Sunday, January 13

goodbye, facebookland

this week I deactivated my 15-year-old facebook account.


many reasons. mainly, it's a new year, time for trying new things. facebook's role in my recent life has largely been a passive, bad-habit-esque waste of time, and I'm increasingly convinced that its recent roles in spreading terrible ideologies and misleading nonsense makes it problematic for anyone to continue supporting it at all.

so I want to live a year or so truly without it and see what happens. perhaps I'll have more time to write and blog and exercise and knit and make phone calls.

speaking of more time for blogging, over the past months I have been (as is usual) sifting through a dozen different ideas of what I might blog about, with new ideas poking at my brain every few days, too. there are podcasts to blog about, and the upcoming semester to blog about, and gardening plans to blog about. but when? I can't feasibly blog about everything all at once, sadly.

for now, I guess I'm blogging about facebook.

somewhere in the depths of all my old blog drafts, I've had a collection of notes sitting here, from a talk given by a facebook executive or employee of some sort. it was hosted in the student union at Purdue University, where I sat and took notes in the blogger app on my old phone.

here's me, kicking off my mild resolution to blog here more often in 2019, attempting to reconstitute and expand these old notes and snippets into something intelligible and interesting.

facebook's goal/mission/quest/thing has been, for as long as I've heard them talking about having one, is to connect the world.

is this a noble and valiant thing for facebook to be doing? does it seem like a mission that we should trust facebook with?

well, in any case, the speaker opened by stating facebook's mission. and then he spoke excitedly about new developments like live video, virtual reality, and artificial intelligences. oh and about how many new jobs facebook was creating every day. hurray for tech jobs.

he also, unaviodably, had to address issues of privacy and tracking, and he did touch on the ethics of selling users' data to marketers. I'm reminded now, several facebook privacy and ethics scandals later, of this twitter thread about ethics and technology:
Gorcenski writes in her informal critique there that there are no universal codes of ethics. ethics standards are always situated. they're constructed, imperfect, with plenty of ambiguity-- often just enough ambiguity to make companies and other institutions feel halfway okay about carrying out very questionable actions in the world.

from my notes, I see that most of my interest and my strongest reactions to this talk had to do with what the speaker said about facebook-as-governing agent. he shared his experience dealing with the many challenges of managing, filtering, and/or censoring public and semi-public online expression across national borders. he reminded us that facebook has employees and users all over the world. what's legal and appropriate in one country doesn't always match what's legal and appropriate in others. but somehow, facebook's own community standards have to make the whole world happy, to at least some extent.
in negotiating with governments about how to enforce or uphold various local standards, the speaker explained, facebook does as much as they can to push their own values. yes, there are tensions between how a borderless online community wants to function and how more traditional global powers want to run their more traditional, border-bound nations.

facebook, the speaker emphasized, tries to be an agent of empowerment. a platform for making invisible things visible. shining light into dark corners. facilitating new and more transparent conversations. changing the balance of power.

and then the speaker said something about facebook hopefully having a major role in someday establishing some kind of global online government. after that, according to my notes, I typed out this:


does the world want and need to be connected by a central online platform, really? is the capitalist interest that facebook has in being the medium by which everyone is connected anything we can trust?

I'll end this post with two more brief thoughts (the second of which is more of a gesture towards some other people's thoughts, really).

1. it is worth admitting explicitly that the phone-typed notes I took on this nameless facebook employee's presentation are at least three years old at this point. I wish I had included the fellow's name and title and the date of the talk and all that, but I did not. it is also worth admitting that I have not included every single thing I made notes on. what I have done is shape the more timeless bits into a satisfying order and fit them carefully into real sentences. in any case, I make no pretense that my reconstituted representation of the talk and its mood is fully accurate.

2. one of the many awesome podcasts I've listened to inbetween semesters has been ZigZag's end-of-season offering, "If Capitalism and Socialism Had a Baby." they interview Rufus Pollock, who wrote a book called Open Revolution (which you can read online in PDF form over here). I love the ZigZag podcast, and their whole second season was a carnival of great interrogations and important questions about technology and humans. go listen to it!

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