I’ve decided to deprioritize Facebook in my life. I made this decision back in autumn, but decided to stick it out to be able to engage with people up to and through Seattle’s recent elections.
Engaging on Facebook has taken up more time than I care to admit over the past several years. I joined Facebook in 2007, three years after its founding. During that year, I invited a lot of friends to it. Over the ensuing thirteen years, I’ve made 5,387 posts, and uploaded over 2 gigabytes of photos and video to it.
From about 2014 onward, I’ve used Facebook as a journal of sorts. I’ve posted vacation photos and family updates. But unlike many people who wisely stay away from politics and controversy, I’ve also shared news items and articles and predictions which interest me, and on more than one occasion they’ve run against the grain of a very deep blue political sentiment among family and friends at the moment. I am a huge advocate of breaking one’s own filter-bubble, and I have felt that too many Americans have succumbed to an ever-narrower range of news sources.
I’ve really enjoyed hearing from friends and family on controversial issues, learning from perspectives which aren’t always my own. Put another way, areas of universal agreement are far less interesting to me. Since I always treated Facebook friends the same as true friends in real life (a cardinal rule throughout), these interactions have nearly always been incredibly respectful and polite. I’ve only had to unfriend one friend and former colleague out of more than 400 Facebook friends. It was when I called the lab leak hypothesis by far the most credible to me, early on in the pandemic.
As early as late January 2020, before even the first American had died of COVID, I thought Occam’s Razor had something to say:
My friend took instant and strong offense, and considered this to be a racist viewpoint. Remember when polite society equated the lab leak hypothesis with racism? I found that odd then and still do today — if anything, the “wet market” and “bat soup” explainers, which were among the original ones floated, seemed if anything the far more culturally-insensitive hypotheses. Mistakes happen all the time, even hugely consequential ones. Moreover I could easily envision myself as a well-intentioned and expert researcher, normally highly careful, inadvertently responsible for a very random or extremely rare accident or unthinking moment of carelessness. Look at Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island, or the Exxon Valdez disasters — these were not intentional. And moreover it was vital to understand how they happened.
Today, most Americans believe a lab leak to be the most likely cause. It’s at least acceptable to discuss in polite company, even in places like New York Magazine. I’ve repeatedly stated that I don’t think it was intentional, if it was indeed an accident, but I’ve lost a friend over it. He kept jumping in with snide and insulting comments, going ad-hominem without ever bothering to engage in the actual substantive and growing circumstantial evidence, much of which 20+ year New York Times Science journalist Don McNeil eventually chronicled in a must-read piece, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory.
Look, I’m independent. That brings incredible luxury. It means I don’t have to check my tribe’s opinion before voicing my own. And I don’t accept the fashionable rhetorical trick that just because one reprehensible person holds a given view, that anyone else holding such a view must buy into the panoply of their ideas. Adolf Hitler loved dogs, after all; this doesn’t mean dog owners must defend Mein Kampf. No, what matters are the facts and evidence, and the logic and merits of the argument. As a data-guy, evidence is essential to how I think.
Beyond the lab-leak hypothesis, I have had several at-the-time controversial or heterodox opinions over the past several years. I was posting about the high likelihood of a coming pandemic wave to my Facebook friends as early as the first week of February 2020, before the first reports of US infections. I’ve been skeptical about the efficacy of cloth mask mandates starting months ago, after trying and failing to find correlation between mask mandates and changes in spread. I’ve felt we are not doing enough to separate positives from worrisome positives, when few were discussing the idea that PCR tests might be over-sensitive, depending upon the number of cycle-thresholds run. I’ve been harshly critical of the harms of prolonged school closures. I’ve predicted significant inflation from unbridled easy monetary policy, and predicted inflation’s likely durability when we were repeatedly told it was “transitory.” These are just a few examples of discussions which first emerged on my own Facebook threads, and then sometimes headed to my blog. I’m far from infallible. But I think history is very much on my side with respect to each and every one of these once-highly-controversial but now generally accepted viewpoints. They certainly weren’t always what people wanted to hear at the time. At least not sprinkled amidst family updates and vacation and pet photos.
Though discussions like this are intriguing, I don’t think using Facebook in this way is necessarily the best pastime to be my healthiest in 2022 and beyond.
A big concern too is that Facebook (and absolutely, Twitter and YouTube) are narrowing the range of acceptable conversation, through what I consider to be highly undesirable censorship. And they’re harvesting data from us, and manipulating what’s shown to us which amplifies misinformation and can cause emotional harm.
But putting aside for a moment the very important data sharing/mining, censorship and manipulation concerns, there’s also the matter of using the right tool for the job. I really should be updating my blog more. To be sure, I got to the point where Facebook became a bit of a “here’s a controversial issue I’m thinking about” journal, which I would then, over the ensuing weeks or months, add evidence and articles to support my predictions and views to. One of my personal goals has been to write more. But more than once, my wife gently asked me “Um, why are you down in your office, replying to yourself on Facebook?”
Thinking about leaving Facebook too? Be sure to get a backup of everything you’ve posted. Go into Facebook’s account settings and request a download of your Facebook data. A day or so later, you’ll see a set of files you can download, in either HTML or JSON form. (Personally, I recommend JSON form, if you ever plan to export/import them into another tool in the future.)
While full deactivation and deletion of my account altogether is very tempting, I’ve still got a couple startup-specific reasons to not deactivate my Facebook account entirely. And I know that I have a few services out there with my Facebook login, so I want to be sure to leave it live for a few months as I change those.
So, here are the steps I’ve taken to introduce lots of friction into booting-up-Facebook:
- I’ve deleted the Facebook and Messenger Apps from my phone
- I’ve installed the excellent UnDistracted Chrome plugin to all the desktop and laptop browsers I use. Since I generally use Edge and Chrome, luckily this extension works on all the browsers where I spend 95% of my time.
- I’ve signed out of Facebook on all browsers
- When I sign into services requiring “Log In with Facebook”, I’m taking a moment to change the login method.
My friend Marcelo Calbucci has done a nice blog post on a 12-Step Program To Eliminate Facebook in Your Life if this is of interest to you.