Skip to main content

Why I'm quitting Facebook

By Douglas Rushkoff, CNN
February 25, 2013 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
Douglas Rushkoff says a loss of control over how his
Douglas Rushkoff says a loss of control over how his "likes" are used has led him to drop Facebook.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Douglas Rushkoff: Facebook has been very useful to him but now goes too far
  • He says its Related Posts features misrepresents "likes" of users without their consent
  • Facebook users have always been its workers, providing info about themselves to data miners
  • Rushkoff: Related Posts takes too much control, causes him to break trust with followers

Editor's note: Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist and the author of the upcoming book "Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now."

(CNN) -- I used to be able to justify using Facebook as a cost of doing business. As a writer and sometime activist who needs to promote my books and articles and occasionally rally people to one cause or another, I found Facebook fast and convenient. Though I never really used it to socialize, I figured it was OK to let other people do that, and I benefited from their behavior.

I can no longer justify this arrangement.

Today, I am surrendering my Facebook account, because my participation on the site is simply too inconsistent with the values I espouse in my work. In my upcoming book "Present Shock," I chronicle some of what happens when we can no longer manage our many online presences. I have always argued for engaging with technology as conscious human beings and dispensing with technologies that take that agency away.

Facebook is just such a technology. It does things on our behalf when we're not even there. It actively misrepresents us to our friends, and worse misrepresents those who have befriended us to still others. To enable this dysfunctional situation -- I call it "digiphrenia" -- would be at the very least hypocritical. But to participate on Facebook as an author, in a way specifically intended to draw out the "likes" and resulting vulnerability of others, is untenable.

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Facebook has never been merely a social platform. Rather, it exploits our social interactions the way a Tupperware party does.

Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network of connections, brand preferences and activities over time -- our "social graphs" -- into money for others.

We Facebook users have been building a treasure lode of big data that government and corporate researchers have been mining to predict and influence what we buy and for whom we vote. We have been handing over to them vast quantities of information about ourselves and our friends, loved ones and acquaintances. With this information, Facebook and the "big data" research firms purchasing their data predict still more things about us -- from our future product purchases or sexual orientation to our likelihood for civil disobedience or even terrorism.

The true end users of Facebook are the marketers who want to reach and influence us. They are Facebook's paying customers; we are the product. And we are its workers. The countless hours that we -- and the young, particularly -- spend on our profiles are the unpaid labor on which Facebook justifies its stock valuation.

The efforts of a few thousand employees at Facebook's Menlo Park campus pale in comparison to those of the hundreds of millions of users meticulously tweaking their pages. Corporations used to have to do research to assemble our consumer profiles; now we do it for them.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The information collected about you by Facebook through my Facebook page isn't even shared with me. Thanks to my page, Facebook knows the demographics of my readership, their e-mails, what else they like, who else they know and, perhaps most significant, who they trust. And Facebook is taking pains not to share any of this, going so far as to limit the ability of third-party applications to utilize any of this data.

Given that this was the foundation for Facebook's business plan from the start, perhaps more recent developments in the company's ever-evolving user agreement shouldn't have been so disheartening.

Still, we bridle at the notion that any of our updates might be converted into "sponsored stories" by whatever business or brand we may have mentioned. That innocent mention of cup of coffee at Starbucks, in the Facebook universe, quickly becomes an attributed endorsement of their brand. Remember, the only way to connect with something or someone is to "like" them. This means if you want to find out what a politician or company you don't like is up to, you still have to endorse them publicly.

Mark Zuckerberg gives away $33 million
Facebook CEO's new project
Meet Facebook's top woman

More recently, users -- particularly those with larger sets of friends, followers and likes -- learned that their updates were no longer reaching all of the people who had signed up to get them. Now, we are supposed to pay to "promote" our posts to our friends and, if we pay even more, to their friends.

Yes, Facebook is entitled to be paid for promoting us and our interests -- but this wasn't the deal going in, particularly not for companies who paid Facebook for extra followers in the first place. Neither should users who "friend" my page automatically become the passive conduits for any of my messages to all their friends just because I paid for it.

That brings me to Facebook's most recent shift, and the one that pushed me over the edge.

Through a new variation of the Sponsored Stories feature called Related Posts, users who "like" something can be unwittingly associated with pretty much anything an advertiser pays for. Like e-mail spam with a spoofed identity, the Related Post shows up in a newsfeed right under the user's name and picture. If you like me, you can be shown implicitly recommending me or something I like -- something you've never heard of -- to others without your consent.

For now, as long as I don't like anything myself, I have some measure of control over what those who follow me receive in my name or, worse, are made to appear to be endorsing, themselves. But I feel that control slipping away, and cannot remain part of a system where liking me or my work can be used against you.

The promotional leverage that Facebook affords me is not worth the price. Besides, how can I ask you to like me, when I myself must refuse to like you or anything else?

I have always appreciated that agreeing to become publicly linked to me and my work online involves trust. It is a trust I value, but -- as it is dependent on the good graces of Facebook -- it is a trust I can live up to only by unfriending this particularly anti-social social network.

Maybe in doing so I'll help people remember that Facebook is not the Internet. It's just one website, and it comes with a price.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Rushkoff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT