In December, I chose to permanently delete my Facebook account. I had been considering doing so for several months due to mounting frustrations about the platform’s failures to properly protect users’ privacy or personal data. When news broke that Facebook allowed companies such as Spotify and Netflix to open, read and even delete users’ private messages, I decided that I was done.
So I downloaded my data from Facebook and agreed that if I waited 90 days to log into my account, my Facebook profile and all my information would be permanently deleted. I resisted the urge to reinstate my profile, and three months later, voilà, it was as if Sophie Stuber’s profile never existed. Goodbye, embarrassing photos from freshman year volleyball bus rides. Goodbye, selfies with side bangs and braces.
For a while, I lived a peaceful Facebook-free existence, as people managed to do for centuries before the platform embedded itself into modern culture. Sure, I had to find out about certain social events second-hand from my friends, but otherwise I experienced no negative consequences.
A few months later, I was in a photojournalism course and the professor began explaining Facebook’s utility for freelance journalists. He had recently returned from several weeks in Venezuela, documenting the ongoing crisis, including the initial major power outage. My professor explained that when traveling abroad, especially in an unfamiliar country, journalists often use Facebook groups to ask questions and find “fixers” — people on the ground who are familiar with the region and can set up interviews, act as translators, and provide general logistics support and safety measure.
Though I have no plans to travel to Venezuela anytime soon — I promised my mother that I would not be a war zone correspondent — I started thinking that Facebook could be a useful tool for my career as a journalist. In France, Facebook groups are widely used to find sources for stories on a daily basis. I began to wonder if maybe, in this hyper-connected modern world, I needed Facebook as a professional tool.
After talking to my photojournalism professor, I decided to create a new Facebook profile. I would limit myself to under 50 friends and would use it almost exclusively as a professional network. Plus, I missed all the great content from the Telluride Sweet Deals page.
In May, I went through with my decision. I chose a new profile picture, added my education and had just requested my mother as my first friend when I got a message from Facebook saying that they had “detected suspicious activity from my account.” After clicking through a seemingly endless series of photos to prove I wasn’t a robot, I was asked to upload a headshot to verify my identity. Facebook promised that this photo would never be made public and that it would be deleted. OK. Instead, after uploading my photo, Facebook informed me that my account was now disabled. Great.
The help page said that if I thought my account had been disabled accidentally, I could contest it. Facebook then asked me to upload a copy of my driver’s license to prove my identity. Despite my concerns for my personal information being on the internet, I decided to do so. Not worth it.
Now, two months later, my account is still disabled.
I haven’t received anything from Facebook about my account. The platform also fails to provide any actual effective means to contact a live person, let alone a customer support phone line.
Upon my return to the U.S., I decided to try again. I am back in Telluride for the summer and in desperate need of housing.
Maybe the blocking of my account had something to do with the European Union’s stronger privacy and data protection laws, so this time I used my school email and provided my U.S. phone number for verification. Five minutes after establishing the account, I was blocked again.
From my experiences, it seems as if Facebook is spending way too much time regulating the wrong types of accounts. It took months of public outcry for Facebook to finally disable the accounts of extremists, including Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, Milo Yiannopoulus and white supremacist Paul Nehlen. Because of Facebook’s slow response, these extremists had plenty of time to inform their followers of the ensuing ban and which social media platforms they would be using instead.
In contrast, Facebook disabled my account so quickly, I didn’t even have the time to tell people I had made an account, let alone notify them that I would no longer be available on the platform. It took Facebook longer to purge Russian troll accounts after the 2016 election than to disable the account of a former user trying to return.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Facebook is finally banning fake accounts, extremists and somewhat limiting hate speech (though other users can still share and support views expressed by these extremists). However, I think the platform needs more efficient strategies to regulate who is on Facebook. Something as simple as a helpline, where users with disabled accounts can call and speak to someone to verify one’s identity seems like an easy fix.
In the meantime, if anyone hears of any available summer housing, you can come find me in the Daily Planet office. Telluride’s community is way better than a social media network anyway.