Growing up at the turn of the millennium in rural north Wales, the choice for me was to either get online or have no social life. I’ve been “very online” for most of my life.
But after fourteen years of sharing my life and data on Facebook, I’ve had enough, and I’m deleting my account.
I first signed up to Facebook in 2006, a time when my peers and myself were leaving school and found a novel and easy way to keep in contact. I’ve shared my student life, time at music festivals, marriage, divorce, fatherhood and even rely on the platform to do my job – but enough is enough.
This week, two people protesting in Kenosha, Wisconsin against the police shooting of Jacob Blake were shot and killed by a 17-year-old member of a right-wing militia.
These armed groups’ arrival at the protest was organised through Facebook. On an event page created for the militia, there were comments which were calls to arms and could be seen as incitement to violence.
The Verge reported this week that a number of these comments were reported to Facebook before the shootings, but that Facebook’s moderators subsequently decided that the comments were fine, and left them up.
Following the fatal shooting in Kenosha, Facebook deleted the event page and any contentious comments to which it had previously given the thumbs up.
The beauty of Facebook is that its algorithm and technology plugs a user into a network that is tailored to their needs, and the more one uses the platform, the better the content served is. However, it’s clear that Facebook doesn’t care about what their algorithms are spreading, as long as people remain engaged with content within their ecosystem.
Things like the 5G conspiracy theories are ludicrous and mainly harmless, but there are real-life consequences to Facebook’s inaction as has been tragically seen in Kenosha this week. Facebook’s reaction in the wake of these killings, to essentially delete any evidence of its own complicity, is quite frankly appalling, and sets a terrible precedent for the accountability of huge tech companies.
Last week’s announcement that Facebook was banning groups linked to QAnon and right-wing extremism is tokenistic, and frankly far too late. Kenosha’s shooter, at only 17, must be one of thousands of young people who have been radicalised by an unbalanced serving of distilled right-wing conspiracy theory.
There’s always been a trade-off when using Facebook: are you happy to share your data with a company so that you can keep connected to your friends? Moreso recently, another question has reared its head: are you happy to use the same platform that spreads dangerous misinformation and is used by right-wing extremists and white nationalists to organise themselves?
There are plenty of issues with Facebook, from foreign agents of all countries sowing discord in others, to the way a single angry reaction receives the same prominence as a thousand thumbs up on the same content, but I’ve been largely insulated from the effects of these.
I don’t for a minute think that leaving Facebook will make a difference to them, and will continue to use WhatsApp and Instagram – this is not a boycott.
It’s about whether or not that online space makes me happy. Being on there no longer makes me happy, so in the spirit of Dewi Sant, I’m doing my best to “gwneud y pethau bychain”, and deleting my account.