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Bianca Bosker

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Why We Quit Facebook: The New Tell-All

Posted: 07/13/2012 3:46 pm

It turns out people leave Facebook the same way they lived Facebook: with lots and lots of sharing.

Artist Man Bartlett posted a blog earlier this week called "Why I Deleted My Facebook Account," which marks the latest installment in the burgeoning genre of Facebook-quitter confessionals. Call them the de-Facement diaries.

Usually when we decide to stop doing something online, we just stop. We unplug, we close the window, delete the app, or just never come back. But like a four-year relationship that suddenly bites the dust, leaving Facebook apparently merits an exegesis of what went wrong and why. And just like a messy, acrimonious breakup, it's always, "It's not me, it's you.

Bartlett's tell-all follows the same narrative arc as previous accounts of "de-Facing" as other masters of the genre, such as the New Yorker's Steve Coll, the New York Observer's Elise Knutsen, and The Daily contributor Sean Bonner, whose tell-all treatises on leaving Facebook all appeared within days of each other (and Facebook's public offering) in May. A rash of them also appeared in February on the heels of Facebook announcing its plans to go public, including "What I Learned When I Quit Facebook" in The Daily Muse, "Why I Quit Facebook, and Why You Ought to Join Me" in PolicyMic, and "Why I Quit Facebook" in the New York Post.

The tales of social de-networking read like self-help books: I thought I was happy, but I was hurting myself and others around me. Here's how I got better and you can, too. They also imply that leaving Facebook is something surprising and bold. And two years ago, when a handful of techie early adopter-types became Facebook's early defectors, perhaps it was.

But these days, discontent with Facebook seems more the rule than the exception. More than a third of Facebook users are spending less time on the site now than they were six months ago, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found, and Facebook's U.S. user growth rate in April was the smallest ever since comScore started tracking the figure four years ago. Even Sean Parker, Facebook's first president and an early investor in the company, said he feels "somewhat bored" by the social network.

A love letter to Facebook would be a bigger surprise than seeing another "Dear John" letter detailing the social network's flaws, and the uptick in these tell-alls means they increasingly draw eye-rolls from the Internet.

"Top indicator that yr a precious doof: u write grandiose article abt how u quit Facebook," tweeted Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall, his hashtag an abbreviation for "who the f--k cares."

I'd counter that it isn't that no one cares -- people post all kinds of things to the Internet every day that we care nothing about. Instead, our response to the list of grievances outlined by authors like Coll, Bartlett and Knutsen is often an exasperated, "We know." Reading about their concerns with Facebook's respect (or lack thereof) for personal information feels like being told Exxon isn't doing enough to help wildlife. We get it. What else is new?

So why do people leave? Lack of trust, mostly -- a sense that Facebook can't be depended on to protect our personal information and will sell us out to make a buck. We are its greatest asset, but what Facebook does with us and our identities online is entirely beyond our control, the authors of these quitter confessionals argue. Facebook helped their case just a few weeks ago when it automatically updated members' profile pages to show the addresses of their Facebook email accounts. The only way to avoid having the information featured was to take it down after Facebook put it up.

The issue for the social networking site is whether this tension between public and private, and people and profits, can ever be resolved. Clearly, hundreds of millions of users aren't too bothered by it.

But as the tell-alls show, users' doubts haven't been put to rest, and if anything have been reawakened by all of the coverage concerning Facebook's need to make money. Their public offering put a dollar figure on our personal data that the citizens of the social network aren't soon going to forget, especially when each quarter will bring a new financial statement with an updated estimate of what we're worth.

Since its privacy meltdown two years ago, the company has tried to be on its best behavior, revamping its privacy settings to allow for more control, weeding out confusing legalese from its terms of use, and publicizing its safety measures. Yet just as Facebook ensures that our own indiscretions go unforgotten, Facebook may find that getting the rest of us to forgive and forget is harder than it had hoped.

 

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