TL;DR: We can leave Facebook if we can decouple our personal data and social graph from their clutches. Here’s how.
Most people focus on criticising Facebook, rather than building the alternatives we need to clear the way for people to leave the modern-day Hotel California.
The platitude: “Just #DeleteFacebook” is too simplistic. It’s not realistic. Facebook has been designed to be incredibly hard to delete. They’ve been building powerful retention strategies for a decade.
Criticising Facebook is justified, BUT without removing the barriers to deleting it, we’ll never get to a world without it.
We need to build a Working Exit Door from Facebook.
Why should we leave Facebook
Ultimately, Facebook’s powerful algorithm doesn’t share your incentives.
Breaking us out
Most people aren’t ready to get rid of Facebook. There are barriers to exit which take the form of not easily replaceable functionality. Some things will be harder to port away (birthdays, events, messages), and if we want to keep them, we’ll need to continue to partially rely on Facebook. The aim here is to minimise how much we need to do so, so that it becomes easier to cut the thread.
Reducing the barriers to exit
Critics mostly don’t recognise how difficult Facebook is to delete. We have a complicated relationship of convenience with Big Tech. We can’t just say #DeleteFacebook. We aren’t talking enough about why people stay.
What stops people from deleting Facebook
The barriers to exit fall into 4 main categories:
On their own, none are impossible to break away from. Together, it’s enough to stop most of us leaving.
If we make easier to transfer away from Facebook, many people would leave fully.
Building the exit door
Leaving Facebook entails switching to alternatives to the platform’s core functionality, and deleting our data and selves from the platform.
Deleting your data from Facebook manually isn’t easy but it’s crucial for reducing Facebook’s influence on your life. At Ethi, we’ve made a Chrome extension, FaceErase that makes it 100x easier and faster to delete your Facebook comments, likes and reactions, advertising interests… You can extract yourself while keeping what’s useful about your account.
Can we build alternatives to Facebook’s core products? Definitely – but we don’t just want to replicate what they have built. We need to improve on them, and build tools that focus on improving people’s lives instead of selling them ads and sucking their attention.
Tools that work for us, not advertisers:
A better, more human news feed would need to be:
Curated – the Facebook News Feed is like junk food – videos that are to funny/cute to stop watching, not things you consciously want to spend time doing. We need to make a discovery medium that doesn’t just provide content that appeals to human desires, but that you consciously want to consume.
Non-Addictive – the days of the infinite feed need to end. Checking the app for a notification, only to find yourself still on there 2 hours later scrolling videos is hijacking your brain! You should be able to set how much time you want to spend, and then the feed should stop.
Self-directed – at the moment the algorithm alone decides what to show you, based on what will keep you most engaged and allow Facebook to show you the most ads. You should be able to direct what you want to see, and take an active role in what content you get presented with.
Goal-oriented – Instead of the algorithm’s goals being set by the corporation’s incentives, you should be able to set goals, like “Learn Python”, which can be taken into account when recommending content.
We’re working on a prototype for this at Ethi, but it’s in its early stages. DM me @michaeljelly if you want to be one of the first to try it out.
We need a way to preserve what we’ve added to Facebook, so we can keep the memories we’ve made that we don’t want to lose
Friends and Messages
You’ll want to port away your friends and messages, instead of losing them
Messages should be stored and sent encrypted
It should be easy to swap between channels without losing history
Tools like NovaChat and Texts.com might become helpful to start switching away, if more people move to platform-agnostic interfaces and the messaging app becomes an interchangeable pipeline in between.
For now we want to extract important notifications from Facebook, just Birthdays and Events, and filter out the rest
We’ll want to extract “actions” too, like saying Happy Birthday or responding to events – without having to go into Facebook itself
We’re considering building something to filter and forward notifications to help you visit Facebook even less. LMK if that would be interesting.
Seem feasible? We just need to:
Extract our data
Build a better News Feed
Keep our memories and data somewhere
Help people move conversations away from Facebook tools
Extract important notifications from Facebook, and interoperate with them
It’s a long road, start today
They have all our data. They are the default, the status quo.
The costs of leaving are high – does anyone have all their friends’ emails or phone numbers? At the moment you’d need them if you can’t rely on Facebook for contacting people. Our social activity is so strongly linked to Facebook that for most events, information about when and where they are is only on Facebook.
What you can do right now
The ultimate aim is to extract these tools, extract our data, and delete anything beyond a minimum necessary amount, and bang! – no more Facebook!
There’s a lot of work still to do to build the alternatives. For now you can:
Download your Facebook data and find out what they’ve collected
Delete data you don’t want them to keep
Use secure messaging when possible
Stop using the Facebook Newsfeed
We’ve built two tools that help to reveal what Facebook’s doing, and to extract as much of yourself as possible:
Ethi: Find out what they’re doing with your data
You can download your data and use Ethi to find out what data gets collected about you, how it’s used, and what you can do about it.
FaceErase: Delete data you don’t want Facebook to keep
Facebook uses your data in ways that subtract value from your life – to target you with ads and junk-food content. We built FaceErase to make it 100x easier to regularly delete data you don’t want them to keep.
How do we get to the future?
There’s a lot of work to do, but I think this is actually a feasible plan.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what we’re building, or where my thinking is wrong or incomplete. If you can, support us to build a future where we as individuals control our data and maintain full autonomy over our lives. Send me a Twitter DM at @michaeljelly or @GetEthi.