You Won't See This Post on Facebook or Instagram

The great logout begins today, and continues through November 13

This is one of those posts where the best arguments might be made by you—in the comments section. Tell me what you like and don’t like about Facebook: how would you want the government to regulate social media? Would you prefer it to be as unregulated as it currently is? What would you not want to lose—and how would you want regulators to address the damage social media does? And if you know someone we should all be hearing from, please:

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The Great Facebook Logout begins today, lasting through Saturday, November 13. To signal displeasure with the company now known as Meta, you can pledge to sign out of all products—Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram—here. This isn’t a boycott: it’s more like a pause, in which organizers hope that Facebook will see a dip in use and users can think for themselves about why they use Meta’s products.

Facebook’s disregard for its users—remember, only advertisers are customers, even though users generate profits—reminds me of one of Lily Tomlin’s greatest comic roles: Ernestine the Telephone Operator. I know! Readers younger than thirty are saying: “What’s a telephone operator?”

My children: a telephone operator was an actual person who connected people through something called a ”switchboard.” When it was the only phone company, AT&T employed thousands of unionized women to do this job. I guess that it was a female job from the get-go because it involved plugging and unplugging wires at enormous speed, and women were assigned all jobs that required quick, little hands. Women also had reassuring voices, which was important for getting what was called “directory assistance” (if you didn’t know someone’s phone number and had no phone book for that area, the operator would look it up. Similarly, if you had no money to pay for a long-distance call, an operator would place it and ask the person on the other end if they wanted to receive it.

Telephone operators also dealt with frustrated, angry customers and were expected to do so in a way that put the best face of the company forward. But Ernestine treated customers with naked contempt, punctuating each sketch with snorts and giggles, greeting customers at odd hours with the question “Is this the customer to whom I am speaking,” and cold-calling celebrities.

None of this will be familiar to the young, but here’s what will be: the general hostility most Americans felt towards AT&T, a monopoly that insisted we should want to “reach out and touch someone” and made us pay through the nose for the privilege.

It’s analogous to our current Facebook dilemma. Reader, if you are on social media, you are the Ernestine: you connect the company to its advertisers. The platform is of immense social importance: it also rips its users off nonstop in the name of social connections that the individual user cannot make in any other way because Facebook owns our networks. The social media company functions as a monopoly utility: the idea of rebuilding our networks in any other format is daunting. And since everyone shares important news on Facebook, fear of missing out, or FOMO, isn’t a fear—it’s real.

And try finding anyone at the company you can talk to. If AT&T dumped the vast majority of its operators, Facebook never invested in customer service in the first place, something that is invisible until you try to transfer ownership of a Facebook or are mysteriously banned.

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To make the situation more complex, in 15 short years, even as Facebook—powered by the smartphone— has reshaped our communications practices and enveloped global audiences, other forms of communication have atrophied. Just as letter writing diminished in the face of telephonic communication, so have our now tiny, unmediated phones diminished verbal communication in favor of apps that, except for Twitter, allow us to communicate with one or many people. When was the last time someone called to tell you that a person not in your immediate family was sick, dead, engaged, or born?

Facebook treats its users so badly and with such contempt that despite its good deeds—connecting old friends, relieving the isolation of the elderly and disabled—that many people feel dirty just for having an account. Moreover, it is certainly no longer useful to writers and artists. While I still post this Substack to my own platform unless I pay (which I cannot do if I am writing about a political topic), fewer than three dozen people in a network of thousands will see it.

But millions of people will see a video of you murdering innocent people live before Facebook can stop it. Its almost complete lack of moderation means that nearly all of us have had searing social experiences on Facebook, fallen for a disinformation campaign, or watched with horror as ethnic violence has been sparked around the world through powerful algorithms that elevate hostility and negativity.

So I urge you to take this few days and log out of as many Facebook/Meta apps as you can (as friends have pointed out, WhatsApp represents the only available telephonic service in many parts of the world.)

And if you have time, come to this unconference, “Logging Off Facebook: What Comes Next?” on Friday afternoon—and if you don’t? Just spend some time thinking about what works and what doesn’t work for you—and what government might do to clean up Meta’s messy business model. You can start the conversation by clicking on the button below.

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Short takes:

  • Is that a threat or a promise? Judd Legum, who has been following the money at Popular Information, tells us that although a handful of major corporations have not honored their pledge to withhold money from Republicans who tried to overturn the election, at least 38 have. Republicans are becoming frustrated and threatening that they could become less “corporation-friendly” as a result. Color me skeptical on that one. (November 9, 2021)

  • This is how they do personal responsibility in an authoritarian country. Should they become ill, people in Singapore who remain unvaccinated by choice will be on their own to cover the costs of getting Covid-19. (John Yoon, New York Times, November 9, 2021)

  • Trump sure knows how to pick the manly men. According to his ex-wife, Pennsylvania Republican Sean Parnell, the Trump-endorsed candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, has a little domestic violence problem, not unlike several other men who actually worked in the Trump campaign and White House. According to an order of protection, Parnell allegedly “hit their children and once kicked her out of the car and left her by the road after an argument. She also testified that her husband attempted to choke her and that she hit him to get free.” When asked about this, Florida Senator Rick Scott, who is running the GOP effort to take back the Senate in 2022, said something like: “Hubbadahubbadahubbada.” (Tal Axelrod, The Hill, November 8, 2021)

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