Social media is a key part of publishing and communications work. I would almost say essential. But I grew up in a time when no one had home computers. I got my first email address when I was in university, and I was on the vanguard when I set up a freenet account. Back then, people used telephones that had wires attached to a jack in the wall, and mail came through the post. It seems quaint now, but it worked, and I dare say that if you really want to get someone's attention a phone call is still probably the best way to reach them.
The big difference now is that we have more communication tools to choose from: email, websites, social media, phones, mobile data, good old fashioned letters, and let's not forget print media. I still prefer to have something in my hands to read, like a book or a Saturday morning paper.
But choices are often dictated by larger social patterns and movements, markets and cultures. In publishing, it would be hard to choose communication tools that did not involve social media sites like Facebook. And yet, that's exactly what I chose to do this week. I deleted my Facebook account.
Over the weekend, the Observer broke the story of a massive data breach involving 50 million unwitting Facebook users. The most senior levels of government in the UK, the US, and Canada are now opening investigations, because it looks as though every type of data that individuals put on Facebook - including posts, videos, photos, travelogues, favourite shows, groups, friends, and even private messages - was sold to Cambridge Analytica and used to influence the US election and Brexit vote.
The campaigns did not just create targeted ads, but also creative content that looked nothing like political advertising. A 'personal' blog, for example, would be set up to sway public opinion leading up to voting day. Propaganda at its most sophisticated.
#DeleteFacebook has become a trend since this story broke. I've tried to find out how many people have deleted their Facebook accounts, but that data is probably going to stay behind the walls of the shrinking social media giant for some time to come. What is known is that Facebook shares have plummeted by $37 billion. That's 10 per cent of the company's value gone in the week following the scandal.
I'd actually made moves to delete my account long before this story broke. I suspended my Facebook account last year. I was growing more uneasy Facebook's underbelly, particularly its effects on children. Teens, vulnerable to social judgement and addictions, are desperately posting to collect 'Likes', when really they should be learning how to take good care of themselves and tune into their passions and strengths. Kids have been damaged, sometimes to the point of suicide, by bullies who use Facebook to tyrannize their targets. At its worst, Facebook has enabled the sexual abuse of children across its platform, broadcast gang rape, and displayed live feeds of murder and suicide.
What troubles me just as much now is the effect that Facebook is having on society, democracy, leadership, decision making, and governance.
You could argue that Facebook is merely a reflection of our society, but the company has continually failed to do better in these cases of dark human behaviour. It does so while putting on a face about altruistic intentions and fostering positive human connections. Perhaps this is the true meaning of face-book. Have we all been too naive?
People love the platform because it's made it easy for us to stay in touch with friends and family. We share our profiles with trusted partners, friends, and family members.
The actions of the company are at odds with those trusting relationships. Their business model is built on violations of trust, like a stalker who breaks into your house and rifles through your underwear drawer. Times 50 million. You wouldn't invite that guy in and ask him to be your boyfriend, would you?
I reactivated my account this fall because I had work and volunteer commitments that operated via Facebook. But the latest news about the company's relationship with Cambridge Analytica gave me the final push I needed, and I decided to work without Facebook for good.
I've never gotten paid work through Facebook, though I put plenty of work into maintaining a social media presence. What brings in contracts for me are my professional associations, face to face networking, word of mouth, and personal connections. So how essential is Facebook, really?
As for friends and family, I decided years ago to stop posting about my family. I wanted to let my kids make an informed decision about how public they wanted their lives to be when they were old enough to do so. I do love to see updates from my friends, who are scattered around the world. But I know that we can find each other without Facebook. It might actually be refreshing to send a postcard from time to time and to get one in return.
There are so many options we have for communications now. So, while you won't find me on Facebook anymore, I do still have an online presence here at www.erikawestman.ca, on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also shoot me an email, call me, and if you're in the Toronto area, let's meet up for a coffee and talk about what really matters. Namely, your work!