There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t use social networks like Facebook, beyond the tired but annoyingly true precept that scrolling through your News Feed is a pretty reliable way to waste time. If you log in to the social network regularly, it’s easy to fall into habits that can undermine your relationships, and it’s far too easy to inadvertently post things that you shouldn’t. But even those aren’t reasons, on their own, that you shouldn’t use Facebook. Read on to learn about the reasons that will really have you reconsidering whether you should log in to the social network each day.
1. Facebook enables companies to track your movements online
When you use Facebook, you’re giving the social network access to a lot of information about you — information that it can use to show you ads and try to sell you things. And as of a couple of years ago, Facebook began using information about the websites you browse and the apps you use in order to show you more relevant ads. As Christina Bonnington reported for Wired mid-2014, Facebook had been serving ads based on what you actively shared with the social network, as well as Pages and statuses that you’d liked.
Facebook’s knowledge of your web history and app usage — as collected by websites that embed Facebook’s like button, offer its social login, or use its measurement and advertising services — not only helps the social network to show you ads, but enables it to share information about you with apps, websites, and services that are integrated with the social network. That information can include things like your location, your gender, your email address, your phone number, your relationship status, and more.
You can stop Facebook from using your web history for ad targeting by using the Digital Advertising Alliance’s consumer choice page, and then by installing an ad blocker. You’ll want to turn off ad tracking in Facebook’s mobile app by opting out of interest-based ads on Android or limiting ad-tracking on iOS. And you can also look up the list of apps that have access to information about you, and dive into whether or not they should really be able to track you.
2. Your private messages aren’t really private
Now that you know that apps and advertisers can probably benefit from Facebook’s knowledge of what you post to your Timeline and what you share with your friends on the social network, you might think that moving some of those conversations to private messages would be a good way to get around some of the sketchier ad-targeting practices. But it turns out that there’s no such thing as a Facebook chat that actually stays private.
On a conference call with investors, Mark Zuckerberg explained that while “Facebook historically has focused on friends and public content” in targeting ads, “now, with Messenger and WhatsApp, we’re taking a couple of different approaches towards more private content as well.” In private conversations, many users share details that might seem insignificant, but can provide Facebook and its many partners with valuable insight into who you are. Your private conversations give Facebook information about how you use technology and what kinds of information you share on what platforms.
Privacy advocates worry that as personal conversations are tapped by companies who share information with advertisers, information about your mental or medical history could affect the insurance or even the jobs you can get in the future if it ends up in the right (or wrong) hands. Some privacy advocates think that you shouldn’t use Facebook, since the company profits handsomely not only from tracking what you post publicly, but also from looking at what you say in private conversations.
3. Social media encourages over-sharing, and it’s easy to post things you shouldn’t
As if Facebook’s practices alone weren’t enough reason for you to question whether the social network will have a detrimental effect on your privacy, consider how easy it is for you to post information that can compromise your privacy, your identity, or even your personal and financial security. As we reported, there’s a wide variety of information you shouldn’t post on Facebook, even if you have your privacy settings locked down.
There are the obvious ones, like how it’s a bad idea to post about your vacation plans or otherwise clue potential thieves in to your plans to leave town and leave your home unattended. Posts that offer a hacker clues to your password, or ones that share way too much personal information, are ill-advised for similar reasons. And if you post complaints about your job or information about what you’re doing at work, you may end up facing some unintended consequences, either personally or for your company.
Additionally, in an era when every potential employer or business partner is going to search for your profile online right after checking out your resume, it’s a bad idea to share offensive posts, go on political rants, or otherwise make comments that can be taken out of context. The moral of the story is that if you’re prone to over-sharing, or find yourself posting without thinking about the consequences, Facebook is a social network that you should likely avoid.
4. Posts that won’t stick around forever are often better
Many teens and young adults are abandoning Facebook in favor of the next big thing: apps that enable them to have more intimate conversations instead of broadcasting their opinions and emotions to everyone they’ve added on Facebook since middle school. As Felicity Duncan reported for Quartz, young adults are warming up to the idea of more ephemeral posts, since they routinely catch up on the day’s news via Snapchat or converse with each other via Facebook Messenger. “Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see,” she writes, “they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.”
Most smartphone owners use messaging apps, and many of them use apps that automatically delete their messages, like Snapchat. Messaging trumps more publicly accessible forms of social media for teens, and Duncan notes that anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that while many young people do have Facebook accounts, many log into Facebook just to see what others are posting, versus creating content of their own on the social network. The photos, updates, likes, and dislikes that they do share are increasingly intended only for “closed gardens” like group chat and Snapchat.
While we don’t recommend following the lead of your teen brother that often, he might be on to something in ditching Facebook. Avoiding posting extensively on Facebook, and opting for more intimate platforms and less-permanent messaging, enables you to more carefully manage who sees your content and how long it sticks around. And reserving big social networks for more professional-friendly profiles will keep you from getting nervous about what will happen if a hiring manager stumbles onto your personal Facebook profile.
5. Data aggregation can have negative effects
You’ve probably realized by now that Facebook makes money by selling ad space to the companies that want to reach you (and convince you to purchase their goods or services). In the process, it enables advertisers to choose keywords, defining their target audience by location, interests, activities, relationship status, employment, and more. Facebook is happy to share anonymized information about you, mining your profile, your messages, and your browsing history for useful pieces of information about you.
But as Lori Andrews reported for The New York Times years ago, these “bits and bytes about your life can easily be used against you. Whether you can obtain a job, credit or insurance can be based on your digital doppelgänger — and you may never know why you’ve been turned down.” Government agencies and employers alike gather data online to confirm relationships, figure out where you are, or decide whether or not to hire you. As if that weren’t bad enough, you also have to realize that, as Andrews puts it, “stereotyping is alive and well in data aggregation.”
Your application for a credit card could be declined not because of your own financial record, but on the basis of aggregated data on what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done. “If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy.” You could be refused health insurance based on the fact that you Googled a medical condition. (It’s worth checking out the things that you shouldn’t search on Google.) You could be offered a credit card with a lower credit limit because of your race, your sex, your zip code, or even the types of websites you visit. And the ads and articles that you’re shown are likely to affect how you perceive yourself and the choices afforded to you — which makes the practice even scarier.