(Yeah, yeah, I know. Thanks, The Hard Times, for being there to keep us humble when we need it.)
I probably don’t have to explain why, but sure, I will. The evening of the 2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike, the rest of the Internet was on fire for about the first 3 hours. On Facebook, where I have plenty of politically active friends and news junkie types populating my feed? Literally nothing visible in my feed for the first 3 hours. That was the last straw for me. I decided that I couldn’t do business with the world’s least-trustworthy website anymore, especially not with world war still looming. There are countless other reasons why I should’ve left, and much sooner, but that was the one I went with.
Yeah, But Everyone Says They’re Gonna Leave!
I’ll be honest: I genuinely don’t know if it’ll stick. It’s gonna be really interesting to see how hard this is, once I pull the plug. I also have to leave Instagram eventually (owned by Facebook, if you didn’t know), but I’m spacing things out. In a perfect world, I’ll be out of there in about 3 months. (I admittedly punted a few Page contacts over to Instagram if I couldn’t find them elsewhere, so that’s a potential complication.) If I fail on either point, though, I’ll be transparent about it, and I’ll talk about why things didn’t work.
Aren’t You Abandoning People That You Care About?
This platform-driven guilt is how they got their hooks into us. It’s really pretty evil. Believe me, I thought about this question a lot as I was doing this whole deal. No, I’m not abandoning people. I’ve put literal weeks of work into pre-emptively not abandoning people here, as you’ll see below. I put what some would consider an unreasonable amount of effort into leaving a single website, and documenting the process, so that perhaps others might have an easier time of leaving after I do. I did this because I care about the people in my life (and the wider world), and I don’t want to lose touch with them, nor do I want them to lose touch with one another.
Let’s talk about what steps I took in preparation for leaving. I didn’t want to just rage-quit like many people do, since that tends not to stick. There are almost always unforeseen circumstances that bring unprepared people back when they do that. I looked at Facebook, and broke down which functionality I valued. I still more research to do on replacements yet, but it’s in progress. (Thankfully, this process helped me organize some prior research. Since I was bookmarking new websites, I needed to organize my bookmarks, probably for the first time in a decade. They look GREAT now, and I can find things. I recommend doing this, if you are a person that bookmarks websites.) Maybe what I say here will help you, maybe not. Hopefully, it does. If it looks like a lot of work? It was. I think it was worth it. Let’s dig in!
Staying In Touch:
The first thing I needed to do was make sure my address book was as complete and current as possible. If I had or could get everything, great, but most importantly, I needed email addresses and phone numbers. If you’re reading this, you think I may still need this information, and you’re good with me having it, drop me a line. I checked every friend on my list manually against my address book. Then, I checked my email account for anyone whose email address didn’t show up. I got contact information together and current for most of the people I know that way. From there, I asked for contact info in a post on my Facebook account. I heard from many people, but not a lot whose info I didn’t already have. It’s possible people didn’t see the post (again, algorithms), and also possible that they didn’t want me having their info. I’m fine with that, though. Some people on my list aren’t close friends these days, and a few, I never knew well.
Admittedly, it’s bewildering (and embarrassing) that there are people I care about who I couldn’t contact without Facebook right now. This is what happens when we start to depend on one company for everything, though.
I wasn’t in a lot of them, but I had a few. I was mostly using these to keep up with my collecting hobbies, but I have other sources for that information. There were two that weren’t about collecting, but were pretty useful. One was a group for gatherings of my high school friends. The other was a group for my fantasy baseball league. (The company we use for fantasy baseball doesn’t give their users year-round access to leagues.) For the friend group, I’m looking into a few other platforms for private event planning. I’ll post about it if we find one we can all live with. With the league, we might be leaving our long-time fantasy baseball home (Yahoo). This is an admittedly bittersweet break from tradition, as I’ve been there for 21 years. Unfortunately, they’ve under-served their customers for years, and it’s getting worse under new ownership.
I used these in place of websites for too many things. I feel like I was part of a big problem. Page admins, I implore you. Please update your websites with current news. Yes, it’s more work, and a leap of faith away from a dominant platform. (And yes, this means you have to build those websites, if you don’t have them at the moment.) However, you will probably spend way less money than you spend on Facebook ads. You’ll lose the artificial restrictions on who sees what you post. More than that, though, you’ll have a chance at building a community that will outlast Facebook.
I did find other sources for the information on some of the Pages I use, but not all of them. There are still a few Facebook Pages that I’ll have to slog through the not-logged-in, nagware versions of, because they’re not replaceable at this time. The worst part: most of the ones I can’t replace yet are local community interest content, and not businesses. To paraphrase what I said on Facebook about this, “your customers, your communities, your people are trying to leave this site because it’s terrible, and you’re making it harder for them to do that”. Again, if you run a Page with no off-Facebook website, please reconsider the path you’re on. Facebook does not have our best interests at heart.
We should also talk about what my ads have looked like since I deleted almost all of my Page likes, and started talking about leaving. I get lots of right-wing “news” sites, some obvious *chan troll jobs that are really well-funded by your Cambridge Analytica types, a mess of far-right churches who are looking forward to the Rapture, the apocalypse, and “the great war”, and funeral homes.
Facebook isn’t as musical as MySpace was, but it still gets used to keep track of musicians. If you do that, I recommend that you find their other points of contact, if they’re using them. Go to their websites, if they have them, and sign up for their mailing lists. Follow them on Spotify if you use that. Follow their Bandcamp if they have one (and buy stuff from them, whenever possible). Twitter, if you’re on that awful site…yeah, you get the picture. Also, if you end up talking or corresponding with them much, politely and gently (I can’t stress these words enough) encourage them to shy away from Facebook, which is this awful platform that requires them to pay to play, because I can just about guarantee that they’re being lied to about their reach here. Everyone is.
See also: my reason for leaving Facebook. I don’t wish to rely on Twitter for news, either, even though they’re still the best (and the worst) for breaking news, so I’m working on that longer-term as well, but not quite yet. It still needs to be easier to follow the work of individual, reliable journalists (for as long as their work is reliable) without getting tied down to the rest of the garbage their respective outlets publish. RSS doesn’t always get the job done here. Facebook’s generally anywhere from 3 to 36 hours behind on everything except for celebrity deaths, though (and they make up for that by getting people to reshare those obituaries as new, years after the fact), so it’s not great for news, and generally not what I use it for.
I am really fortunate here, because, while I’ve used them before, I am not someone who habitually uses the events functionality, either as an attendee or a creator/promoter. There’s a huge void in the marketplace right now for “Evite without being terrible, and Facebook Events without being, well, Facebook”. I’m not sure how it makes money, but people are clamoring for it. As I said above when talking about groups, I’m looking at a few options here, and will update you all when I settle on something or a few things that I like.
This, I’m gonna miss, from either side of it. It’s really nice to hear from a ton of people on your birthday, and to be one of the ton of people making someone else feel good, all in one place. I’m going to do my best to approximate this (despite Facebook making it very hard for you and I to collect them all, I have every birthday I could find on there), but it’s definitely much more work basically anywhere else.
I’ve been trying to get y’all to stop using Facebook Messenger for years, because it’s where they do the worst of their data-mining, aside from covert microphone use (which, sad to say, most apps use).
Nope. Craigslist, which still exists, is bad enough, and it serves the same purpose. Facebook Marketplace was visibly worse when I’d look through it.
Fundraising and Donations:
NOPE. Never donated through here, hopefully never will. Facebook handling the cash for charities creeps me out. I deal with some other creepy companies on this front, but this has always felt so much worse.
Absolutely not. Honestly, their Ads functionality is perhaps the greatest swindle in human history.
What I’m using instead (these are not endorsements per se, they’re just means to an end):
Right now, I’m just using the ones for my respective desktop and mobile platforms of choice, and making PDF backups periodically. Nothing too fancy. Eventually, possibly soon, I may see what an ordeal it’d be to print said PDF. It’s currently around 64 pages, not end-of-the-world stuff, but the export doesn’t format especially cleanly, as I just saw. May need to tinker a little.
What? Yes, RSS still exists, functions quite well, and is a terrific way to keep up with websites about your interests, news, and so forth. It took a big hit when Google Reader shut down (basically because Google wanted to push Google+ as a replacement, and that didn’t work out for them), but it still works, and there are still a bunch of different ways you can use it on desktop and mobile devices.
Among the web-based options are Feedly (I believe Feedly’s the most popular these days, and it has mobile apps, so you can keep what you’ve read on desktop and mobile synced pretty consistently), The Old Reader, Feedreader Online, and Flowreader. Of these, I’ve only used Feedly (free account). Some free desktop software that you can use for RSS includes RSSOwl (I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m gonna), Thunderbird, and, if you’re on MacOS, Vienna. For iOS, while it’s pretty bare-bones, RSS Mobile does what you want it to do, and will let you just import an OPML file without requiring you to connect to a subscription service of any kind (something that you can’t say about Feeddler or Reeder, I don’t think). Windows and Android stuff, I am admittedly not super up-to-date on for RSS these days, but if you have recommendations, please make them in the comments!
I organized my bookmarks, as I mentioned above, so that things I use regularly are easier to find, and things I find are easier to find again. I’m just using folders in my bookmarks menu on my browser of choice. I haven’t decided if I’m going to use any bookmark syncing service just yet. Like most of you, I have cloud fatigue. I can certainly look into importing my desktop bookmarks into my mobile browser manually. Hopefully, that’s not a complete nightmare.
I use Signal (get my info from me privately) for one-on-one conversations whenever possible, and, for now, I use Discord for multi-user chat. Both work, though I wanna find something a little more trustworthy than Discord, eventually. The big problem there is that just about anything self-hosted requires a separate hosting package and more tech knowledge than should be necessary for an install of it. No, FOSS bros, this stuff shouldn’t be getting progressively harder to do. Software like Hotline and KDX worked better, and was far, far easier to maintain than all of your “must run on Docker via command line on some server you have absolutely no control over, to stick it to the man” business, 20+ years ago.
As an aside to the messaging conversation, in doing some research about how best to stay in touch with people, I have no idea why in hindsight, but I was genuinely surprised at how many people still use regular text messaging, rather than something like Signal or WhatsApp, as their main form of immediate communication. I’ve had 8 text conversations since May. It’s just not my world, probably because I own an iPad, but not a smartphone.
You’d be surprised at how well email still works. Eventually, I would like to get away from A Leading Internet Email Provider, but again, one thing at a time.
I broke down what I used above, but Spotify, Bandcamp, musician mailing lists, and Twitter.
Still testing stuff, and early enough in the vetting process to where I don’t want to give anyone any ideas by mentioning a thing. I will update this as I have more.
It wasn’t pretty. Because Facebook doesn’t include birthdays in “Download Your Data” anymore, and because I didn’t want to fuck up my address book (or give them much access to it) with a data import, I had to hand copy every single birthday that was available to me on Facebook’s Birthdays page into my address book. If anyone has a better idea for the next person who needs to leave Facebook, I am all ears.
That Fantasy Baseball Thing I Mentioned:
People in my league and I are testing out Fantrax, which is open for the season now. It has robust free league settings, more features than Yahoo in general, and doesn’t seem to have off-season lockouts.
What to do if you can’t, or don’t want to leave Facebook:
If you’re planning on staying on Facebook, either because you need to stay in touch with someone whose only point of contact is here, or because you just wanna, and want to have the best possible experience, this is some of my advice (I may add to this over the remainder of my time there, and perhaps after I’ve had some time and distance from the place):
1. Give Facebook as little data as you can. Don’t fill out profile information in any detail you don’t absolutely have to use, keep geographical information to a minimum unless you want them to really turn the screws on you, that kinda thing. Be mindful, because humans tend to volunteer information all the time.
2. The one noteworthy exception I’ve found to this, though my experience may not align entirely with how others have found the platform to function, is to say “NO” to basically any ad. Use Hide Ad/Irrelevant/Hide All Ads By all day, and don’t hesitate to report ads that are gross enough to feel like Terms of Service violations on an actual functioning website.
3. Don’t keep a bunch of Pages liked, or stay in groups you aren’t fully committed to being in. Metadata, once again, is the enemy. There are people who will pooh-pooh my saying this, because their current plans depend on high Page Like numbers, even if there isn’t a lot of engagement with the people who Liked their Pages, but that also sounds a whole lot like multi-level marketing to me. If you’re a creator, or anyone, really, please try not to fall into this trap.
4. Be as willing as you can to remove people from your friends list who are regularly awful, whether it’s family, acquaintances, or friends who make it hard for you to continue to be friends with them. This doesn’t mean “bail on people who are struggling”, not at all. Trust me, if they’re doing their struggling out loud on Facebook, it might be a bummer to see, but those people really need your friendship and support. If they’re mean for no good reason, generally terrible people, or bigoted, though? Yeah, it might be time to give yourself a break from them.
5. A thing I didn’t do enough of on Facebook, and I have huge regrets: if you go through your friends list, and see someone you haven’t talked to in forever, if they’re a person you’d still be up for keeping in touch with, consider messaging them on the spot, and asking how they’re doing. If they seem uninterested, or are unresponsive toward you while still actively engaging with the rest of the world, you can re-evaluate then. (Make exceptions if you know that the account is largely inactive, of course.) If you do hear from them, though? Wow. When I have done it, it’s been really good sometimes, and you can make someone’s day by showing them that you care. I’ve been trying to be better about this off-Facebook, too. It’d be cool if my inbox had personal correspondence take over again, instead of bills and ads.
Is there a better, full alternative?
As for wider, more social network-like multi-user replacements for Facebook? I’m still looking, but let’s talk about two of what have been, in recent years, the most interesting ones.
Mastodon ain’t it, because the culture there has become garbage. Even with a supposedly “open” fediverse, development is pretty much ruled with an iron fist by one guy who steadfastly refuses to understand why people wanted to escape FaceTwitterGram in the first place (they were running from abuse that his software pointedly doesn’t give them the tools to protect themselves from). We’ll start there, and not get too deeply into the bigots, con artists and abusers that pepper the landscape of the platform now.
A lot of what’s happened at Mastodon is the logical outcome of an Open Source community that’s famously maybe 5% women, privileged, and very, very white, pretty much by design. Unless someone forks the software off and makes a functional, well-tested version of it that enables things like instance-only posting, the ability to turn off all connection to the fediverse and its users and opt people into your instance, rather than being forced to opt literally thousands of servers and millions of users out to keep your userbase safe, just to name a few major sticking points, I can’t in good conscience endorse its wide use.
It’s fair to say that a platform that won’t run on iOS, no matter how conflicted by or against its use you are, is never going to gain widespread traction, so that means Retroshare isn’t going to get anywhere until someone gets an iOS app approved for it, which will probably never happen. It’s cool, but it’s an extreme long shot as an approved iOS app. From what I’ve seen, it’s also a little tough for everyday computer users to get the hang of.
Past those two (anything less useful, active, or harder to run a server that end users can get to through a browser or a mobile app for isn’t worth discussing), I’m looking into some other self-hosted solutions, but still not finding quite the right mix of features and ability to protect the people I’d invite to them from other users/outside attacks/admins well enough to even feel comfortable testing any of them widely. If that changes, I’ll at least let my friends in the audience know.
In Closing (For Now):
I put a lot of work into this process, and documented steps as I did. What I’ve done here may be overwhelming to some people (even just to read about), and I get that. I still wanted my weird, meticulous process of thinking this through out there, because it helped me, and it could help someone else. If it does help you and you want to give a little back, there are ways that you can do that. Also, whether you followed me here from Facebook or not, if you’re not on my mailing list yet, feel free to join. (To current subscribers: there was a recent problem involving settings changing at my host, so you may not have gotten notifications of my last 3 or 4 posts, but you should be good to go now.) A link to my RSS feed is also at the bottom of that page.
Some of the time I put into this, I admittedly wouldn’t have had to if I’d been better about upkeep over the years. If you’re like me, and can be slack about some of the things I discuss here, learn from my mistakes. Be proactive about maintaining a complete address book, and up-to-date Web bookmarks, among other things (I also recommend saving PDFs of articles you find online and enjoy or get use out of, because the Internet’s way more ephemeral than you think it is).
This is an evolving document. As I do further research, and follow through on this process, I will add to it, and modify it. If there’s stuff you’re curious about that I didn’t write about here, please let me know in the comments, or via email. If you have what you feel are better suggestions for any of the steps I took or solutions I used, I’d love to hear about those, too, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll endorse them personally. What works for some people does not work for others, of course, so I may not agree with or adopt your suggestion. However, if it’s interesting or worthwhile, I’ll give it space here.
As I type this, my Facebook account is still active, and will be for a few more days (sometime during or right after the weekend, I’m pulling the plug), but after that? I’m out, and I hopefully won’t be back. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.