A click too farWhy Quit Facebook Day didn't work

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The CBC's Theresa Lalonde interviewed me back in January about social media trends for the coming year, and she was kind enough to replay one of my predictions that actually seems to be coming true (that people are going to become more attentive to how they use platforms like Facebook, and who they friend) in a piece about Quit Facebook Day.

Quit Facebook Day, judged by its stated goal, was kind of a bust, and not that surprisingly. Quitting Facebook is a pretty big step, social-media-wise; it's the primary means of communication between a lot of people, and no other social media platform can claim to have nearly its share of people's online attention. (That's not even considering the difficulty of reassembling all the stuff you may have shared on Facebook over the years.) Asking folks to turn their backs on it is asking a lot... and probably too much.

So it's no surprise that May 31 came and went without much fanfare (beyond the odd snarky tweet)... and certainly without Facebook's sudden demise.

It foundered for the same reason a lot of participatory web sites never quite get off the ground: asking too much, too soon. I see it all too often - a potentially great community that sets the bar way too high. If you want participants to do something big (say, contributing a five-minute video or launching a blog on your site), you have to start off by asking them to do something smaller: commenting, rating or a similar low-cost activity that gets them climbing the participation ladder.

But give the organizers some credit: they worked hard, got a lot of attention and helped drive the conversation about how Facebook - and other social networks - can do more to respect their users and the information we share. (By the way, 30,000 people did take the ultimate step of deleting their accounts, according to some reports. That ain't nothing.) No, Mark Zuckerberg probably wasn't crying into his corn flakes this morning... but this is one moment in what I hope is a much larger awakening among the online population about the value of their participation and privacy.

And those of us who want Facebook - and other social networks - to be better, more open and more respectful aren't just in this for May 31 or June 6. We're in it for the long haul.


Chris Heuer says

June 1, 2010 - 6:55pm

I don't think it was a bust at all - quite the contrary.

In fact, you mention the increased awareness of privacy issues, and I in fact think that the amount of press generated around it raised the overall knowledge on the subject of society as a whole. While I personally didn't hear anyone saying "can you imagine, quitting facebook, how crazy those people must be to even consider it" - I did hear friends in social media industry talking around that point and could certainly imagine everyday people saying it too each other.

Indeed, Facebook now has a gravity of social significance like only one other company I have seen in the past few decades... it harkens me back to AOL's great outages - at the time, I thought for sure users wold flock to one of the alternative services (remember prodigy and compuserve and ISP's were all viable options). But I was wrong. And AOL's research had shown, they would not lose customers despite being offline for several days in some areas. Their identity, their relationships - these were the most important things to them, and Facebook has reached this powerful perch as well).

This in conjunction with our YASN aversion (Yet Another Social Network) is just too high a price to pay, so most wouldn't. I certainly didn't, I just spent 2 hours updating my privacy settings and going through all my apps removing one's I didn't trust.

If there was a campaign/movement for "everyone check and reset your privacy settings day" I dont think there would be any excitement or any interest, or any press. So I think it was a success and, a learning moment for many.

Rob Cottingham says

June 1, 2010 - 11:25pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris.

And it's true - what they did helped to generate awareness. But I'm concerned that setting the bar so high also generated unrealistic expectations, and played into the very dangerous narrative that all of this outrage is just ginned up by a few privacy zealots, and real people are all perfectly happy... and all is therefore well.

You make a persuasive case for most people against leaving Facebook. So if making a splash is the goal, how about aiming for something more realistic? You're right that tweak-your-privacy-settings day would be destined for failure, but there's a middle ground. I like the message behind Facebook Protest Day, for example.

And it's about more - much, much, much more - than message. (My title for this post overstates the case a little; making it Quit Facebook Day isn't the only reason this didn't work... just, imho, the main one.) For a campaign like this to really catch fire, some actual organizing smarts need to be brought to bear.

I have a post bubbling away in Evernote on why net activists and social change activists need to learn from each other, but one point I'll be making is that I find a lot of the net activism I see is divorced from any theory of change. And without an understanding of what makes change happen, we're destined for a lot of stories about campaigns that flared briefly and died out.

Sean Vernall says

July 13, 2011 - 3:13am

A year on and the news is once again filled with privacy concerns and reports of a Facebook exodus.  Of course, what many fail to consider is that the only information you need to enter into your account is your name and date of birth.  All other information is optional and if you want to enter in this optional information you have the ability to set the optional settings to make all of that data as private as you wish.

The problem as I see it is that there is an increaing amount of misinformation being spread without any information on what is actually there and how to use it.  If many of these anti-Facebook activists put as much effort into teaching FB users to be safe and secure rather than spreading gossip and encouraging anxiety it would be far better.

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