Yesterday a colleague of mine asked me if I was on Facebook. He was genuinely surprised by my reply that I was not and he wanted to know why. For the next 20 minutes or so, I explained to him why I quit Facebook and does not want anything to do with it.

This is not the first time I have had to explain my absence from Facebook. In this post I will explain my attitude towards Facebook in a more structured manner.

Broadly, these are the points I will touch upon:

  • Narcissism
  • Symmetric nature of sharing
  • The social pressure to ‘friend’ someone
  • Low signal to noise ratio

Narcissism

I have observed that Facebook makes people a lot more narcissistic than they are in their real life. Facebook does this by providing a convenient avenue to channel people’s self-love and then use the social pressure of the system to create incentive for people to use this avenue.

I have an example that explains this well. I have seen people go to beautiful hill-sides and instead of enjoying the nature around them, they start shooting photos of themselves with the scenery in the background. This is a carefully executed ritual and involves careful posing and choosing spots that maximises potential Likes and Comments.

I have done this and observed a lot of people do it. Looking back, I wish had spent that time observing and appreciating the beauty of the scenery around me.

At this point, one might point out that generating content as a fodder for social networks is endemic to all social networks and no just Facebook. This is where the lure of the Likes and Comments and the social pressure to gather them comes in to play. Being able to generate Likes and Comments becomes closely tied to your identity on Facebook.

Symmetric nature of sharing

Facebook relationships are fundamentally symmetric i.e. if X is your Friend, then you are X’s Friend as well. This is drastically different from the way relationship manifest in Twitter. The issue with this symmetric relationship is that if X would like to consume the content that you post to Facebook, he will have to be your Friend which immediately results in you having to consume content posted by X. This becomes increasingly annoying if you do not particularly like cat pictures but Bob who likes cat pictures would likes to view the photos you share. All of a sudden, you find yourself staring at cat pictures from Bob. Facebook later introduced asymmetric sharing with the concept of Subscribe, but unless you were a celebrity, you still got friendship requests from people who would like to view your posts. There is an obvious solution to this problem - just don’t accept that friendship request from Bob. But unfortunately, this is easier said than done, for the reason I talk about next.

The social pressure to ‘friend’ someone

You get a friendship request from Alice who is a colleague. You do not necessarily consider Alice a friend and you do not share common interests. At that point you find yourself having to accept Alice as a Friend on Facebook because of the social pressures associated with it. You could be clever and ask Facebook to hide the updates from Alice, but then you have to be an expert who knows where exactly Facebook decides to hide the settings that allow you to do this.

Low signal to noise ratio

This could be a manifestation of the large number of people on Facebook and the relative esoteric and geeky nature of other social networks I use, like Twitter. I have observed that my Facebook home page contained a lot of noise compared to my Twitter stream.

I find useful content on Twitter whereas my Facebook home page showed me a lot of obscure photo-shopped images, animated GIFs and useless FUD.

Quitting Facebook

After suspending, deleting and re-creating my Facebook profile once I deleted it for good in July, 2011. I let people whom I consider as friends know that I would be available on my phone and through email. I started calling up my friends instead of Liking their updates and photos.

Blocking Facebook

It is a well known fact that Facebook tracks people on the web using the myriad of widgets, plugins and buttons they have managed to spread to most of the web. My response has been to block anything to do with Facebook. I use the cheap and simple way of using my /etc/hosts to accomplish this. After many changes, this is how the Facebook related part of it looks:

127.0.0.1 facebook.com
127.0.0.1 fbcdn.com
127.0.0.1 fbcdn.net
127.0.0.1 login.facebook.com
127.0.0.1 static.ak.connect.facebook.com
127.0.0.1 static.ak.fbcdn.com
127.0.0.1 static.ak.fbcdn.net
127.0.0.1 www.facebook.com
127.0.0.1 www.fbcdn.com
127.0.0.1 www.fbcdn.net
127.0.0.1 www.login.facebook.com
127.0.0.1 www.static.ak.connect.facebook.com
127.0.0.1 www.static.ak.fbcdn.com
127.0.0.1 www.static.ak.fbcdn.net

The current incarnation is adapted from Sajith Sasidharan.

There. That is my Facebook story.

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, you can get in touch with me on Twitter @sdqali.