Reidun Saxerud is…

I first opened my Facebook account in October of 2006. Like many, I was both enthralled but confused by its differences from MySpace and Friendster. Status updates included the static prefix of “[NAME] is…” (and even though it has been years since that changed, some have yet to notice the lack of “is” or that status updates are no longer in the third person at all).

I remember when tagging began and when the News Feed became a thing. How the interface morphed over the years while we built our photo albums, the old style of groups (who wasn’t a member of the crunchy-fall-leaf group?) obsessed over event RSVPs, and were more focused on the most clever status updates we could think of rather than the drivel they are now.

It all seemed as innocent as it was innovative. Boy, have times changed.

I am not hailing the praises of Facebook. I’m scarcely a fan these days. I just put up with it. With the recent doubling-down on it refusing to police blatantly untrue political ads, therefore adding fuel to its bread-and-butter fire that is “fake news,” another sweep of calls to deactivate or delete Facebook accounts is running rampant.

Amidst the blatant data abuse, cozying up to conservatives, aiding in the 2016 election, Cambridge Analytica, and other just straight-up weird reports about the Zuck, I blame no one for wanting to distance themselves from it. But there are many valid reasons people can’t leave it.

“Free” services for the impoverished

At its core, Facebook provides services that keep users connected with their community that are free of monetary transactions.

Many of us have friends interstate or overseas from our places of birth. Because of my early adulthood career in attractions and recreation, I have been rather fortunate to connect with friends from all over the world: Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Australia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ghana, and several more I’m forgetting. And also because I moved from Minnesota to California solo in late 2014, most all of my friends and family are several hundred, if not thousands of miles away.

When disaster strikes, the safety check feature that marks locals as safe is a relief. I had a friend teaching in Japan when the mega-quake hit in March 2011. We didn’t know for days whether she was okay or not. She finally was able to post and we were all relieved. Safety Check wasn’t released until 2014. If something had happened to her, we would have never known for sure, or at least for weeks.

Some of the most critical services it offers:

  • Checking in after tragedies and crises
  • Free voice and video calls
  • Legacy contacts — finding out that someone died and managing their account
  • Photo storage and alibi for legal proceedings
  • Employment — some jobs will not hire you without seeing your Facebook account

Of course, we know now what we didn’t know then: that getting automatically tagged is a mark of face recognition and erasure of anonymity; that knowing your whereabouts make it freakishly easy for police to trace you; and that it’s pretty likely our calls are being listened to. Nevermind how invasive it is for companies to demand your social media presence, something that indicates they trust Zuckerberg more than the IRS for establishing identity.

But some people do not have any other option. I’m one of them. I’m poor and can’t always pay my phone bill before service is cut off; most people I need to talk to have both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. When I lost all of my stored possessions to an auction in 2018, my Facebook photos and posts were some of the only records I had of the few belongings I cared about.

I don’t like using Facebook very much, but if something were to happen: that is the only way I know I can guarantee everyone I love will know about anything I want or need them to be aware of. And by no means am I the only one. Ignoring how that kind of poverty drives people to continue using Facebook in lieu of connecting with others from a distance or just letting their loved ones know they’re alive is a huge part of the problem that enables Facebook’s nefarious practices.

If you can afford to dump that, you’re likely class-privileged

You will not lose memories, family connections, or safety network because you already have all of the items in question or money and other resources to ensure safety in a tragedy.

Shaming or talking down to those who still use Facebook plays right into the problem of blaming constituents, not representatives in charge of creating and maintaining systems by which we all (are supposed to) operate.

This is not meant to shame those who do leave Facebook but to remind you that the problem isn’t the users. Even though my use is relatively limited, I struggle with whether I’m crossing the picket line or not, but it’s one of those situations where I have no choice. Almost everything we do has a measure of privilege in some way: it is time to recognize that jumping from the Facebook platform is one of them.

What we need to do is pressure our elected officials to reign Zuckerberg in already. For real. We need to start regulating social media, and not just individual users but the owners, creators, and executives. Deleting Facebook today won’t get rid of it and it will only encourage them further to create more reasons to suck people back in and manipulate them and violate our privacy.

#DeleteFacebook if you feel so inclined. But, even more loudly, hold our elected representatives accountable for allowing this abuse to continue.

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