Should I leave Facebook?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I joined Facebook as a university student. Five or so years later, I’m still asking it. Here’s why:

1. I will one day value my privacy
I’ve not been overly hung up on the privacy issues so far, though having had a read around, I can see that what doesn’t bother me so much now may haunt me later when I’m older, wiser and generally more politically and technologically clued-up. This could be why I prefer the minimalism of Twitter and the malleability of my WordPress blog. I would just say, though, that I am really bothered by the ‘messages’ not being private. Facebook has access to them, while giving you the illusion that they are as confidential as email. They’re really not.

2. The Facebook me isn’t the real me but friends think it is
What really bothers me is the way Facebook threatens to change my relationships. Acquaintances look at my profile, flick through my pictures and check out my friends list, and feel that they are getting to know me. Something about Facebook gives the illusion of identity, that what you present there is something ‘true’ about yourself. But it’s not. It’s a performance. It’s a distraction.

3. We’re not getting to know each other
And because of this, I feel the keeping in touch thing is negated. I’ve not minded – mostly – being put back in touch with old acquaintances. But if Facebook masks the false, presenting it as true, we’re not really getting to know each other. You can know facts about me – I got married a couple of years ago, I’m having a baby, I live in Bristol – but how do any of these dry pieces of information create intimacy between us?

4. We misunderstand each other
You might say that you learn more from the views we both express and that’s true but they’re often so fleeting (a throw away comment on a status update, for example) that they’re easily misinterpreted and I think we’re more likely to alienate each other than to draw closer to one another.

For instance, I’m a committed Christian. This fact runs through me in a way that Facebook’s fragmented approach would never help you make sense of. I also support gay rights, especially in Trinidad where equality laws still refuse to properly acknowledge sexual orientation. I know people who find it difficult to put the two together.

I’m unlikely to be able to say what needs to be said in any significant way on someone’s wall. Even notes don’t feel like they’re the right space for that. Arguments made in notes almost always come across to me as argument for argument’s sake as opposed to a real call for readers to engage. Commenters end up skimming and speaking to themselves.

5. It makes us lazy
We write a quick: “Hi, how are you?” on someone’s wall or comment on their picture and get away with believing that we’re staying in touch or keeping our friendship alive or whatever. Or even worse, we go through their wall posts and pictures, say nothing, and leave feeling like we’re up to date on their lives. Maybe we’re busy but if we pooled together the time we spend every day on Facebook, maybe we could save some time in an evening to write even one email or letter or give a phone call. Even a text message is more personal than writing on a wall.

This last point is what made me disable my wall and hide my photographs on Facebook last weekend. I’m tired of this false communication.

But isn’t blogging like that? Well, not for me, it isn’t. I didn’t primarily start writing Circus Queen so I could “keep in touch” though it is valuable in doing this, to some degree.

I started it because I needed two things: a writing project and a space to process thoughts about my pregnancy. I wanted it to be public because I value intellectual support and hoped that what I wrote might strike a chord with someone else.

My blog is, in fact, one of the few reasons I’d stay on Facebook. I know a lot of my friends read it by clicking links on my wall through to my blog. I thought starting a Circus Queen Facebook page would solve this by letting them see updates without me having to have a wall but Facebook won’t let me ‘suggest to friends’ (the option’s been broken since last year) so I’m frustrated on this front too.

Becoming a mother makes me even more suspicious of Facebook. I’m not sure how much of my life or my family’s life I want to share on the internet. I think I’d rather email photographs of the creature to my parents than point them to albums on Facebook.

I don’t know. I haven’t made my mind up about any of this. I may change my mind by the end of the week and my wall might be enabled again.

Have you thought about leaving? Why would you leave? Why would you stay?

Image: Steve Jurvetson

UPDATE: My pathetic protest has come to an end (for now) and I’ve reinstated my wall, etc. Hopefully the exercise has at least made me start thinking about what I do and don’t want to share. Also, I’ve just come across a great post examining Facebook’s overshare culture on Her Melness Speaks.