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Is It Time to Abandon Facebook?

BY Joshua Levy | Friday, May 7 2010

Yesterday a friend of mine suggested I start a petition to get a large group of people to commit to leaving Facebook. So I started one.

The request didn’t come out of nowhere. This week, a few early adopter-types — the kind of people who took up Facebook years before your mom did — decided they’d had enough of Facebook’s evolving terms of use and privacy issues and hit delete on their accounts (take a look at EFF's overview of Facebook's eroding privacy policy for more). This might not yet qualify as a trend, but something’s definitely brewing among the techno-scenti.

The problem starts and ends with privacy. It seems that every few months, the itchy folks at Facebook launch yet another iteration of the site — er, platform — exposing even more of your private information to the world, and making it harder to keep your personal life close to your chest (or at least limit it to a few hundred friends).

The latest incursion was announced at last month’s F8 Facebook developer’s conference. The social-connector technology Facebook had introduced with Connect, which added a social layer to the web connecting non-Facebook sites to your profile, was exploded. The goal: A “Like” button on every site and an even deeper integration between sites like Yelp and your Facebook profile.

As with the launch of Connect’s predecessor, Beacon, this new layer freaked some people out. Now, when you go to Yelp, you’re shown how many of your friends have joined the site. “Wait, how do they know that?” your mother asks. “A little Facebook cookie told them,” you reply. A blue Facebook banner appears at the top of the site as well, inviting you to make a deeper connection, but I’ve found that just as freaky. But don’t worry, if you like Yelp or any other site, just click on the “Like” button to tell the world about it.

In addition, Facebook recently changed its terms of service to make your information — pics of your kids, employment history, wacky responses to this week’s episode of Glee — public by default. You have to selectively choose what information will be made private. That is, if you can navigate Facebook’s byzantine settings structure.

To be clear, the social graph-like technology introduced last month is very cool, and it’s open; non-Facebook developers are hard at work building a more open, and reasonable, social layer that taps into the technology. But the fact remains that for many, Facebook’s implementation feels like a violation. We didn’t ask to be automatically connected to everyone, everywhere, yet now we are.

Even if we’ve somehow managed to strike a perfect balance between public and private, we’re still stuck with a social network that has become deeply annoying. Messages that have nothing to do with me, from people I’ve never met, clog up my inbox. The apps craze has died down, but not completely. And even though I’m the staunchest defender of the power of social networks to help people organize, connect and just live their lives, I admit that the level of quotidian chatter can be too much.

Meanwhile, there’s Twitter. Simple, elegant and useful. It, too, is full of chatter, but for some reason I enjoy it. It’s like entering a cacophonous debate hall full of interesting people and tossing around helpful links and bits of information, rather than walking into someone’s living room and hearing your entire extended family and friends from high school rattle on and on.

There’s a reason why most of my friends on Twitter simply feed their status updates to Facebook. Twitter is where they want to be; Facebook is where they have to be.

Here’s the thing: I kind of have to be on Facebook. My work as an online organizer depends on it. My desire to stay on top of online culture depends on it. And much of my family expects me to post pictures and videos of my son there. So leaving it would feel like giving up on crucial online connections.

For me, Facebook is like a car. I don’t want to drive it, I don’t like its effect on the environment, but it’s a necessity.

But if 10,000 people around me decided to give up their cars and bike to work, I just might join them for the sake of integrity. The same goes for Facebook. So if you think the time has come, take the plunge and abandon Facebook.

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