I left Facebook

Why I ditched the giant social network

Published July 10, 2012 3:22PM (EDT)

 The last few seconds of my Facebook account
The last few seconds of my Facebook account

This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.

In 2010 I came close. It was around the time that there was a big stink about Facebook’s changes to its Privacy Policy. Remember that? No? It’s cool, I’d forgotten too, despite how upset I was at the time. I told myself then that I couldn’t afford to leave my “network.” And that was probably true. Facebook provided a lot of visibility for my art practice and directly led to at least a few sales. But this time was different. I’ll get to the “why” in a minute, but first, the “how.”
Deleting my Facebook account was a four-day affair. It took me that long to disentangle myself from the service and to let others know how else they could find me. “Disentangling” entailed deleting my photos, “unliking” everything and disconnecting all of the third-party services that used Facebook Connect to log me in. You may have seen these around the web, with the option to “log in with your Facebook account.” The problem is that, to my knowledge, there’s no way to get a list of the sites you’ve accessed with Facebook Connect. The reason these have to be disconnected is because in order to delete your account, you have to be completely logged out for 14 days. If you log in via any means (including Facebook Connect) during that time, you will have to start the process over, and wait another 14 days.

Social media is, in many ways, the mouthpiece for a new “me” generation. For years I’ve worked within this context, trying to find ways to poke at that conception — to subvert and manipulate it. But despite the common refrain that there are evils in all social media services, last week I found myself in a position where my principles overtook my apathy. Specifically, there were two relatively inconsequential things that precipitated my decision to leave Facebook.

The first was the removal of a very tame image of a topless woman crossing the street that was posted by Humans of New York. Ironically, she is walking around topless to promote the fact that it is perfectly legal to do so in New York. Despite the fact that you could barely make out her areolas, the photo was removed, I imagine for violating the Terms of Service. But not only was the image deleted — all of the discussions around the image were also deleted, from all of the people who had shared it, myself included, with no warning or notification after the fact. It just disappeared as if it had never been. This was not a pornographic image in any sense of the imagination, so its removal, and the manner of its removal, was especially troubling to me. Similarly, and shortly after this occurred, a harmless image showing the wrong date for the Back to the Future “Day of the Future” was also deleted. I don’t support the spread of misinformation in any capacity, but removing a photoshopped image referencing Back to the Future, really? Again without any heads up or warning? I’m so not cool with that. Because, not to sound paranoid, but where does it stop?

Second — and the tipping point for me — was the action that Facebook took to change my default email address in my bio to my facebook.com email address. And yours too, actually. In fact, everyone’s default email was changed to his or her facebook.com email address. And more infuriating, any other email addresses you had listed are now hidden. Contrarians will say that Facebook “made this announcement” in April; however, that’s misleading. As NPR pointed out recently, in April there was an announcement that most likely only a few people saw, which said ” … [W]e’re updating addresses on Facebook to make them consistent across our site.” Right. So by “updating,” they meant “making it your default” and “Oh, you don’t want anyone else to see your other email addresses, right, so we’ll just hide them for you.” Actually, Facebook (FB), no. You can go fuck yourself.

Nasty language aside, to me these issues are more about control than privacy. They also remind me of the “sleazy” factor that programmer/entrepreneur/collector Barry Hoggard mentioned back in 2010 when he deleted his account.

So after I created the event for deleting my account, it expectedly got some people’s attention. I treated the entire process as a performance that operated on both sincere and subversive levels. For four days I posted an excessive number of status updates. I also invited others to participate in a summer group show on my Facebook wall that I called Free for Y’all. I encouraged everyone and anyone to spam my wall with their art, self-promotional info, dick pics or whatever they wanted. Similar to X-Initiative’s B.Y.O.A. or Bruce High Quality Foundation’s Brucennial, but online. Too many artists submitted to list them all here, but content ranged from paintings to net art to dogs dressed in Lady Gaga outfits to fireworks and YouTube videos. And for the record, I received only one dick pic, of Andy Dick (thanks Paul Schmelzer!).

It remains to be seen what #NewInternet — or an Internet without Facebook — will look like for me, or for us. On the one hand, I have some professional concerns considering my status as an others-proclaimed “Social-Media Artist.” While I sometimes accept this association, I’m not sure what purpose it serves other than to create a shorthand with which to approach the work. The work will always be the work, whatever platform/medium it is being created/presented on. It is the responsibility of the creator to push the boundaries of creative expression, wherever that may be. And if my concerns are more related to the “brand” of “Man Bartlett the Social-Media Artist,” then I’m already beyond repair.

And to be clear, Facebook is not the only company giving me cause for alarm these days, they’re just by far the biggest. I recently read an article about Twitter’s push towards a walled garden. Google’s Privacy Policy update from a few months ago was also something to behold. And if/once the Instagram acquisition is finalized, will I be compelled to delete that account as well?

A screenshot of Man Bartlett’s “#24hKith” social media performance at Hyperallergic HQ in November 2010. (photo via flickr.com/hragvartanian)

I don’t intend this to be a rant, or indictment, or any call to action. Rather it’s a long overdue personal reflection about the impact of the new web powers, and what I hope marks the beginning of the end of one model (huge network, ad-driven walled garden) and the beginning of a new one. I ruminated recently that I would be willing to pay a monthly subscription for a smaller, more “local” social network. One where I pay to own my data. One where I am treated like a user, not a “usee” (to quote George Tannenbaum from a recent post). Along those lines,one of my roommates and I like to talk about the future of the web experience. He believes, as do I, that whatever “replaces” Facebook, may not look anything like social media as we know it. It is this idea that has me most excited and inspired to think about the creation of new work. Because at its core, our online experience is still driven by how we communicate. What we offer each other of our lives, and what we consume.

More immediate, and practically speaking, there is a lively conversation happening around the web about the future of the internet, in draft form as a “Declaration of Internet Freedom.” If you’ve come this far, it’s certainly worth checking out.

Regardless of the next few months/years, I am grateful that I am no longer one of a mostly apathetic mass on Facebook. I am grateful I won’t have to shudder when I see Mark Zuckerberg’s expression when his website hits one billion users. I’ll probably be tweeting about it.

By Man Bartlett

Man Bartlett is a Brooklyn based artist and coffee enthusiast. He lives online at manbartlett.com, Twitter @manbartlett and tumblr too.

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