It's frightening to think about how much Facebook knows about you, depending on how active you might be on the social network. I have been heavily involved since early 2008, which means Facebook has more than 10 years of data on me. It knows all about my family and friends, where we all live, where we vacation, where we work, worship and shop. Facebook knows about my dog, my hobbies and where I like to go to lunch. Oh, how valuable all of that information must be to advertisers and companies fighting for my hard-earned money.
Has Facebook forced me to give them all this treasured data? Absolutely not. I have willingly posted about all of these things, but have also paid careful attention to my privacy settings. On my personal Facebook page, I only allow people I actually know to befriend me and am thoughtful about limiting any details that could come back to bite me one day. But the privacy settings I have so pointedly customized may not mean much.
Privacy and hacking issues have plagued Facebook throughout 2018. The big one that made front page news earlier this year was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We learned that Facebook allowed the political consultants to grab a lot of personal data from about 90 million users without permission. The Washington Post recently reported that the attorney general of the District of Columbia has filed the first lawsuit (other states may soon follow).
A report released this month commissioned by the Senate intelligence committee found Russian influence ran rampant on Facebook — among other social media platforms — during the 2016 presidential campaign. The report explains Russia's Internet Research Agency used social media to misinform and polarize millions of US voters.
Just a few months ago, hackers gained access to 30 million Facebook accounts, allowing them to take over the accounts and post as the users.
Advocacy groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP have called on Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg to step down, saying Facebook allowed other entities to target civil rights groups.
Needless to say, the hashtag #deletefacebook went into play earlier this year and has been popping up on feeds for most of 2018. Public figures like comedian Will Ferrell, singer Cher and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk have all deleted their Facebook accounts.
But the problem with quitting Facebook is that sometimes the social media site is great. I love being able to catch up on the lives of friends and family who I care about, but maybe don't communicate with often enough. I love using the marketplace to buy things from people in my community. I love the reminders for people's birthdays. I love sharing pictures of criminals the police are trying to track down.
Facebook is also vital for brands and businesses who are trying to reach their audiences. It's tough to find another inexpensive way to have contact with so many people who are interested in your products and services. I've had many jobs where posting regularly to social media accounts was actually a requirement. So quitting Facebook isn't something everyone can do or wants to do.
But if the scandals and the hacks have proven too much for you to handle and you want to step away, I suggest taking baby steps. Many of you have taken breaks from social media before. Think about those times and whether it made you anxious, or filled with a peace you hadn't known since before you ever knew about followers and likes. Now, maybe give it another try. Start by deactivating your account for a week and see how it goes.
Deactivating an account allows Facebook to save all your account's information, so it's there waiting for you if you decide to come back. It also hides your account from others, so it won't pop up, even if someone searches for it. To deactivate, click the upside-down triangle in the upper right corner of your screen. Go to Settings>General>Manage Your Account>Deactivate.
If you try that for a week and like it, then try it for two weeks, then a month, then six months. If at that point you decide you simply don't need Facebook in your life, there are more things to think about before you permanently delete your account. First, download all your data by clicking the upside-down triangle>Settings>Your Facebook Information>Download Your Information. Then, make sure you have alternate ways of contacting those friends and followers that you only communicate with through Facebook. Finally, realize there is no coming back from deletion. If you decide at some point to return to Facebook, you will be starting from scratch. Still ready to say goodbye? To delete, go to the Permanently Delete Account page.
Happy New Year, and I'll see you on Instagram. Oh wait, it's owned by Facebook too.