Essays

Why I Deleted My Facebook Account

by Man Bartlett on July 10, 2012

The last few seconds of Man's Facebook account

The last few seconds of my Facebook account

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.

 

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  • http://www.meadmclean.com Mead McLean

    Interesting, Man. Privacy aside, it’s a great idea to turn your wall into a group show of sorts, then delete it. If you’re going out, that’s the way to do it. Since you can download your whole fb account, it’d be cool to republish the show on another social network (like twitter).

    In reality, facebook isn’t all that necessary or great. I can’t remember the last time I had fun on that site (or even really as a result of it). I suppose I only keep it around to manage a page (which isn’t a particularly interesting form of promotion) and as a way to see (by getting tagged in) photos from the places I go (because I never take them). The facebook connect thing is pretty devious…

    As a side note, I’ve never liked the linearity of facebook and twitter. It’s a wash of information moving through time. I’d rather have something that’s more topic-related, but that’s not exactly a popular or easy idea right now.

    Please do a follow-up of changes you notice while not having facebook any more. I’d like to hear more about it.

    • http://twitter.com/molly_porter Molly Porter

      You can use twitter’s search and hashtags for a topic-related flow. It’s much better for that use than Facebook.

    • manbartlett

      Thanks Mead!

      Unfortunately the archive I downloaded was before the event and group show so I have no record of them. Which I kind of prefer, actually.

      Also interesting note about the linearity. It seems to me to be a downside of the “real time” factor, especially when EVERYONE is now sharing in real time, thus creating the wash. I think smaller, more niche social network services could potentially avoid a lot of these problems (and probably create new ones).

      • http://www.meadmclean.com Mead McLean

        The democratic forest problem…
        It’ll be tough to counter that. Pinterest seems to go a long way in fighting that, since boards are categorized. It’s a lot easier to find info and to store bookmarks that way.

        I’m also enjoying G+ right now. It’s efficient, looks nice, and the app is fast. Between that and google reader/flipboard, that’s plenty. I suppose the real point of all this is to perhaps reduce overall social media time or to make social media have a more direct effect on the really existing world. Maybe that’s why facebook has become so lame–because it’s not really having an effect on my life.

    • manbartlett

      Damn you Disqus!

  • http://twitter.com/molly_porter Molly Porter

    Man, ironically, your event page is still up!

    • http://bespangled.tumblr.com Janelle

      The event is still up, but anything Man posted is completely wiped. Posts by others will be listed as having 2 likes or comments, but if one of the two is by Man, they don’t appear/exist. You can almost see his absence in a way.

  • http://twitter.com/SioenRoux SioenRoux

    Interesting. I did the same thing when FB became a $100 billion corporation. I wonder if you’ve heard about Diaspora, where there is no centralized control, you own all your information and you determine privacy. I like it because there is great art there when you follow hashtags like “#art” and “#photo”.

    • manbartlett

      Thanks! I followed it’s Kickstarter campaign but then lost touch with it. When I looked into a couple months ago it was unclear what the status is/was. Will check it out again. Cheers

  • http://www.facebook.com/ianaleksanderadams Ian Aleksander Adams

    wouldn’t it be better to get paid for your share of the advertising revenue from your data vs paying to “own” your data, which you kind of already do and is kind of an outdated concept anyway?

    • manbartlett

      That’s an interesting thought. I really like what Kickstarter did recently with publishing their stats ( http://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats ). Seeing those numbers is really powerful. The next step would be re-empowering the user-base. Cheers

      • http://www.facebook.com/ianaleksanderadams Ian Aleksander Adams

        I had some pretty fleshed out technical ideas for this kind of system before, but it was mostly designed as a conceptual foil to facebook rather than an actual competitor. I’ve got little interest in running a start up right now.

  • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

    You can easily hide the Facebook email address and just as easily unhide any you don’t want hidden. If that was really the straw for you that’s pretty funny since Facebook announced a couple of months ago that they were going to do that and also provided information on how to quickly reset your email addresses to be visible when they made the change.

    • manbartlett

      Are you talking about this announcement: http://newsroom.fb.com/News/Addresses-on-Facebook-146.aspx

      Um. Yeah. And that was in April.

    • http://twitter.com/ChrisCollins Chris Collins

      For people that use facebook as an address book, yeah, this is a big deal. The contact information that you had for everyone in your network is now hidden. If you want to interact with the contacts you’ve made on facebook, you MUST do it using facebook, and that’s not the right place for a lot of correspondance.

      If they let me know they were doing this they did so very quietly. I remember when the new facebook email was rolled out (and how nobody used it) but don’t recall them saying it’ll hide your primary email address without asking or notifying you. And sure, YOU can reset your own email visibility, but what portion of your network is going to do that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/schoschie Niels Heidenreich

    I’ve been wanting to delete my FB account for at least 2 years now. But there is A LOT of data in there, some (most) of which I don’t want to just throw away. (I created my account in 2008. I have over 600 contacts. I post and share at least 10 items a day, on average. The data archive downloads I get are about 7-10 MBs, compressed.)

    What’s been stopping me from leaving Facebook is that there is no easy way to get all the data out. I mean ALL the data. You can download an archive and even an extended archive, but they are very incomplete. The last chunk I downloaded was missing an entire three months worth of data between this download and the last one I requested. Also, the archives contain only part of the stuff you put in there. For example, all of my Likes aren’t in there. I might be obsessive if I want every last detail out, but I don’t care :)
    I’ve been contemplating the options to solve this. I could write a bit of code that accesses FB’s API. It’s not easy but doable. The thing is that all of the API requests are limited. They will give you a chunk of the data but never all of it. I’ve not looked in deeply enough to find out if it’s possible to repeat requests so often that all the data can be accessed. This code could be some kind of PHP/Python/whatever script that I could run on my own machine, or it could even be a FB application.
    Of course, FB is not interested in making things like this easy to do. They want it to be as effortless as possible to put as much data in as you can, but to get that data back out, they want this to be very very hard.

    The other thing that troubles me is that FB has shown it will not actually delete your data if you delete your account. It’s no longer visible on FB, but the data is still there, and they are basically free to do with it what they want. I’m in Germany where privacy laws are a bit different, I think there are legal ways to force services to actually delete all your data, but I’m not firm on the issue. In either way, it might not help at all since FB is headquartered in the US.

    I’ve been thinking about writing code that would first save my data, then delete it chunk by chunk. Or overwrite it. That might not be enough, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if FB stores all edits of anything that you ever put in there. That is, even if I overwrite or delete a post (or comment, etc.), all the previous states might still be in FB’s databases.

    I’d be very interested to hear about everybody’s ideas on these issues.
    PS. Good article; I am completely with you on your reasoning.

    PS. You already mentioned Twitter and their planned walled garden. Same issues apply. And you rely on Disqus for comments on your blog. Again, another company that you entrust with complete control over all of your (and your readers’) data.

    Ironically, I have to use FB to authenticate with Disqus, so I can post this FB-critical comment. lol.

    • manbartlett

      Thank you for your comments. I didn’t mention this in the article, but before the switch to Timeline (and after as well), I spent a few weeks in late summer 2011 deleting every post on my wall back to 2006. It was much easier to do this before Timeline (I kicked myself for not finishing the process before I did). I initially did the mass purge not out of privacy concerns but more out of a sense that I wanted to “clean my room.” I also was realizing that while I have pretty strong principles about not accumulating a lot of physical/material possessions, I had a harder time parting with digital ones. Cleaning my wall made me at least a little more comfortable deleting my account knowing I had less history in there. Also, it was important to me that I not be too attached to that history. Otherwise I would forever stay under the shadow of the domain.

      In regards to Disqus. It’s a slippery slope when talking about privacy. For my part, I was lucky enough to avoid using Facebook Connect when I created my Disqus account (I think for now I use Twitter to authenticate). But as it is, on my own tumblr, there’s not enough of a comment community for me to seriously consider other options. And I haven’t researched enough to understand how my comments are used by the company.

      The authentication issue is an interesting one. I remember years ago wishing that OpenID (or similar concepts) would come into fashion. Not sure where all that stands, to be honest. Will be looking into it again though.

      Thanks for your comments, really great stuff. Cheers

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.pare Randy Paré

    I am utterly baffled by the issues people “manufacture” in regards facebook and social media in general. As with any technology use or do not use it – your choice. I don’t need to know the ethical content of the Board of Directors of Westinghouse in order to toast some bread. I make use of the device. I don’t stick a fork in it, I use the device as it was intended. Facebook is not some devious, dangerous intrusion into your private life… it is just a toaster, people.

    And I love me some toast with my morning coffee :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/randy.pare Randy Paré

      PS > and “pay” to use a social network… a small one at that? LOL Two thoughts on that: 1. The day we have to pay to use social media is the day we stop using media socially. 2. Me-thinks if someone [a certain Man?] were involved with building or promoting a network like that – it would transform this entire event into a shameless plug, hmm… ;)

      • manbartlett

        1. You think you don’t “pay” to use Facebook? You pay more than you even realize. Also, the ad-driven model is dying. The support structure that eventually replaces it remains to be seen, as does *what* the new structure will be supporting. As I said, it may not look anything like the “social media” we’ve come to understand.

        2. As I mentioned (rather earnestly) in the article, I have no agenda. If ever I am lucky enough to be a part of a team or to contribute my thoughts to one, you can best your ass I’d be transparent every step of the way. For example see http://twitter.com/OccupyMan. All of my finances are currently being publicly logged. Transparency and integrity are central to my artistic (and life) practice.

        In any event, thanks again for your comments. Cheers

    • manbartlett

      Thanks for the comments. Of course you don’t *need* to know the ethical content of the Board of Directors of Westinghouse. But as consumers (of content or toast), actually as sentient human beings, in my opinion we have an obligation to understand the impact our consumption has on the world (and the companies who profit off of us).

      And these are not “manufactured” issues, they have been written about at length by many of the publications I linked to in the article, and many more.

      Lastly, part of my job as an artist *is* to stick a fork in things. :)

  • http://twitter.com/odaraia Alice Dubiel

    Thank you documenting your extrication so thoroughly; I found your discussion compelling, and am grateful for your expertise. While I didn’t post my work nor use it as a medium for artwork, FB was an important channel for staying in touch with artists, galleries and with my son. I deleted the account last year after traveling to Korea where FB privacy/security asked me to identify pictures from “friends'” accounts. I didn’t recognize any of these, and assumed they could have been out of focus pictures of my son’s friends or some other obscure source. I felt the entire experience was useless if it is meant to stay connected to people and ideas. These are the problems of a for profit model in search of revenue.
    Thank you comments as well; I appreciate your thoughts and experiences.
    I have many networks now, not subscribing to the unified network theory, and it is not efficient, but for me it’s about marketing. Twitter has become a major source of news for me, whether art, science, international or politics, so some time there is the cost of that source. I’m grateful to learn about your work and guess I’ll find you there.

    • manbartlett

      Thanks! “Unified Network Theory.” I like that! And fascinating story about your Korea experience. Thanks for sharing. Cheers

      P.S. My mom was all like, I guess I have to follow you on Twitter now?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

    My gut instincts tell me that if you’re famous enough as an internet artist, you can afford to delete your Facebook, otherwise it’s kind of like cutting off an arm and a leg especially if you’re an internet artist that’s not based in New York or London. Facebook is the way you stay in touch with the world of Facebook.

    By now most avid Facebook users are aware of the changes happening to the FB UI. Prosuming is a paradoxical position. We are agents of the information we decide to share; we are also “dupes” to marketing and surveillance mechanisms if you choose to see your activity on the network that way. I don’t see how opting out is a way of recognizing or reconciling those paradoxical gratifications of the network. I know a few artists who have “disappeared”/deleted their account for a while; people forgot about that performance in a matter of months. The art game hard/the dope game easy. Sorry about crossposting from FB.

    • manbartlett

      Thanks for your comments.

      Re: Most avid FB users being aware: I was surprised by how many active users weren’t aware *at all* of what is going on. Including people on the periphery of the tech community. Not that we always should be, but to me this is a consistent failure (or rather strategy) on FB’s part.

      Opting out, in its simplest form, was a way to gain perspective. A perspective that can be used in thinking about my online social interactions moving forward, and how they might manifest (and where). I have no illusions that I’ll be remembered on Facebook, the same way I have no illusions about being remembered in my neighborhood bar after I quit drinking. I’m actually a little surprised this has generated the amount of conversation it has. It means that it’s on people’s minds to some degree, in various capacities. And that alone makes it worth the time (IMO).

      Oh, and thanks for the crosspost. ;)

    • http://twitter.com/A_Lan Alan Deleon

      I agree with this. I simply wouldn’t be able to do delete my facebook. Not that I am in love with Facebook or Twitter but I need that exposure. I can’t exhibit works constantly so being on Social Media is very important. If you aren’t on facebook it’s almost like you don’t exist.

      • manbartlett

        Existence is overrated. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1246929760 Mark Wolfgang

    Niels: Love your post! It’s reasons like this that for the past 7 months I’ve been creating my web application. It works well, and we’re looking for beta testers. Check out blog.yapzapp.com and http://www.yapzapp.com for more info, but basically, in one fell swoop, a YAPZAPP user will be able to delete his/her entire profile :)

  • maxwell hartley

    Facebook will become self-aware on 02:14 am Eastern Time after its activation on August 4, 2012. It’s facial recognition software combined with detailed files on human communication and Google Maps will arm Cyberdine produced Terminators with all the information they need to hunt every last person.You have been warned.

  • http://profiles.google.com/karisfa Richard OHearn

    i deleted my FB account a little over a year ago. i made the announcement, kept 3 contacts that I new I wanted to stay in touch with via email, and then cut the cord. it wasn’t until a couple days ago that I started a G+ account (not sure why…Google is always making me do things I don’t want to), and I gotta say I actually like Google+. Not as a social networking site wherein I get in touch with high school “friends”, but as a news streaming site. It is great if you keep your identity out of it, and only use it to keep current on things that interest you. although, i am new to it, so i might not be keeping my identity out of it as much as i think, but if that’s the case, i’ll delete that account too. enjoy being FB-free!

  • nina meledandri

    interesting for me to come across this now; i’ve recently been thinking of ending my “social media summer vacation” that seems to have lasted for 2 years. i can’t say i have missed FB and in fact, the thought of reviving my account feels me with all sorts of dread, your post has helped me to realize why. clearly i have much to consider before deciding to go back.

  • http://www.focusfinearts.com/ orbmanelson

    I deleted Facebook from my life about two years ago and then bought the URL: http://www.idontdofacebook.com/
    Who knows, perhaps I will use it as a startup!
    -orbmanelson

  • Steve Or Steven Read

    I like this writeup documenting what seems like a struggle. That is how I feel at least, since I had the same “almost going to quit this motherfucker” moment in late 2010. The remedy I came up with back then was to keep my account but complement it with my own microblogging website tool ( http://stevenread.com/points ) so I could own my data and then ‘oauth’ push it to twitter/face. It provided temporary relief but what I built ended up being more personal than social. {FAIL} So I have stayed with the social network, trying my best to use it only as a contact/events tool, but of course I get sucked into things there and continue to feel ill as your essay describes. If your article pushes even one person off the fence into quitting the beast then bravo! I may very well be one of those people as I am currently in search of a 21 day rehab facility.
    Steve

  • FrillArtist

    Deleted mine last year as well. I’ve been meaning to do it for a long time but just got the will one day and did it. I’m enjoying Google+ more now. Most of the people on there are a stark difference from the mundane status updates from high school or college friends and coworkers. It’s like a more social Twitter where you follow people that actually post stuff that interest you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1617802271 Jack Mathews Actioncop

    Dude you are one person most people dont care

  • Charles Frank

    There’re other reasons for quitting Facebook, too. My reason was how fake and shallow people were. “Friends.” Bah. Whatever. Those “friends” I actually cared about were people I met and knew in real life; real friends; not just a collection of people I knew. What a waste of time attempting to manage so many different people / groups / permissions, and have constant slip-ups and changes from Facebook. I run my own domains, and about ready to walk away from Tha Goog, too.

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