A few weeks ago I decided I was going to kill my Facebook Data Double, Char Char.
Char Char started as Charlene Weston (my maiden name), a profile created during my last Facebook identity crisis back in 2008, in an attempt to disentangle my personal and professional networks. I created the new profile to play. By mid-2009, I was back down to a single profile. This Charlene Weston profile changed to Charlene Croft (my married name), my networks grew, and I learned how to use privacy settings and friends list to make a personal/professional separation on the single account.
I was doing a lot of writing about Facebook back then. Looking at their terms and policies, investigating where their seed capital came from… I have always been suspicious and skeptical of Facebook as a corporate entity. Then one day, I convinced myself, “Fuck it, I know how to use this technology to my advantage, so I am going to stop worrying about the problems with it, and make the most of it.” Then in 2010 I faced yet another Facebook identity crisis as I separated from the father of my kids. I could no longer use my married name of Croft, so I decided to assume my birth name of Gagnon. Char Char came a few months later in another, albeit feeble, attempt to mask my “real” identity.
Fast forward to 2017, after a few high profile community-based projects and my unrelenting opinion on things, my Facebook Data Double, Char Char Gagnon, has achieved somewhat of a public figure status in my local community. With both the representations of my ideas, and personal life becoming somewhat of a curiosity for people. And while I have made some cherished connections with some of those people, most of them have no idea who I am as an individual, only who they think I am by their interpretation of my profile and interactions with people on Facebook. They like peeking in my windows, and enjoy getting my likes (approval) and comments on things.
Facebook can be good way to make you feel connected to people, but if that virtual connection is not augmented into a real-life one, it can create unnecessary anxiety and social fret. And when we trick ourselves and pretend we are more connected to the ones we love with Facebook, we end up feeling more alienated and isolated than ever. Our likes and comments can be no replacement for face to face conversation over coffee, or a hug to nourish our need for connection. The truth is, I try harder to connect with my friends and family when I am not on Facebook. Communication becomes more deliberate and intentional, and I find out more about what is really going on in people’s lives, not simply what their managed Facebook Data Double is up to.
Those who say they will miss me, really mean that they will miss Char Char… because I will be right here, a living, breathing human who does not need to be missed. Char Char is a hyper-managed version of myself. And while it is neat that some strangers find that version of me interesting, and worth their attention… and that Char Char can inspire some wonderful things to happen… it has been troubling me for the better part of the past 6 months that I find myself in this position of attention.
Especially since in the past 6 months I have also been thinking a lot about the state of things, and what needs to be done to make big strides towards systemic and structural change which removes power and influence from those who hold it now and *really* places it in the hands of the people and their communities.
Facebook is a great venue for communicating and organizing, but it is so important to remember that Facebook is primarily a tool of corporate America. My Char Char Data Double is a representation of me… it is my virtual identity. But I must never forget that while it is me that chooses to create and form and adapt this virtual identity through what information I share with my “friends”… all the other Facebook Data Doubles out there… I must also share it with Facebook – a billion dollar American corporation which mines and sells data to big business so that they can perfect the ways they market things to us and manipulate our beliefs and habits – first.
There is a reason Facebook is free. Because of the volumes of revenue it creates for the corporation in the buying, selling and trading of, not only the information we share, but our very habits and histories of interfacing with Facebook; we become embedded in their profit algorithms. On top of that, we have given them all the information they need to start messing with our realities and every day lives. Think about it… how many times have you thought something was true because you saw it on Facebook, or have considered Facebook before making a decision in your day to day. The number will be quite astonishing if you pay attention.
As long as we use Facebook to try to break free of this outdated system, we are only reinforcing its grasp on us. Like a Chinese Finger Trap.
If I could be certain that the people at the end of the market research and feed algorithms were operating with people first principles, I might not be so worried… but I can’t be certain of that, and given what I see around me, I am even more uncertain of that. The significance of user data is not to be taken for granted. This is why it is so difficult to remove your data from Facebook once you have placed it there.
As a Facebook User, I must agree to both the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy when I have an active (or inactive) account with Facebook. I *must* give Facebook my name, email address, birthday and gender… These bits of information are the foundation of my Facebook Data Double. All other information, in whatever form it takes (text, links, photos, videos) I volunteer to give to Facebook, and have complete control over who gets to see it.
As a Facebook User, I also own all of the information I post on Facebook… however in that I also must grant Facebook permission to distribute and use that information in a variety of ways, so while I technically own my Facebook Data Double, I don’t actually have control over it. My Char Char Data Double does not have free will on Facebook. If I delete pieces of information, it may be held up to 90 days in databases, however it does not disappear if my friends haven’t shared it with others… because once they share it, it kind of becomes their information… and part of their Facebook Data Double.
If I just simply delete my profile, without deleting all traces of my activity and posts individually first, I leave a ghost of my Data Double behind… a “Facebook User” attached to things like messages and comments on other people’s posts. My likes are still counted even though there is no profile attached to them. The incredible truth is, my ghost never really leaves the Facebook servers. And their policies are written so vague, that they actually provide no real guarantees that it will be. I know this because every once in a while, as I scroll back through my friends list, I see the ghost of my first Facebook data double appear on my friends list.
So if I want to remove as many traces of that ghost as possible, I must first scroll line by line through my enormous activity log, and unlike every post, and delete every comment and post I have ever made. This is a daunting task. As a heavy user, it is taking me about an hour to delete a month’s worth of activity, so about 12 hours for every year, times 8 years worth of posting that is about 96 hours just to delete all my activity. Some bits of information, you can’t actually delete from your activity log, unless you go to the source and remove the activity manually. With things like events and tagged posts, those extra steps are needed to undo the activity.
And then there are some things, like inbox messages, that you can’t actually remove from Facebook. I may be able to delete message threads from my inbox, but unless the recipient of those messages also deletes the thread, it will remain there on Facebook until they do as well attached to my ghost.
What is interesting is that throughout the whole Data Use Policy, there is not one mention about the status of Facebook inbox messages. Surely if this content was truly mine to own, I could delete it from Facebook forever if I chose to. But I am not able to delete Facebook inbox messages on my own. I alone can only archive my messages and delete them from my message stream. But I suppose this is how email works in general; an email sent to another individual is no longer a private piece of information controlled by the user and creator. It hasn’t always been this way, not so long ago there was a way to delete your side of the conversation by going into the message thread, opening an edit dialogue, and manually checking the messages you wanted to delete from Facebook forever. I am not sure when they made that change, I only discovered I could no longer control the fate of my messages this morning.
I wrote this blog so that everyone who asks me why I am killing Char Char can have a better understanding of that, and I can point them here for the answer rather than explaining myself to everyone who wants me to stay. But I am going to take it a bit further than that in it’s conclusion with a step by step guide on how you too, can eliminate your Facebook data double and leave as few traces of your ghost from the machine. Because who wants their ghost damned to an eternity on the Facebook servers?
There are a multitude of posts and pages which will give you the technical details on how, but without explaining why such extraordinary measures should be taken. A simple profile delete does not delete your Facebook Ghost, only your virtual presence on the platform.
- Tell your friends you are leaving, and begin collecting their phone numbers and emails if you wish to keep in contact. By “announcing” your Facebook death, you may hear from people who want to be able to keep in touch with the real you, and will get people thinking about intentional means of communication. If you are maintaining a presence on other social media platforms, let your friends know the various other ways they can continue to peek in your windows, if you want. For me, I will be continuing to write using my blog, continuing to share photos on Instagram, and continue to be a blabbermouth on Twitter. And I point this out to everyone who says they are going to “miss me.”
- Download a copy of your Facebook Activity archive. If you are worried that one day you will miss your words, or need some information you added to Facebook, this is a way to grab all of your activity at once. The download will preserve all your photos and timeline posts and messages into nifty zipped folders, that you can still access at any time.
- Disconnect all the third party-apps from your profile. These are all the companies that have paid Facebook big bucks to mine, use and abuse your Data Double in exchange for quizzes and games and the almighty convenience.
- Delete all your photos and albums manually. Even though your profile delete will take care of this, it doesn’t hurt to add an extra layer of protection of your own intellectual property.
- Access your activity log and start unliking and deleting and untagging yourself from every individual line. This is tedious, but I can tell you it is very eye-opening. You will start noticing patterns of your posting. For example, I have figured out that I post more heavily towards the end of the month, as opposed to the middle of it. I don’t know if that is significant at all, but there it is. If you are a heavy user, be warned this will take a long time, and try to avoid looking at your feed, or interacting with Facebook as you go, because it will only add more work to your deleting. Also, if you cease the creation of new activity while you are deleting your old activity, you will begin to fade from other people’s news feeds, thereby reducing the perpetuation of more lines to delete from your activity log. As stated before, there will be some thing in your activity log that you can’t delete. You are offered the option of hiding it from your timeline or, in the case of tagged posts, marking it as spam. Obviously you don’t want to make grief for your friends by telling Facebook they have been spamming you, so you will need to click on those posts and untag yourself first, before they will be removed from your activity log. In the case of events, you will have to click on those events you went to (or said you were going to, or were interested in) and change your activity in the event to “not interested”
- Once all your activity is deleted, go into Messenger on your computer. Delete every thread with every person on Messenger. Even though your messages stay, this may be overkill because deleting them on your end may actually not make any difference in the way Facebook handles them after you kill your profile. My rationale is that it can’t hurt, and may have disruptive effects in the algorithms because it is an unexpected severing of the information from the profile.
- Unfriend everyone on your friends list.
- Remove Facebook from all your devices and bookmarks.
- Go to system settings and find the delete button. They hide it. And they ask you a few times if you are “sure” you want to do that. They will offer you the disable option instead… just in case you have regrets and want to come back. And if you hadn’t just logged 100 hours or so completely dismantling it first, you might get cold feet, and allow Facebook to convince you that your life will be incomplete without it. Facebook will tell you that your friends will miss you, and you should reconsider. They say they even give you 14 days to either change your mind or accidentally log onto to it with one of your device before they wipe it from their visible operations.
- Start reconnecting to the real world. Take all that time you spent on Facebook and do things like read, or pen a distant loved one a beautiful letter. Encourage others to join you and if you do continue to use social media, spread your Data Double over a variety of platforms. Fragment it as much as you can.
I figure full delete will require me to log another 100 hours or so on Facebook before Char Char can be laid to rest, leaving behind only digital bits to mark that Char Char ever really existed in the first place. I will post this blog as Char Char’s last, and I will do so with the hopes that it is spread and read and considered widely before I hit the delete button. I am OK with this post being the only thing left attached to my ghost.
I have found Facebook useful in the 10 years or so that I have been using it. I am a proponent of social media technology as a tool to assist us in the transformations that must take place in our society. But, social media must always be the tool, and we its master, or else everything gets all messed up. We must always remember that in addition to Facebook being an effective and efficient tool to order our social lives and communicate and relate to one another, it is also a tool for the fascists and financiers of this effed up system to order our social lives and change the way we communicate and relate to one another.