(Editorial illustration by Emily Seffar)
You might think this isn’t a big deal; lots of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in light of the shocking Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. For those of you who don’t know me, I think Edward Snowden is a hero and did a huge service to the public for exposing the extent of mass surveillance. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I am horrified by the way 87 million Facebook users’ data has been treated. What is a surprise is that I have chosen to #DeleteFacebook as a young disabled person.
I had my Facebook account for 10 years. I made the decision to delete my account because I could no longer be a user of a platform that allegedly allowed a firm to harvest data to use in political elections. While I felt uncomfortable with the targeted ads I saw on Facebook, I was willing to overlook this to benefit from all of the good things Facebook provides.
Disabled people face literal barriers when trying to go out and participate in the community; this week when I rang a new restaurant to see if it was wheelchair accessible, they said yes but there are three steps to the disabled toilet (figure that one out!). With only 1 in 5 stations being fully wheelchair accessible and care packages being reduced all the time, it is extremely difficult to get out and about when you’re a disabled person. I’ve written about the value of social media in regards to activism for disabled people; it is an extremely valuable tool given these barriers, so I support armchair activism. Having a social media presence is how I started my activism career. The day I wrote my first blog on the attitudes and discrimination I encountered as a disabled student, I posted on Facebook (it was more of a rant if I’m being honest). When I realised I could reach an even wider audience by having a larger presence, I jumped at the chance to make my voice as widely heard as possible. I created a professional Facebook page and paid for certain articles I wrote to reach a wider audience. It worked, one of my posts reached over 10,000 people. But I do not regret deleting Facebook and I am not worried about my ability to be heard without it.
Many disabled people have said they would like to delete social media but feel they would be socially isolated if they did. I completely understand this. I have forged friendships with people through social media and I am in my job at Muscular Dystrophy UK because I direct messaged someone on Twitter to ask about opportunities. Social media can be a great thing and I am not judging or criticising anyone who still chooses to keep their Facebook accounts. I considered keeping it if I unfollowed all my friends so my newsfeed would just be actual news. There are plenty of ways to read the news without having a Facebook account even if you struggle to hold large papers like I do. I also thought about using Facebook for messaging only, particularly with all of the people I grew up with in the US. Yes it can be fun or interesting to see what someone you haven’t seen in 10 years is up to but it isn’t enough of a reason to keep Facebook for me.
We exist in an echo chamber on social media by having friends who generally have the same views and unfriending the ones that don’t. We tend to only want our own views fed back to us so it validates how we think and feel. This isn’t helpful when you want to create change however. Look at Parliament – one party cannot single-handedly pass a law without the support of at least some members who are in different parties. Therefore, if you don’t know how other parties think and feel, you don’t know how best to convince them to join your way of thinking. You need to gain this knowledge of your opposition through reading interviews or engaging in a dialogue.
I am in no way saying I don’t live in an echo chamber at least some of the time. I will only read “newspapers” like the Daily Mail if I’ve heard of a particularly ridiculous or incorrect story and then share my disapproval with others who generally agree with me. I’m also guilty of unfriending a few people the day Trump won the election and when the EU Referendum results came in if they posted views I really disagreed with. Now that I know these election results could have been influenced by data collected on Facebook – I’m out.
People keep saying to me that other platforms are just as bad as Facebook, particularly the platforms they own. They may be right about other platforms but these are my choices and I think it is both unfair and ridiculous to say if I quit Facebook I need to go completely “off the grid”. I don’t want to feel socially isolated so I am keeping some social media accounts but deleting one that I morally disagree with. This is my choice and you can make yours.
This was originally published on The Huffington Post UK on April 16th 2018.