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Sunday, February 25, 2024

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Why I'm Not Deleting My Facebook Account (Yet)

Jason Calacanis plans to commit “Facebook suicide” today and become the latest in a line of prominent tech people to delete their accounts. I considered doing the same back in December but have hung in there. That’s not due to gaining more faith in Facebook. Instead, I shifted to sharing via a fan page. You can, too. Below, why you might, plus other thoughts for those having the Facebook jitters.

Let me make clear that I’m no fan of Facebook’s many privacy changes. I’ve written about my concerns many times, as I’ll mention in this story and in a recap at the end. Earlier this month, I even urged Facebook to “get their shit together.”

So why am I still there?

It’s A Work Thing….

To write about search, I need to understand the web. Facebook, despite its walled garden, it still a huge part of the web. Information from Facebook flows out into the greater web in many ways, impacting search results. Facebook itself is arguably a major search engine, even if most searches to my knowledge are still mainly to find other people who may be on Facebook.

To understand Facebook, I have to participate. I need to be part of that world, and really be part of it. Having some “hidden” or “test” account isn’t sufficient. Test accounts can miss things. I need a real account, with real friends, which produce real activity in my news feed.

It’s Still A Work Thing.…

As a 21st century journalist, part of my job is not just producing stories but also ensuring that my content gets seen, whether that’s content I’ve personally written or that I oversee as editor here at Search Engine Land.

In the old days, delivering news content was easy. Did you want the morning or afternoon newspaper delivered to your door? Or would you prefer to go out and pick it up yourself at a newsstand or vending machine?

Today, online, people still “go out” to get their news. They go directly to news sites each day, just as many people come directly here to Search Engine Land. But people also want their news delivered, in a format they prefer. That’s why Search Engine Land sends our news out via email, or RSS Feeds, or through Twitter, Google Buzz and LinkedIn. That’s also why we send it through Facebook.

We have readers who use Facebook as a way to keep up, who treat Facebook as their newsreader of choice. Their choice. They’re not forced to be on Facebook. They want to be there, and they do like having our content come to them via our Search Engine Land Facebook Fan Page. I know — I just surveyed them last week and got lots of positive responses about the frequency of our posts.

Now Jason Calacanis sees Facebook as evil, which is why he wants people to pull away. I’m also disturbed by the company’s continued “two steps forward, one step back” approach in making people less private. But, I’m not to the point of declaring a boycott. I don’t think publishing my content there is helping the service, and pulling it won’t hurt it. To me, Facebook’s main “content” remains the connection between friends. If users pull themselves off Facebook, out of concern, the publishers will follow.

Do The Fan Page

So, I remain on Facebook mainly for work reasons. If it wasn’t for work, I might be departing. Heck, I might not have ever opened an account in the first place. As I wrote in December, in my Now Is It Facebook’s Microsoft Moment? story:

See, I’m not a big Facebook user. No offense to Facebook, but most of what it offers just isn’t my thing. If I want to share pictures, I use Flickr. If I want to share videos, I use YouTube. If I want to connect with my friends, I have email or other methods. If I want to update the world with whatever’s on my mind, I use Twitter. Pretty much, I don’t need the Facebook “Office” suite of social sharing tools. I know Facebook is great for many people. I hear that first hand talking to some friends. I just don’t use it that way.

I was already sharing information without needing Facebook. All Facebook was doing for me, as I also wrote in that piece, was driving me crazy:

I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time to try and figure out the myriad of ways that Facebook may or may not want to use my information. That’s why I almost shut down my entire account this week. It would be a hell of a lot easier than this mess.

As an online marketer, I know that Facebook is a thriving, important venue. So I kind of have to keep an account. But I’m also giving up in some ways. This isn’t the place I’m planning to social network, because I just can’t expend the time to decide what I might be sharing, might not be sharing, what my friends might share, what friends of friends might share and then recheck all those settings every six months when Facebook does something different.

My solution (which might also be one for other readers) was to start my own personal fan page. It wasn’t that I thought I had actual “fans” that needed one. It was simply because having a fan page gave me more control.

Everything I do on the fan page is public, which means I don’t have to worry about what might or might not get shared based on the 8 zillion degrees of separation Facebook chooses to invoke during a particular phase of the moon. If I share, I share with the world. If I don’t want to share, I don’t post. End of story.

It’s Facebook Lite!

In another piece I wrote, To Beat Twitter In Status Update Wars, How About Facebook Lite? from April 2009, I’d wished there was a simple, all-public version of Facebook:

One of Facebook’s biggest challenges in allowing “off-platform” sharing seems to be its supposed great “granular” privacy settings. People can control who sees what in a variety of ways at Facebook, and those settings have to be maintained if information flows out of the Facebook walled garden. But that’s also its weakness. It’s overwhelming just how much you can do within Facebook, much less trying to keep track of where all that information flows.

Twitter is the essence of simplicity. It’s either all public or not. And you only post one thing, a status message. If Facebook really wants to compete, a Facebook light version — come up with a clever name for it — seems like it would stand a greater chance of success.

As it turns out, fan pages are Facebook Lite.

Think of a fan page as the Twitter-edition of Facebook. Anyone can follow you on Twitter (except for the tiny number of people who have protected Twitter accounts). Similarly, anyone can follow your Facebook fan page. You don’t have to review a friend request to decide if you really know them or not (or potentially upset them if you don’t friend them). And just as everything you post on Twitter goes to the world, everything you post on a Facebook fan page goes to the world.

Fan Pages Are For Everyone – Get Your Own!

Want your own? Start here at Facebook. Create a page for a “public figure,” because you are a public figure, whoever you are.

Yes, Facebook help area suggests that fan pages are only for “organizations, businesses, celebrities, and bands.” But elsewhere, teachers are encouraged to try them. I’ve also found nothing in help that says mere mortals are banned from also having them.

Friends To Fans

In my case, I also asked Facebook if there was a way to convert my friends into fans. I was on Facebook before there were fan pages, and I don’t personally know many of the people I’ve friended over the years. Like John Battelle, and many others, I accepted anyone for a period of time.

Facebook did this for me. In December, anyone who was my friend was also added to my fan page. There are privacy issues with this, because any action people do on fan pages is public, exposed to the world. I messaged all my friends to ensure they knew they’d been made fans and encouraged them to unfan me if they had any concerns. I did the same thing to all my new fans. Practically everyone stayed, and I felt I’d done my best to alert people.

What should others do, if they want to migrate friends to fans? You could try contacting Facebook, but I suspect this won’t be done for most people, unless you have a compelling reason. Instead, you’ll probably need to create a fan page, then invite all your friends to join that page.

What About Your Personal Page?

I still have my “personal page,” as I’d call it — my “Wall” that’s linked to about 1,600 people that I’ve friended over the past few years. I’ve pretty much abandoned doing much there, however. I rarely post items to it. I removed much content that I had on it. My likes are still there, primarily so I can evaluate what Facebook’s doing with the horrible new “Community Pages” that it has introduced, in a quest to be like Wikipedia and rank for Google for everything. Expect more on that, later. I really, really dislike it. So does Cisco, by the way.

Ideally, I’d go edit my friend list to people I really am connected to personally, in some way. I just don’t have that time. Plus, Facebook actually does a pretty good job of noticing the people I’m most interested in based on my liking activity and comments, so I see more of their content in my news feed.

But What About My Social Actions

If you’re worried about Facebook, I’d similarly clear your personal page and profile of anything you don’t want the world to know. Having a clean personal page might not be enough to calm your Facebook nerves, however.

One of the most alarming things currently, to me and many others, is how Facebook decided in April that it would share your personal information with other web sites without asking you, first. Instant Personalization, it was called. Sure, you could opt out. But it would have been better if you were asked to opt-in.

The sites right now are small: Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Docs. But more will come, and you might have to constantly check to exclude new additions. Or maybe not. Or maybe Facebook will introduce some further sharing beyond its borders feature that you’ll have to keep track of.

For example, just yesterday news came how Facebook (along with several other social sites) was sharing usernames and IDs with advertisers. For more, see:

All of this makes my head hurt and wonder if, in the long-term, I may need to kill my personal account and shift to a business account.

A Business Account?

Business accounts are a way for anyone to be on Facebook without a profile. Anyone can have one. You don’t have to be a business. They seem an ideal way to have a fresh start and be very limited to what the service knows about you.

You can’t convert a personal account to a business account. However, you can make a business account in addition to a personal account, then kill your business account. Here’s how I’d go about doing it, if I go this way in the future. But anyone can do it, right now:

  • Logout of Facebook
  • Go to the Create Page area
  • Make a page. If you have one already, make another one, named anything you want
  • On the “Create a Facebook Account” page that comes next, select “I do not have a Facebook account”
  • Enter your email and a birthdate. It doesn’t have to be your actual birthday. Just use one you’ll remember and that would give you an age of more than 21. That should ensure you’ll be well past any age restricted settings Facebook might try to impose. Maybe this violates Facebook’s terms of not providing false personal information. If so, I doubt you’ll get caught. And it might not. Those terms seem written for personal accounts, not business accounts.

Voila! You now have a business account. The only information listed in that account is the email address and birthdate you provide. You have no friends. You should have no sharing of what you do outside of Facebook, because as far as Facebook is concerned, “you” aren’t really much of anything.

You also now possess a new fan page. Go share to your fans. Ah, but what if you already had a fan page one linked with your personal account? Here’s what I’d do:

  • Login with your personal account
  • Go to your existing fan page
  • Select edit, then in Admins, click Add
  • Enter the email address you used for your business account in the Add Admins Via Email area

Voila again! Now you’ve linked your existing fan page to your new business account. Time to disconnect it from your personal account. To do that:

  • Login with your business account
  • Go to your fan page
  • Select edit, then in Admins, find your personal account listed and chooose “Remove Admin”

Done! And now if you want to get personally off Facebook completely, you can delete your personal account. You’ll be left with a business account linked to a fan page. You can share with anyone and yet maybe be more reassured you’re not sharing personal stuff unknowingly through a personal account.

What You Lose & Facebook Alternatives

Keep in mind that if you go the business account route option, you won’t have a news feed. You can’t keep up with what your friends may be sharing and doing on Facebook. If they all have fan pages, you have to visit those one by one.

Then again, you can build your own Facebook outside of Facebook. Every fan page has its own public feed. Use any newsreader, such as Google Reader, and add the page. It’ll find the page’s feed and keep you updated with changes. If all your friends all create their own pages, just add them all to your newsreader, and now you’ve got Facebook (to a degree) outside of Facebook.

Don’t trust Google Reader? Use another web-based one, or use a software-based newsreader, or monitor these pages by “subscribing” through your web browser.

What if you still want to share things privately among only your real friends, pictures, posts and so on. Facebook’s not your only option. Flickr remains a great way to share photos selectively. YouTube lets you share video. Twitter, with a protected account, lets you selectively update.

What Goes On The Web Potentially Goes To The World

Keep in mind that anything you share digitally can easily escape from the privacy you originally intended. Friends who have public Twitter accounts my retweet your “protected” tweet. Now the world sees what you said. Someone might share your private photo on Flickr copying it into their own account. Heck, someone might easily forward that personal email you sent.

Bottom line, if you’re really are worried that something might go public, don’t put it online.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

In the end, it’s up to each individual to make their own decision about staying with Facebook or not. Whatever you decide, you’re making the right choice, even if others consider it wrong.

Some of what I’ve outlined above might give more options and more control to those feeling Facebook is out of control, given it changes its privacy settings so often. Indeed, a poll out today indicates that 60% of Facebook users are thinking of leaving (see more coverage here).

I don’t know how scientific that online poll really is, but I have no doubt many people are more worried about Facebook and thinking about whether they should stay. My stories below get into this more:

I dearly hope Facebook will get its act together. I don’t want to have to ensure I’m constantly logged out of Facebook to protect myself from whatever it might decide to share next. I don’t want to have to research what various settings do or control, especially when some new “feature” has been added. It’s that type of hassle that makes me want to join the ranks of others who’ve been public about leaving Facebook:

Leo Laporte, inspired by Jason Calacanis, killed his account during a live broadcast last week. Now Jason plans to take his own medicine and also kill his account live at 1pm today here (he announced this in a long email to his email list readers this week that maddening he hasn’t put on his blog).

Perhaps others may follow as part of the announced “Quit Facebook Day” on May 31. Maybe some will simply try the single day boycott planned for June 6. Perhaps the vast majority of people will continue to stay on Facebook. If so, I hope they learn to protect themselves more. Even better, I hope Facebook makes changes so that people don’t feel they have to protect themselves.

More Thoughts

For some of my past thoughts on Facebook and privacy, here are posts from my personal blog:

I debated whether what I’ve written today should go on my personal blog or here at Search Engine Land. I decided in the end that there’s enough interest in the topic in general that this was the better place.

As for my past Facebook posts about privacy here at Search Engine Land, see:

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