In the Homeward Bound program (see my post on why I joined it), a large part of communication happens on Facebook. Therefore the moment came for me to do something I was successfully avoiding my whole life: join social media. And now my struggle begins.
I was not considering being on social media because of the two main reasons. First, I cannot accept our society letting these tech behemoths do whatever they please with our personal information. Track any step we take, analyse it, sell it, use for manipulating our opinions etc. It’s very likely that already in 50 years people will be shocked when learning how we have completely voluntarily exposed ourselves to these companies and gave them an incredible power over our societies and private lives. We allow Google to collect information about our location every 5 minutes. There have been massive leaks and misuse of Facebook user data, but we keep using it.
When I discuss this topic with my friends, I often get the same response: “My personal life is not that interesting, even if someone steels my data it won’t be so bad”. However, it’s not a breach of my privacy I’m worried about. I’m worried about how the data is used. Based on what we put online, the companies decide what information to show to us and what to hide and massively influence our opinions, views, connections, and behaviour. Although statements that customization of social media and search engines creates a filter bubble and polarizes the society are to be taken with care, there exist multiple evidence of social media being employed for political manipulations, including the recent Facebook data scandal. Even if you are on social media only to connect to your closest friends and family, think about your neighbours that might use it as a primary source of information about what’s going on in the world.
It’s in our best interest to get more social control over these companies. And while things are slowly moving forward, the situation is still far from being acceptable. To protest against companies, we don’t need to march on the street with posters, be confronted by police, get arrested. It can be done much easier – by refusing to use their products. This is what I was consciously doing so far (although I’m still on gmail which is pretty bad 😦 )
(Did you know that, thanks to General Data Protection Regulation, you can now explore the data Google stored about you such as location and search history, delete the data, and prohibit Google to track you in future? Go to myactivity.google.com to do it!)
The second reason why I was never interested in social media is related to how I obtain and share knowledge. Let me tell you how I became vegan. I met a vegetarian person. He was never bringing up the topic of being vegetarian. But we used to share many lunches; over time I noticed that he didn’t eat meat and I got curious. We kept discussing the topic for a couple of years before I decided that this was something I wanted to do myself. The same way, several friends of mine (and also some of their friends) are now vegetarian. I best learn and share by example and long personal discussions rather then by catchy slogans.
Social media, as any news feed, offer you lots and lots of information, trying hard to grasp your attention by any possible means. Instead of browsing though long pages of short messages, I prefer to spend time exploring one topic in depth, spending days, months and sometimes years on it, before I can form an opinion. I’d call it ‘slow information’, similar to ‘slow food’.
And yet here I am joining Facebook, which feels like going against my own values. So far, I had a truly bad experience with it. Years ago, I have registered to see how it works and immediately forgot about it. When I wanted to delete my profile months later, fb asked me to provide my id, although I knew my password and my email was functional. I obviously refused. This profile is still somewhere out there and it will probably outlive me.
This time I was well prepared. I created a random email account by a minor German email provider. I set up an empty fb account and joined the Homeward Bound group (a closed group where you have to be approved by an organizer). This was all I wanted. But after 2 days, fb asked me for a phone number, otherwise I couldn’t log in. I fed it some number. Soon I figured out that I couldn’t post links in my comments to the Homeward Bound group. Very annoying, but I could live with that. After a week or so my account was blocked again ‘for my safety’ and I was asked to provide a photo with my face. Ok, I fed it a photo. It was unblocked after another week. A couple of weeks of quietly reading the group messages and sometimes commenting (without links). And then BANG! For no reason, without any explanation, my account was disabled. To submit a complain one needs to provide an id. Seriously??? Otherwise, there’s no feedback, no customer service, nothing. Of course, I didn’t send my id. After about a month, I tried to log in and magically my account happened to be functional. I was reading posts again, this time without even commenting. Nevertheless, my account was disabled for the third time and it still stays this way. Let’s see if anything will change next year. If it will, I will probably have to ask a couple of Homeward Bound participants to add me as their friend. Maybe this could make me a bit more trustworthy for fb. But nothing will make fb trustworthy for me.
Apart from my traumatizing experience with fb, I also started exploring Twitter, because many of the Homeward Bound participants use it as well. So far Twitter appears to be less hungry for my personal information. No demands to provide phone numbers, birth dates, locations, pictures, or anything else. One email is enough. I still need to get used to the Twitter culture though. Everything there is inspiring, life changing, exciting, ground breaking, successful, and emotional. Or on the other side: challenging, devastating, depressing. It’s like a constant flow of mini TED talks.
My Twitter feed is going to be mostly mono-topic. I’ve been following people tweeting about issues related to Homeward Bound: climate change, ecology, diversity, leadership, ethics in science. Similarly, I will only tweet on the same issues. Thus, it can be seen as exploring one topic over a long period of time and hopefully keeping the ‘slow information’ approach. But oh man, being on social media is challenging 🙂