If you don't like Facebook, you can leave – it's easier than you think

Dec 27, 2013 by Robbie Fordyce, The Conversation
Credit: Ondřej Vokoun

Breaking up is hard to do, especially with social media. But thousands of people are doing just that, and with the new year and its inevitable resolutions just around the corner, it might be a good time to examine the ethics of using software and platforms.

We use Facebook as an example for this article, but the same questions are relevant for many different types of .

Is Facebook ethical? It's an important question, and the answer isn't quite "yes" or "no". First, we need to make a short detour through a few thoughts about what ethics actually are.

A particular "ethics" is a set of rules or provisions that an individual or group considers ideal for solving problems with the best intentions. What's good in one situation isn't necessarily applicable in others, and ethics describes what we do when we choose between alternatives.

The general "vibe" of complaints about Facebook's ethics (or practically any other social media platform) from users and commentators is that it aggregates power from our daily interactions, then sells the data we produce.

Within the field of media studies there's some equivocation about whether Facebook operates something like a factory where users churn out vast amounts of work for no pay, or whether it's an insidious machine that makes use of all our data in giant statistical sets.

Other popular responses fear the persistent invasion of our privacy, or else note how reduced our metaphors have become. We can't love anymore, we can only like.

Critics like Eli Parisier argue that through the fairly limited means of interaction – likes, pokes, comments – it corrupts some aspect of our social being as a species and as individuals. Some vibrant aspect of being human is lost, replaced by a placid and emotionally grey terrain of "LOLs" and smileys that lacks genuine interaction.

Social empowerment

There have always been complaints when new cultural technologies arrive on the scene: heavy metal and rock and roll, role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and even writing.

That said, there is something different about the way in which Facebook has power over our social interactions and how these interactions make money for them. If this is a concern for people, then there are alternatives.

The most common response to ethical concerns about Facebook is "why don't you just leave?" This question is an important one, with a few answers.

First: your "leaving" doesn't actually remove any of the data from Facebook's servers – by agreeing to the terms of use, you've already given Facebook all of your photos and data, and they're certainly going to hang on to it if they can. Long after you remove yourself from the network, your shadow will linger on Facebook's servers.

In fact, the relationship is one you rarely have control over in the first place - the infamous shadow profiles track you through social media widgets, which build a profile without needing you to be logged in (if you want to stop that, consider using blocking programs like Ghostery or AdBlock).

Second: for many people, Facebook represents a convenient way of keeping in touch with their friends and family. Leaving Facebook can mean missing out on news, photos and invitations. Moving to alternatives, like Diaspora, can feel like the Wild West without as many friendly faces around.

Diaspora attempts to provide social networking without the problems of Facebook. What it does differently, to protect your privacy, is to allow you to choose where your data is hosted.

This means that you can act as your own data host, if you're technically proficient. If not, a friend, or a trusted server can do the job for you.

Diaspora is not the total solution, but it does act to undermine the monopolies over social media held by sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Diaspora is an Open Source platform, so if you have issues with the program you can modify it yourself.

Previously, the project has been plagued with a wide range of problems, including funding issues, the death of the lead programmer, and internal conflicts. But in the past year the project has picked up new life, is gathering users and, despite its rocky past, Diaspora now works.

The solutions to our ethical problems with social media don't all have to be technical. Legislation in California is allowing for kids to request that their data be deleted from social media sites before they reach the age of maturity. In turn, because Facebook is incorporated in Ireland for tax purposes, laws in the European Union allow non-US citizens to uncover all the data that Facebook holds on them.

If you have ethical concerns about Facebook, your response is not limited to leaving. Knowing more about what data exists about you, how it's used, and what your alternatives are can allow us to be more ethical without pulling the plug entirely.

*Robbie and Luke can be found on Diaspora. They have two friends each, including each other.

Explore further: Quitting Facebook—what's behind the new trend to leave social networks?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Facebook refusal: Hipster trend or activist movement?

Apr 12, 2013

Laura Portwood-Stacer, visiting assistant professor of media, culture, and communication at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, recently published a study of people who quit Facebook and how ...

Facebook becoming a key player in news

Oct 24, 2013

Facebook is becoming a key source of news for users of the huge social network, even if people discover articles mostly by happenstance, a study showed Thursday.

Recommended for you

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

2 hours ago

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

16 hours ago

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

20 hours ago

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

How much do we really know about privacy on Facebook?

22 hours ago

The recent furore about the Facebook Messenger app has unearthed an interesting question: how far are we willing to allow our privacy to be pushed for our social connections? In the case of the Facebook ...

Philippines makes arrests in online extortion ring

22 hours ago

Philippine police have arrested eight suspected members of an online syndicate accused of blackmailing more than 1,000 Hong Kong and Singapore residents after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcam, an official ...

Google to help boost Greece's tourism industry

Aug 21, 2014

Internet giant Google will offer management courses to 3,000 tourism businesses on the island of Crete as part of an initiative to promote the sector in Greece, industry union Sete said on Thursday.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

davidivad
5 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2013
everybody is worried about what our government does but willingly hops on Facebook knowing well that they are selling the information to the highest bidder.
rwinners
not rated yet Dec 30, 2013
The inevitable drive by FB for more and more profits will eventually doom it. The latest move to place video advertising on uses home pages is proof positive.
In fact, I think it possible that FB will take on some of the characteristics of the NSA and other government agencies. FB actually tried this early on when it started claim that all posts including photos posted on its site became its property.
Zephir_fan
Dec 30, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.