Why New America Foundation's president quit Facebook

James Losey from the New America Foundation writes, "I wanted to share New America Foundation's president Steve Coll's reasoning as to why he is leaving the Facebook. He analyzes a range of concerns including privacy concerns, a chaotic IPO, questionable corporate-governance system, mixed with a lack of user rights. "

I established a Facebook account in 2008. My motivation was ignoble: I wanted to distribute my journalism more widely. I have acquired since then just over four thousand 'friends'--in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, and of course, closer to home. I have discovered the appeal of Facebook's community--for example, the extraordinary emotional support that swells in virtual space when people come together online around a friend's illness or life celebrations.

Through its bedrock appeals to friendship, community, public identity, and activism--and its commercial exploitation of these values--Facebook is an unprecedented synthesis of corporate and public spaces. The corporation's social contract with users is ambitious, yet neither its governance system nor its young ruler seem trustworthy. Then came this month's initial public offering of stock--a chaotic and revealing event--which promises to put the whole enterprise under even greater pressure.

I quit FB a few years back. I felt like it took a lot more from me than it gave me.

Leaving Facebookistan (Thanks, James!)


      1.  When I tried to completely kill my account a couple years ago, it was extremely difficult. Maybe it’s become easier now.

        Seriously. It’s malware. Avoid at all costs.

  1. He cancelled his Facebook account because of “a chaotic IPO”?  Was it really because he felt that Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie was disrespectful to Wall Street?

  2. My mom likes to see the pictures of my kid that we post there, so, you know, I’m going to stick with it for the moment.

    I must be doing Facebook wrong. I don’t really get the burden at all.

    1. Yup.  I personally always found running my own blog or even WP type stuff just too much, especially compared to how much traffic it all got.

      Actually, without FB I’d have no idea what’s going on with all my friends on the other side of the world (literally).  I think it’s great that we get to stay in relatively close contact.

  3. I’m not sure why people make such a big deal out of FB and privacy…if you want to have a presence on FB do the following…

    1. Use you real name and a photo that people know is you. 
    2. Lie on almost every other piece of information in a humorous way that doesn’t confuse your friends…to much.
    3. Don’t join all the stupid widgets, games, functionality…ect. 

    Big freaking deal…the world has you name and photo…I”m quite sure we can dig up more then that on you from the intertubes.

    Get over your self importance everyone…or quiet filling out every freaking field on the forms. Lastly…this is for the stupid guy I know that owns his own business, don’t tell the world when you are going on vacation, where you live (yes his address is specific on his profile) and what you own in said house…

    1. None of these precautions will help at all

      For example, by default Facebook apps used by your friends have had permission to vacuum up your personal information, so it doesn’t make the slightest difference whether you join all the stupid widgets – you just have to know one person who would.

      Likewise, there are a lot of people for whom “name and photo” is plenty enough to cause serious trouble.  Adopted children, for example.

      People make a big deal out of FB and privacy because no other company simultaneously provides such a useful service and such a deliberately compromised and dangerous one.

      1.  Never mind that when they update their settings you need to go search *other sites* to find out how to dig in your settings to maximize your privacy and minimize what they can take/show about you.  That’s what’s so annoying to me.

      2. Sorry Tynam but in you haste to hate…you are not getting it. You state my friends “widgets” get to suck up my info but if you follow my guidelines you have given up hardly anything…no more then any other site or non-FB group…

        As far as you comment on “name and photos” as I stated in my comment such basic info can be found easily w/o FB on the internet…so for your adopted children comment…people have been finding out past family on the net long before FB…

        1. 1) Actually I quite like facebook, it provided a useful new service.  My hate is reserved for Zynga.

          2) It doesn’t matter if you don’t leak any information about yourself if your friends do.  The most important and valuable info is your web of social contacts.  You don’t routinely reveal that to other sites, and you can’t prevent FB from getting and exploiting it.

          No other major site has weakened and violated its own privacy policies so routinely.  You don’t even have to have an account with FB for them to track your web movement.

          3) I agree, FB is hardly the only way for your data to leak online.  But few sites are so determined to hide that possibility from the user, provide settings to prevent it, then do it anyway.  A naive web user could easily believe from FBs comments and settings that that won’t happen, whereas actually FB actively encourages it.  If FB had the balls to say in its policy “everything you post could be known to everybody, no matter what privacy settings you pick”, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

          There are dozens of places where I can post things that will only be seen by a chosen group of friends.  If I do that on Facebook, the chance that a later privacy change will leak the photos or tags, despite that precaution, approaches certainty.  That’s fine for me; I know that.  So, apparently, do you.

          Not everybody will be so lucky.  This is the kind of business decision that gets real people hurt.

  4. I always found FB an utterly horrible site, with its deceptively-styled ads that are meant to look like part of the site, and all the apps grasping for access to your details… not to mention the labyrinthine privacy options.

    I joined up a few years back, just cause everybody else was on it, and it seemed like the place to go to dig up folks out of your past. Without doubt, given its user base, that’s its killer app. But that’s all I’ll use it for.

  5. Never joined; don’t plan to. Why would I want virtual friendships instead of real ones?

    1. Why would I want virtual friendships instead of real ones?

      But with Facebook you don’t have to waste precious time calling or e-mailing your friends. With updates, friends can be batch processed!

  6. I joined in ’08 and was a fairly active user for a couple of years. But then things got crazy busy for a while and I fell away. I’m leaning towards killing the account, but hesitate on that point, largely because I’m a freelancer and that’s supposedly a helpful thing. (Which I’m not currently making any use of, so there’s that.)

    One of my biggest complaints is that it’s a huge time/effort investment to keep up with friends. I realized when I attempted to start keeping up again after most of a year ignoring it, that I’d need to devote well over an hour a day just to remain current. But then I discovered Flipboard, which makes it a lot less terrible. Using that tool I’m able to skim through the crap in a couple minutes each morning.

    In the past couple months I’ve made it a point to email friends I haven’t spoken to in a while. That seems to get me significantly better “results” than a status update or a wall post.

    1. Just don’t spend an hour. Just don’t have seen everything on Facebook. Just say, “oh, no, I didn’t see that. Tell me about it.” If that conversation never happens, missing a post isn’t that big a deal.

  7. I too want to leave Facebook.  James Losey — and also boingboing over the years — give good reasons.  But, unlike tubacat and antinous above (with respect!), I like the idea of social networking and get something out of Facebook.  I accept that it requires some discipline to really use it for maintaining friendships in a healthy way while avoiding wasting time on the site.  (After all, when I’m procrastinating from work, I spend far more time reading boingboing than on Facebook). 

    This leads to two questions:
    1.  What is my best integrated online social networking alternative for sharing photos and news and links with a network of family and friends of all ages with varying degrees of tech competence?  Google+?  If all the alternatives are poor, I may stick with Facebook after all.
    2.  I’d like to have some fun with Facebook before I leave.  I want to open some conversation threads for conversation with friends and colleagues about moving to a new social networking platform, in part hoping they move at the same time.  Also, as part of that conversation, I’d like to try out violating the terms of service and getting myself censored, just to figure out what Facebook limits really are binding.  This might help show the platform’s flaws and convince my friends to move.  Can anybody suggest violations to try?

    1. I’ve been told, “Why are you e-mailing me when you can just check my Facebook updates.”

  8. People who think FB “takes up to much time” or “is a burden” are truly horrible excuses for life. FB takes about five minutes before you go to bed, check up on what your friends and family are up to, and done….
    There are folks on here that probably spend HOURS every night surfing the net about tech, gadgets, comic books, recipies, news, politics, etc. and don’t find it a burden at all… but all of a sudden FB “is hard to do” when its five minutes with friends and families. Pathetic.

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