed jobs or retired, who’s in poor health and so much more — will be lost. I can’t call hundreds of friends once a month to catch up. I won’t know within hours or a day or two the sad news that a friend or his or her spouse has died and be able to share that news with friends who aren’t on Facebook.
I’ve never been a prolific poster like some of my friends. I tend to write longish posts because I’m a writer at heart, and I don’t like posting anything without a photo. But I’ll have to limit my writing to my blog now, because Facebook (not you, friends and family) is website non grata.
My misgivings reached a peak this month when my wife and I watched the 60 Minutes piece in which former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen spoke candidly about how the platform continues to put profits ahead of people rather than putting in place protections that will address its many problems. When the whistleblower left Facebook in May, she took tens of thousands of pages of company records to prove her case to regulators and lawmakers.
Haugen testified two days later to a Senate subcommittee and received bipartisan support for her comments about Facebook’s questionable practices and the need for a crackdown. She didn’t hesitate to blame Zuckerberg: “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but Mark himself,” she said of the 37-year-old.
The hearing also covered allegations regarding Instagram, which Facebook’s own research has shown creates peer pressure among young users, especially girls, leading to suicidal thoughts and eating disorders. Studies reveal, too, that for all its feel-good-ness, Facebook promotes envy and leaves people dissatisfied with their lives after seeing so many wonderful photos of and reading about their friends’ and family members’ seemingly perfect worlds.
Once I’m officially off Facebook after saving photos and gathering contact information, a friend asked me, how long before I break down and reopen my account? That’s not happening. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. And although I’m on Twitter (which I don’t use much), I’m pretty sure I won’t move to another social media platform, mostly because I like the idea of getting my time back and don’t figure my friends would follow me.
I’ll admit, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ll miss my friends on Facebook and the lift that regularly engaging with them has given me. I’ll gladly be rid of the spam and the hackers who pose as friends and send me bogus friend requests. But I hope my friends will understand.
Farewell, Facebook. It’s time to get your (insert appropriate word) together.
Frank Christlieb is multiplatform editor and writer at The Dallas Morning News.