I joined thefacebook.com back in 2004, in a fit of joining all the social networks at the time. Where are they now: Myspace, Friendster, Orkut, Ryzo, LinkedIn, and later arrivals Google+, Ping, GameCenter, Connect, and so on? Dead or dying. (I had a list of these, but it got deleted once I cleaned out ancient bookmarks). Most of them petered out. Somehow Thefacebook took off. Though I had an account, I never really used it for many years. I logged in at first, saw some local students at Minnesota who I didn’t know talking about things I didn’t care about, and basically forgot about it till the Obama administration. The blog was just more important, and RSS still worked effectively. For instance, in 2007 after the I-35W Bridge Collapse, none of us went to Facebook to check in on people. By 2008 or 2009, and certainly by the 2010s, that would have been more common.
Now it’s 2018. I have a few hundred “friends” and “followers” (and family members) on Facebook. I have thousands on Twitter and mailing list, countless views of my blog and the remnants of LinkedIn. [Side comment: LinkedIn is strangely more useful in Australia than the US, people use it to avoid email, which is subject to Freedom of Information Access by media, which is more common here because the government is much less transparent. Not to say it is very useful in an absolute sense, but there are people who swear by it here.]
So I have “friends” on Facebook who I don’t actually know (though they may know me, a feature of asymmetric information and knowledge in an age where some of us are communicators) in addition to family members and actual friends, and former students, and students, and their relatives, and friends. I am uncomfortable sharing things that actually matter with strangers. So it’s mainly feeds from the blog, which isn’t bad, but really, you all should leave facebook and join the real web, read it on an RSS Reader, or at least subscribe to the newsletter. I don’t seem to get many people reading those posts anyway, as the inscrutable algorithm doesn’t display all your friend’s posts chronologically, the way it once did, and Twitter and RSS do, and is really how it should be organized.
I suppose I could go and unfriend those of you I don’t know and set sharing really tight, but that seems rude, and a lot of work, and in the end doesn’t solve the problem.
Now this would be harmless enough, the site would be merely useless to me.
But it is clear Facebook has been a bad actor (not as bad as Uber, but bad enough) and both irresponsible in allowing others to slurp up our social graph and behaviours, and malicious in commodifying us to sell to advertisers, tracking us across the web if we are not careful about logging out and setting privacy preferences in Facebook, our browsers and ad blockers. In addition it has become a net drain on human productivity. Now I don’t use it much, Twitter is a much worse distraction for me, but I see students who live on The Facebook, distracted from the few hours of lecture they actually attend without the higher level of discourse found on Twitter (seriously, if you filter your feeds on Twitter, mute some people and keywords (like the name of the current president) you can get reasonably intelligent posts and threads, and sometimes comments and conversation. Comments are nevertheless the internet’s bane).
Social network churn has been an historic feature of the Internet. Do you really want your parents and cousins and uncles in your discussions with your friends and colleagues, and vice versa? Do you really want your social network to grow to include acquaintances. A social network’s growth sows the seeds of its own destruction. The whole logic makes little sense. Once we have to put on highly guarded persona’s when communicating, because we don’t know who we are talking to, it’s work.
I have seen specialized social networks for families, which seems a good idea, but implementation details are everything, and critical mass is everything else.
Anyway, I have scheduled signing off of Facebook for the last time in mid-April. See you on the Internet.