I created my first Facebook account in 2006, as soon as it became available for anyone with a pomona.edu e-mail address. For many years, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Facebook became like a multimedia diary where I could share photos and pour out my feelings about mental health, relationships, politics, and more and get immediate feedback and support from my far-flung network of friends. It was wonderful.
Ten years later, things had changed radically. In the political pressure cooker of those awful days, I spent hours each day on Facebook (and Twitter) ranting into the echo chamber. Despite the polling, I had a great deal of fear that Trump was going to win. What I saw on Facebook fueled those fears, which in turn prompted me to share more outrage. We now know that dynamic, amplified across millions of people, contributed hugely to the outcome of the election.
I deleted my ten year-old Facebook account on November 10, 2016. I still had a dummy profile in place so that I could manage my fan page, but I didn’t go near the site for months. I started spending more time on Twitter, which is a more constructive echo chamber because I’m less likely to see fake news promoted into my feed and I can more carefully tailor who I hear from and on what topics. Perhaps more importantly, Twitter doesn’t proliferate “personality quiz” applications that app developers can use as a pretext to access behavioral information and develop a psychographic profile.
I eventually, grudgingly, returned to using my dummy profile because participating in the resistance seems to require it. When you ask about the details of a protest, most people will direct you to a Facebook event page. Facebook groups for Indivisible, Refuse Fascism, and Poor People’s Campaign are all sources of invaluable and up-to-the-minute information. And yes, there is still the occasional funny cat video.
But I have to ask: why are we still feeding the Facebook beast so much information about our politics; and how might that be used to manipulate us further during the next election cycle? Before you tell me about how Facebook is cleaning up its act, please remember that the only incentive they have to do so is our behavior. We have to vote with our feet and stop giving them so much information they can monetize if we want them to change. As my good friend Baratunde Thurston recently wrote, “Facebook investigating app makers for data abuse is like Breaking Bad’s Walter White investigating Jesse for all that meth he made in Walter’s lab using Walter’s scientific knowledge.”
The resistance needs to make a conscious, intentional change to using Facebook less and other platforms more. Here are three tools I think we should be looking at.
Mastodon is an open-source, user-controlled alternative to other social networks. You can use it to build a private or secret group, or to build an open community around a particular topic. It also has a lovely anti-Nazi feature that tops anything either Facebook or Twitter has in the way of abuse controls.
Slack is a great way to organize ongoing organizational conversation, with subgroups for specific topics. We use it as a leadership organizing tool for Seattle Indivisible and I’d love to see more groups move towards using it for both formal discussion and informal information sharing.
Anything you say online can be subpoenaed via the company that built the tool you’re using to communicate, but Signal offers end-to-end encryption, which means that not even the developers themselves could access what you’re saying. This is a great tool for intentionally keeping 1:1 and small group communication away from prying eyes.