Why people opt out of Facebook

2011-04-20 00:00

NOT being on Facebook in 2011 has become a bit like not having a cellphone in 2001. In the early noughties there were a few renegade members of the old school who got sick of being constantly available and threw their Nokias in the river.

Today we have those who delete their Facebook accounts or refuse to have one at all. And I’m not talking about the over-40s, but Millenials who’ve grown up online. In this super-connected age, why do they do it?

Privacy is a priority

This is an ongoing debate — how private is Facebook? As a content manager, I know Facebook goes to great lengths to protect users’ information from companies. You have to volunteer such information via Facebook Connect, which warns you what you are divulging. You can also make your privacy settings extremely circumspect and form lists that separate friends from colleagues. All the tools are there. But Facebook itself always has access to your content and technically owns it.

Advertising Big-Brother style

No matter how strict your privacy settings, your likes, dislikes, status updates and connections will be recorded and used by Facebook to create targeted advertising. As Nechama Brodie wrote in the Mail & Guardian last year (“My Facebook Suicide”), Facebook used to be a “containment unit” for all your personal stuff — until that stuff became “public currency”. That’s how Facebook makes its money and it’s not going to change.

Information overload

A friend of mine, Annabel, is not on Facebook because trying to keep up with everyone’s lives was simply unbearable for her. Not all of us can skim through the details and filter what is important. Some people feel they should be seeing and reading it all. These are often sensitive types who take their relationships to heart, making the facile nature of Facebook an anxiety-ridden experience they would rather avoid.

Social pressure

You know that feeling when everyone is going to a party that you didn’t know about? It can happen a lot on Facebook. Georgia Matthews (23) has never had a Facebook account and says she never will. “I don’t want people knowing everything about me and I don’t really want to see what’s happening in other people’s lives. It creates … not drama, but stress. The last thing I want is to be sitting at work and see a picture of my friends at a girls’ dinner that I wasn’t invited to.”

There’s no romance

Facebook takes the surprise out of life to a large extent. You know what everyone is doing and what events are coming up months in advance. It is not a channel that lends itself to mystery or intrigue. If you are a control freak this can be very reassuring, but those who love spontaneity can find it quite depressing and cynical.

Being exposed

Facebook lays bare your personal life on a previously unheard of level. Instead of friends organically finding out that you were dumped by Ms Right for a BMW-driving douche bag, everyone will want to know exactly why you are single again. “My one friend has deleted her account now. She just broke up with her boyfriend and can’t think of anything worse than being on Facebook,” says Georgia.

It’s a permanent record

Think back to your 16-year-old self. Now imagine that person was on Facebook. Everything you say and do in your profile can be brought up at a later stage. A friend of mine was a tearaway teenager, smoking, drinking and skipping class, etc. Now she’s a senior honcho at a financial firm. There is no record of her past behaviour, just the memories I tease her about when she acts too proper.

Some of us are on Facebook because it is convenient. Friends use it to keep in touch. Families use it to share photos and news. Many use it as a business tool or make their living off it. Still, it’s debatable whether Facebook will become a necessity like the cellphone. It is a walled garden owned wholly by Mark Zuckerberg and company, and lots of people get by without it just fine.

Georgia says: “I’ve missed a few events, but people usually figure it out quite quickly and I get an e-mail or an SMS.” I ask if she ever feels like she’s missing out on something by not being on Facebook. “Never.”

— www.memeburn.com

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