2018 has not been a kind year to Facebook. Most of their problems are self inflicted, of course, but how folks are responding in the wake of story after story after story is interesting. Especially as people have started to think more and more about how to get out of the Facebook silo and back to using personal sites to share our stories:
There’s a subtext of the #deleteFacebook movement that has nothing to do with the company’s mishandling of personal data. It’s the idea that people who use Facebook are stupid, or shouldn’t have ever shared so much of their lives. But for people who came of age in the early 2000s, sharing our lives online is second nature, and largely came without consequences. There was no indication that something we’d been conditioned to do would be quickly weaponized against us.
Facebook has of course become something much larger than a single website, and has, despite its flaws, “helped connect the world” for better or worse. But Facebook tapped into a trend that was already happening—it didn’t invent the idea of letting people put stuff about their lives online, it just monetized it better.
When I think about my own Facebook use, I think often about that first website I made, and how that site served the exact same purpose then that Facebook does now. My original sin wasn’t making a Facebook account, it was abandoning my own website that I controlled (the original site was hosted on Tripod, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d pay for web hosting.) All these years later, maybe it’s time to update Jason’s Site.
I’ll be the first to admit that my blogging and overall writing was absolutely wrecked by social media. Have some random thoughts? Let’s see if I can fit it into a Tweet. Find a link? Up on Facebook it goes. I don’t even have to add any of my own thoughts for context. And all from the comfort of my own phone (which is hard to craft a blog post from, let me tell you).
But as much as we can challenge ourselves to rebuild the world of blogs and personal websites, the problem isn’t so much in how we create content online but in how we consume it. Facebook does a real good job of feeding people information quickly and easily, all tailored to fit their data driven desires. Sure, we can embrace personal websites again, but this ain’t no Field of Dreams, just because we build it doesn’t mean anyone will come.
I touched on this a bit back in June when writing about how Facebook is a terrible gatekeeper. Breaking free of Facebook’s hold on data is up to the user and requires work:
It requires manual typing and visiting sites that look different from one another or update at random times throughout the week. Or using an RSS reader like Feedly. Yeah, you’re probably still going to stick with what you know and like, but you’ll at least challenge yourself to go beyond a format that rewards sensationalism and outrage to reach the lowest common denominator in as few words as possible.
Or maybe simply changing the way we utilize Facebook to serve up third party content will make a difference. Even then you’re up against the algorithm which wants to keep people on Facebook and seeing their advertisements.
There are no easy answers. But as users are faced with more and more reasons to worry about Facebook’s ability to keep our data secure, many are going to be looking for other ways to get the same fix. Maybe there’s the next big thing around the corner. Maybe Facebook figures it out. Or maybe folks just start looking for new stuff on their own.
Until then, I should probably keep up with this site a little more often. Just in case they do come.