I quit Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – here’s why:
Imagine you invite a friend for dinner in your apartment. You are great friends and haven‘t seen each other for a while, so you talk a lot about your lives, what‘s going on right now, your plans and much more. The food is great and you enjoy it, but there‘s one hook. You are being watched and bugged by some small cameras and microphones in some hidden places. Would you like that?
So I‘m having this conversation with Sofie & Seb about social media and the online platforms you use for any kind of stuff (keep in touch with friends, educate yourself, entertainment, share your projects/posts/pictures or whatever else).
I was raising that issue, because I translated Sasha‘s great article about „The Death of Couchsurfing“ and was thinking about my personal account. I do have an account for Couchsurfing and it didn‘t got locked (which surprised me, because I never paid anything to them or ‚verified‘ my account). But it was due to the recent hosting that I did for some people, so Couchsurfing gave me the verification badge until 8th of November 2020.
Does that mean I would be ‚unverified‘ again? Probably yes.
And would that mean I would have to pay to ‚verify‘ myself again? Probably yes too.
So if I think about it, that sounds like a pretty sneaky behavior. They are like all companies who seem to be nice to you, but behind the scenes they only care about their profit that they make out of you.
Because of that I was thinking more deeply about this and I thought what in the world is Facebook, Instagram, Google and the like doing and why do I still have an account for some of these?
Of course, we all know that the business model of these companies is to collect as much data as possible about you, to then show you personalized ads. That has many negative effects, as the focus from these so called “social networks” are not that social-orientated anymore, but profit-orientated. What that means is, they will do everything they can do to get you hooked on their platform to show you as much ads as possible, which eventually turns people into mindless consumers.
And they have various methods of getting and keeping your attention as much as possible, so they can maximize their profits. Attention engineers design these platforms like slot machines that make you addicted. They implemented different features like the downward-pull which is like the arm of a slot machine that you need to pull down and then you may get a reward or not (get new posts you might be interested in or not). Tristan Harris (a former design ethicist at Google) explains this very well:
Then there‘s the endless feed, which you can scroll down indefinitely and there might be something interesting or funny that the Facebook or Instagram algorithm serves you. Or the like button that gives you a dopamine kick if people liked your picture or post and you constantly want to check whether you got a new like, so you keep coming back to the platform.
I also find the example of Snapchat Streaks really interesting, because I didn’t know about it:
So all of these features are kinda toxic, because they soak out your attention to the maximum. And all of that for the sake of trade, because Facebook and other companies make huge profits with the advertising they are inserting in their platforms. Basically you trade your attention and data on Facebook for so-called “free” access to the network. Facebook then sells the space on their network for ads that they will show to you. Because of the data they got from you, they can personalize the ads (according to your interests) to increase the possibility of you watching and clicking on it. In return for that they get huge amounts of money from companies who pay for that advertising.
So pretty fucked up right?
And in case you didn‘t know it already, Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp (plus many more companies), so it is one huge entity with around 2-3 billion users worldwide.
Have you ever checked the stories-thing in Instagram? After almost every second story you watch, there’s an ad.
When I thought about this, I felt like basically we all get raped by them (used for profit purposes) and we all know it (because of Cambridge Analytica, this Ted Talk or that Tedx Talk, this documentary about surveillance capitalism and many more such relevations) and all we do is to look at this and accept it?
It shouldn‘t be that way, right? Maybe some people are not aware of companies doing these things, but I am very well aware about this, so what am I doing?
Will I be on Facebook in 5 or 10 years? Or Instagram? Or Couchsurfing and pay for my kindness of letting people sleep for free at my place?
What will Facebook do in the meantime – what is their next business plan?
It turns out, that Facebook is coming up with their own cryptocurrency (libra) which will give them even more of power in this world. And according to Wikipedia in german, the users will be transparent: „Before using the wallet, you must identify yourself with an official ID card. This makes Libra users transparent, each transaction can be assigned to the persons involved.“ (source)
So they will know when you gave whom how much libra coins. That will not only be another way for them to collect even more data, but also solve none of the problems we have today, as cryptocurrency is just another form of trade, which comes along with many problems, as we explain in the origin of most problems book.
So I was asking myself: what for am I using these slot machines (Facebook and Instagram) and is it really worth it?
To keep in touch with people?
To share some pictures/videos/projects?
To educate myself by following some interesting channels about space and science?
There are alternatives to all of these which are trade-free:
Keep in touch with people
There are really great alternatives to keep in touch with people in different ways (messaging, videocalls, voicecalls) and you can read that article which explains very well what kinds of levels to communicate there are and presents some great options to keep in touch with your friends.
I personally have Signal for 1 or 2 years already, so I just start to use it as my default messenger again. It has an app on the phone and works on my laptop too, so that‘s awesome and I won‘t have to deal with WhatsApp anymore.
You can use 2 ways to share pictures/videos/projects/articles etc. Either rely on a social network or have your own digital space where you can express yourself. I do have my own website where I post my thoughts, projects, videos etc. and I used to just share these things on Facebook and Instagram.
With a search on the trade-free directory I discover many trade-free alternatives who are not raping me behind my back and I will use my Mastodon account that I created a while ago as the default social media.
In fact there’s a whole Fediverse consisting of many great social network alternatives:
I also manage the Facebook and Instagram page for TROM in german via Hootsuite and I thought about whether I should keep it or not. Usually I schedule memes for these networks so that every day a meme is posted. I didn‘t found an option in Hootsuite to add Mastodon, but I found a Hootsuite alternative which has that option called SocialOomph (I want to mention that SocialOomph is not trade-free, but I didn’t found an alternative). So what I will do next is to create a Mastodon account for TROM in german, add that network to SocialOomph and schedule memes there. No more Facebook, no more Instagram – but Mastodon.
And as a small sidenote, there are even mastodon clients available for your phone, like Tusky for example.
What about Youtube?
Ahh that’s a tricky one. I have to talk about Youtube, because it is the 2nd most popular website in the world and part of the google family:
And what they’re doing is this:
So you might want to watch one single video, but then you wake up 2 hours later, realizing you watched a lot more, because the Youtube Algorithm recommends you more videos. And they have a tendency to go from the calm, scientific videos to the crazy stuff, conspiracy videos and dumb content, because that’s what keeps people hooked to watch more. In fact 70% of videos watched on youtube are recommended by the algorithm. So if you watch a video from the moonlanding, a conspiracy theory about that might be recommended to you.
Tristan Harris (again) explains these methods very well (and yes I am aware of the irony that the videos I embedded are from youtube):
Or, an entire alternative trade-free video platform is PeerTube. However PeerTube just doesn’t has the huge amount of videos that Youtube has, so it’s tricky.
To summarize: It’s really difficult, because there is some great content on Youtube, but also A LOT (an incredible high amount) of shit. TROM curated videos is about curating the scientific, relevant and interesting videos to remove the clickbait and bullshit videos. And that brings us to education.
The internet is a great way to learn about new ideas and educate yourself about pretty much any topic you‘re interested in. TROM curated tools are exactly about that. There are the curated videos that I mentioned, but also news, podcasts, documentaries, movies, courses and finteresting.
So. That‘s basically it, but what about Couchsurfing?
I‘m not changing anything with doing all that
We have to be realistic and understand that these attention seeking networks like Facebook or Instagram are a worldwide thing. And I have to be realistic and admit that switching from Facebook to Mastodon won‘t change the whole world.
However I ask myself: should I keep Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp just because everybody else is using it? What if everybody else is jumping from a cliff – will I join them?
For me personally that doesn‘t make sense, because that would mean I keep feeding these entities.
And is it really true if you say that these individual actions have little to no effect on the world?
I mean, doesn‘t everything we see in the world start small?
Didn‘t even Facebook started at the Harvard University in 2004? In the room of Mark Zuckerberg in one single university and then it became a worldwide thing in less than 20 years. What about Apple? Didn‘t Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started their company in a garage? (source)
If you think about it, everything in the world starts small and then grows bigger or not (depending on many factors). So I think it’s not only worth it to support alternatives, but also important.
Of course I know the situation is different now, because of the mechanisms that keep people trapped in these these platforms (so I don’t see a rapid change from Facebook to another network), but I want to ask myself again – should I keep supporting them now and in the future?
Because it also does something with me and changes myself in time. As we know this change can be negative, because of the addiction factors of them.
If you look into it, you will figure out, that the people who came up with these things (the engineers behind the like-button, downward-scroll, red notifications, endless feed etc.) are distancing themselves from what they created. In fact they try to avoid to spend time on these platforms as much as possible or entirely, because they know how they work and how addictive/toxic they are. (source)
It‘s not about living completely trade-free
We live in a trade-based world and that is fact. And we won‘t live in a trade-free world tomorrow – unfortunately. But what we can do is to take little steps into this direction.
We can tell people that trade creates most of the problems we see in this world and we can use trade-free alternatives, so we are less dependent on trade.
Should Wikipedia start to ask for money from people if they want to use it, just because the whole world works like this right now? Or should Doctors without Borders instead of treating everybody, start to discriminate a certain group of people? Of course not.
So that‘s why I‘m thinking instead of feeding these trade-based entities, I use alternatives, even if that comes along with some discomfort. Probably everything is new and I don‘t know any people on Mastodon or Signal. But what I can do is to talk to my friends and family, tell them about the shady things that Facebook and Google do and showcase to them how easy it is to use trade-free alternatives.
After all, didn‘t I joined Facebook at one point? And ICQ before that? And another social network before that? And I managed to switch from one to another eventually – so why should I not handle the change to Mastodon?
It’s almost impossible to escape
While writing that article I came to think really hard about YouTube. As you might noticed, the videos I posted in this article are from that platform and yes, I also do have a YouTube account. I was thinking about to quit that too, but I realized that I probably can’t, because I use a YouTube API for the curated videos on tromsite.de – so for many people it is not only more convenient to stay on these platforms, but maybe necessary for some purposes.
(Edit: I forgot that I switched to a trade-free RSS Bridge for these curated videos, so now I can ditch YouTube as well and use it with an Invidious Instance)
It is also more convenient for me to embed the YouTube videos here, than to download the videos, upload them to archive.org and then embed them from there.
Let’s be honest. This is probably what a typical phone screen of a normal user nowadays looks like:
Full with trade-based apps and I can tell you a story about that:
I have a little sister and she is completely trapped into Tiktok and Youtube loopholes (stupid videos that the algorithm recommends to her, based on what she watched). She is ignoring what I say and probably doesn‘t want to hear what I‘m saying, but maybe she will get these points when she gets older. Maybe not. I don‘t know.
But that’s not point. The point is to talk about these problems and provide alternatives.
Is it better to use these platforms to educate people about the problems we have in this world and solutions or do that on trade-free platforms? I don’t know and we can discuss about that in the comments.
I’m inclined to think that we should move away from them, which would mean, that even if you ditch just one of these trade-based platforms, then that might be better than not doing anything.
With Mastodon, Signal and my Website, I can distance myself from these trade-based platforms quite well. And maybe for my next article, I will embed videos from the Internet Archive instead from YouTube 😉
It is a journey for all of us. But the most important thing is always education. Learn about what these platforms are doing, if you use them, be aware of that and educate other people about that.
For me personally, if I can’t find a host in a city I would like to visit with BeWelcome or Trustroots, then it is what it is. 50 years ago I couln’t send a message via the internet from germany to australia. I also had the experience with Couchsurfing finding no host in a city, despite contacting many.
But if I and others and more and more humans join these better (trade-free) networks which don’t want to make a profit out of us, the better it is for all of us.
I want to leave you with the recommendation of the book „The origin of most problems“ where we explain in detail the data and attention trade and I want to ask you:
Where do you draw the line?
What can these trade-based platforms allow themselves to do? How far can they go with their methods of making profit out of you?
These are questions that you have to answer yourself.
Have you ever thought about your own media consumption?
Where do you get your daily information from?
And what does that do to yourself?
As almost everybody in this world I have to play the game of trade every now and then. I have to trade my time, energy, skills and attention in a job to get some money which allows me to buy and do things I need and want. A couple weeks ago I finished my latest working experience in Switzerland and I’ll tell you about that plus other experiences.
This article will be about the german culture and my experience growing up in germany. One of the 194 tribes on planet earth which has quiet a good image in this world.