During the Easter weekend, a database containing the phone numbers of half a billion Facebook users went around the web. If you are registered to Facebook, there is almost the certainty that also your number is finished in the list. The social network has immediately minimized, claiming that the data in question were only the aggregate of information from “leaks” already known. On April 6, Facebook then published a post to clarify “the facts” about this famous data that newspapers talk so much about, trying to frame a breach involving 533 million users as a trivial case of violation of the terms of service. The phone numbers, Facebook minimizes in the article, have not been stolen, but they have been collected through a scraping operation, that is an automatic collection of data through the interface of the site. Whoever put them together would have abused the procedure that allows to search for an account starting from the phone number, a function with which new users can find their phone contacts on the platform. This possibility was disabled by Facebook in September 2019, but it was already too late.
Leave or stay
Those who have been following technology for a few years now and are familiar with the evolution of Facebook, know that the history of Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is punctuated by more or less serious privacy slips. The most famous is the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In that case, the theme was the mismanagement of the data of 50 million users (estimated figure) and the discovery – a few years after the facts – of the misuse of an official Facebook feature that allowed third parties to access users’ information without their consent. In 2018, when the case came to light, I seriously considered leaving the platform. I eventually decided to stay, trying to limit its use by deleting the app from my smartphone and adopting other palliative solutions, such as blocking the site via my iPhone’s Time of Use feature.
Reading the details of the Easter “leak” and then Facebook’s arrogant response, disrespectful to journalists and especially to the users whose privacy was violated, I decided that the measure is definitely full. Why despite everything we know about Facebook and the way it handles its users’ data do I continue to have an account? Why haven’t I left yet? Why do I continue to feed Zuckerberg’s social leviathan with my interactions and engagement?
The importance of forgetting (personal opinion)
Exploring my very personal social time capsule, however, I could see how much the value of most of those interactions, saved for future memory, was exhausted in their present. I saw again connections, concepts, thoughts, comments, opinions and forms of expression stripped of their natural impermanence. A basement full of dusty objects that instead of bringing back memories and emotions, like an old photo in a trunk, showed themselves for what they cruelly are: simulacra of the ephemeral that Facebook convinced us to raise from their forgettable banality. Not because it cares about making us all feel special (a narrative that would work at best with millennials like me), but because those interactions that often deserved to run out in the present are the crude oil flowing in the pipes of Mark Zuckerberg’s great refinery. A perfect machine that transforms into resources what we have always considered dispensable, if only because, before the Internet, there was no way to maintain memory of it.
No intention to elaborate universal considerations: what I have just expressed applies to me. I can imagine that it does not apply to those who have made Facebook an important part of their personal history. For me it has never been like that, and if until now this was implicitly the reason to keep that account open, suddenly it became instead the demonstration that there is no longer any obstacle to abandon it permanently. And if one day I want to recall any of those fleeting interactions (unlikely, but who knows) I’ll still have my archive to consult, saved with my backups on a couple of different hard drives.
My decision to close Facebook, it should be specified, has no ideological or political basis. Of course, like everyone else I care about my privacy and I am convinced of the need to regulate technological multinationals in a more stringent manner, but I am also aware of the digital reality in which we live. I will continue to use WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), despite having already migrated some of my main conversations to Telegram and Signal: closing the account would mean losing important contacts I care about. I won’t leave Instagram either, where despite profiling being as wild as and more than on Facebook, I’ve always been able to exercise more detachment. On Instagram, after all, you follow each other, you don’t become friends: a semantic distinction that has value for me.
The decision to abandon Facebook, in conclusion, is a personal choice that I believe reflects, more than anything else, a change in personal sensitivity. I no longer feel like recording every single interaction. I no longer feel any need to express opinions for a bubble of acquaintances selected on who knows what basis by an algorithm. I want to give back to my social interactions their right to be transient and intangible. I want to let them get lost and fade into memory. Or let them remain, but fixed by an emotion. And that they surprise me in thirteen years as a madeleine, without the need for any digital archive of my forgettable daily life.