Spencer C. Knox, MD

Internal Medicine Resident Physician, PGY-3

Category: Technology

I Deleted Facebook after Twelve Years

Yesterday, I deleted my Facebook account.  The decision was made after nearly a year of back and forth thinking.  I surprised myself, questioning, “Should I delete my account or not?  What will other people think?  What will I miss?”  In the minutes after deleting my account, I felt emptiness and — dare I say — a little anxious.  Those feelings quickly faded.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s kind of crazy to know that Facebook was a “free” service I had been using since ~2006.  Opening an account just before I entered undergraduate school, it was fun to stay in contact with people my own age.  Even through undergrad and med school, it helped me stay in contact with family.  Doing some high-level math, my total time investment equates to TWELVE years of loyalty to Facebook, the social network.

Valued at $500 billion dollars as recently as July 2017, the wealthy corporation, whose mission is to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” has amassed TWELVE years’ worth of my data.  The problem is this data, either in part or whole, has been patently been exploited for financial profit.  In my opinion, it is unlikely that Facebook will stop using targeted advertisements, which requires lots of user data.

Impetus to Delete My Facebook Account

Unknown extent of the (ab)use of my account’s data.

There are numerous well-written articles (see list) describing the now-famous data breach by Cambridge Analytica (CA), wherein Facebook data of 50 million users was stockpiled in an effort to develop profiling models of U.S. voters in an attempt to manipulate human behavior.  Data included user identities, “likes” activity information, and friend networks.

The NY Times reports that “Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.”  The vehicle to acquire this data was a survey that some people voluntarily completed.  The same NY Times article also reports that “Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.” A list of predicted traits were eventually developed by a researcher associated with CA, including:  neuroticism, openness, IQ, political views, job information, whether one allows self-disclosure, and many others.  Per the NY Times article (website link in this paragraph), CA still has copies of Facebook user data.

TIME magazine shed light on the fact that Android cellphone users had call and text messaging log information transmitted to Facebook over several years.  Some screenshots show call type, contact’s name, and duration of the call.  These people entrusted Facebook Messenger, granting access to their phonebook contacts, so they could use the app.  However, it seems to be less clear to the end-user exactly the level of detail uploaded to Facebook’s system.  Interestingly, Facebook users who did not use the Messenger mobile app do not seem to have been notified their contact information was transmitted to Facebook.

Although I am simplifying matters here, I want to stress the seriousness of these events.  Users’ data was unknowingly used for financial and political profit.

Deactivation vs. Deletion

Knowing that we have the option to “deactivate” or “delete” our account is important.  If deleting your account, consider downloading a copy of your Facebook data (in “settings”) and also downloading any tagged photos uploaded by other friends that you want to save (must be done individually).

According to Facebook’s official website, here are the differences:

  • Deactivation
    • Profile/timeline are temporarily taken down, no longer visible to public.
    • Messages and “some other information” are still visible to “others.”  Language is vague here and needs more detail.
    • Simply log in and pick up where you left off.  All data is intact.
  • Deletion
    • Once processed (takes ~14 days per Facebook), you lose all access to your old account.  Request may be canceled by logging back in.
    • Could take up to 90 days (three months) to delete information in backup servers/systems.
    • “Some information” still is visible to others.  Vague language again here, needs more specificity by Facebook.
    • Facebook still retains log records and “some material,” but assures the person’s name is “disassociated” from this material.

Screenshot Source: Facebook.com, date 3/30/2018.

Moving Forward

The benefit of using Facebook does not outweigh the harm, or specifically, the use of my account for profit using techniques I do not agree with.  Similar to when I deleted my Instagram and Snapchat accounts, I feel a renewed sense of focus and presence in the here-and-now.  I sincerely hope we as a society are able to find a way to communicate with friends and family that does not exploit our information for profit.

Moving forward, I plan on using “old school” modalities including text messaging, phone calls, and email.  For now, I plan on keeping my Twitter account because it allows me to easily follow authentic medical doctors, medical journals, and other healthcare professionals.  My hope is that tech companies make a concerted effort to adhere to privacy rules and avoid transfer of user data in unsavory ways.  Transparency using plain language is key.

More Reading

The information on this post has been gleaned from the following well-written news articles.  I suggest anyone who is interested in this topic to read more.


Photo credit:  https://unsplash.com/@stickermule

Consolidating Social Media Accounts

I recently came across a terrifically intriguing TEDx talk regarding social media.  The title?  “Quit Social Media,” by a self-proclaimed “Millennial, computer scientist, book author” from Georgetown University.  A short 13-minute video with over 1.5 million views (as of May 31, 2017), with that title, instantaneously piqued my curiosity.  I watched.  He also wrote an article for the NY Times on the same topic.

Transformative content on the internet is just that – potentially life-changing.  Think of educational YouTube videos (like TEDx), or other videos that teach specialized skills to allow the busy professional to hone skills for a beloved hobby.  Also easily obtainable online is a construct commonly known as “social media.”  Everyone and everything (e.g. dogs, businesses, etc.) have a social media presence nowadays.  Viral videos are commonplace.  Flashy color schemes and “sophisticated” new features including new platforms like SnapChat and Periscope (and countless others) seem to populate an ever-crowded space.

Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about.
– Dr. Cal Newport

I recall the first Facebook days, around the time I was in senior year in high school; the primitive network was “semi-exclusive,” allowing only those with .edu email addresses to log in.  Today, Facebook remains a routinely visited website on my home laptop after a busy day at work.  I truly enjoy “catching up” with family and friends, mainly via photo sharing.

However, I noticed an unsettling trend amongst my social media practices – something I’ll call “social media bouncing.”  I define this as leaping across a multitude of networks, from Facebook to Instagram to SnapChat to Twitter to LinkedIn while aimlessly browsing news feeds.  I know I’m not alone.  A 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed that approximately 50% of people use at least two or more social media services (I suspect more people participate in multiple social media services in 2017).

 

In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable.

 

I love this quote from Dr. Newport’s article and TEDx talk.  I find that some people look to social media as a way to attract attention, thereby bolstering their own personal brand.  The endpoint?  Perhaps the thrill of attention; however, I posit that the same people feel it will further their career or in some way generate money/fame.

Considering my own social media involvement, I decided to free up more time to learn new skills, become a better physician, and enjoy more leisure time.  To do this, I deleted some of my accounts.  The only accounts that remain are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Even more fascinating was the multi-step process required to delete a social media account.  In May 2017, I began deleting my social media accounts.  I’m technologically adept, yet I could not find the page to delete my account.  I enlisted the help of Google to point me to the page/form needed to actually delete (not “suspend” or “deactivate”) my account.  The services are so concerned with keeping their valued customers (“friends”) that they ensure you give them more data entry points before you leave.  I reminded myself that every single data entry point on social media is a source of revenue for these companies.  This only hastened my desire to leave Instagram and SnapChat.

 

I want to be the very best physician possible.  However, I desire leisure time just as much as the next human.  Filling this leisure time is made exceedingly more useful by watching top-rated movies, learning new skills via online videos, reading textbooks, traveling, and spending time with friends/family.  I needed to be reminded of how social media is not as useful as I once thought it was.

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