One thing I’ve been fascinated with lately, mainly due to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the news of Facebook’s psychology experiment, is how much it takes for people to get fed up with an organization or business to the point where you boycott or quit.

There are plenty of companies that have done enough to warrant a boycott, but anecdotally I’d say it takes a LOT to get to that breaking point. The question is, why?

In terms of Facebook, the list of questionable choices and privacy violations gives me enough pause to seriously consider leaving the site. At best, Facebook has good intentions but they just don’t think through decisions all that well. At worst, Facebook has a questionable ethical/moral compass and they’ll do what it takes to advance the company — users be damned.

For what it’s worth, I lean more toward the questionable ethics side of things only because they have a serious history (8+ years!) of making wrong decisions and using virtually the same excuse every time: “We’re sorry, we should have explained things better! I know we can do better.”

The infamous Fake Steve Jobs blog hit on this way back in 2008. You can take out the mentions of the Beacon fiasco from the post and substitute it with the psychology experiment without any problem.

Fake Steve Jobs sums it up well:

Facebook’s business model is the opposite. It pits Facebook against its customers. The amount of money that Facebook can make is defined (and constrained) by the degree to which its users will allow themselves to be exploited.

I do understand why Facebook does what it does, the way it does:

  1. The culture at Facebook has very much been “move fast and break stuff”, given their hacker-influenced early days. However, continuing down that path when you have over a billion users is a poor choice and definitely does not benefit users.

  2. The need to increase revenue and make a profit as a public company. It’s hard to deny this as a driving force in many decisions. When you run a free or ad supported site, though, the need to continually increase revenue very rarely results in decisions that benefit users.

I think there are a couple reasons why most people either ignore the Facebook controversies or stick it out against their better judgment:

  1. Network effect. EVERYONE is on Facebook. Well, not everyone obviously, but enough to make it seem that way.
  2. Humans are good at rationalizing poor decisions. Especially when it comes to addiction and I’d argue many people are addicted to those small jolts of self-esteem that come from the Facebook Like button. See also: FOMO and Social Media.
  3. Deep down we’re all narcissistic to some degree. (Related to #2 of course.) Our default setting is self-centeredness and social networks feed that behavior. More people interested in you, expressed through friends, followers, and likes. See also: This is Water.
  4. Change is hard and hard work. Good or bad, Facebook has made it insanely easy to keep up with your network. Doing so without Facebook was and is possible, though — it’s just way more work.

The main reason people will give is #1, obviously. The other stuff is human behavior, which I’d argue is harder for people to overcome… so Facebook has that going for it. (Ha.)

Given all of this, what would it take to get you to quit Facebook?

If nothing Facebook has done (yet) meets your criteria to quit, what would it take? The answer obviously comes down to weighing the questionable behavior and potential negative outcomes versus the utility of the service.

Here’s what I think (and it’s not strictly limited to Facebook):

  • People in general need to hold companies, politicians, organizations, and individuals more accountable. Stand up for your beliefs. Boycott, vote against, quit… do whatever it takes to make a difference in your personal life. The more people that do that, the more positive change we’ll experience in all aspects of life.
  • I think the utility and benefit of many things is overstated, largely due to laziness: the work involved to switch or find and maintain other options. In terms of Facebook: RSS and Twitter do a much better job at news and content; text messaging and iMessage do a better job at instant messaging; Flickr and Instagram (I know) do a better job at photos; Tumblr and other blog systems do a better job at sharing your opinions and personal content; and (soon) will be back to rock the world of events.
  • With that said, I think the web is better off with all these services doing their thing well on an open and free (as in speech) internet. No walled gardens or singular behemoth sites. You know, what it was like before Facebook came along. It is more work but I think we could all do with a little less quantity and a whole lot more quality on the web.

For me, I think I am done with Facebook. I am trying to decide between quitting the site or simply taking a hiatus, similar to what I did a year ago.

As always, my main homes on the web will continue to be:

  • This blog
  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Email and Twitter are probably the best way to get a hold of me. If you want my phone number, send me a note and I’ll get you the digits.

Additional Reading

Here’s some Facebook-related material I’ve bookmarked and read lately:


I am a patient boy.

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