Last month, Facebook decided I wasn't a person. When I logged on, I learnt I no longer deserved a personal 'profile', but should instead have a business 'page' to interact with my public. As far as I know I'm not a sentient zaibatsu, or a fan site for Cheez-strings, or a reality show contestant, but Facebook didn't ask or give me the chance to say this.
I had, by an algorithm or a human, been classified as non-human and thus my account, as it was, needed to be removed. With my options narrowed to transition to a business page or no facebook, I went with transition. I saved a copy of my years of flirtations, laughs, battles and drunken photos just in case. This was foresightful, as I would never have got them back.
As a business or public figure page, life was very different. I obviously wasn't interested in other people unless they 'interacted' with me, so no updates from others. I wasn't a person, so couldn't attend events, or be invited to them. Messages and post replies were optional and mainly hidden, unless they crossed a certain algorithmically-determined threshold, in case I got distracted from counting my money. For (presumably privacy?) reasons, I couldn't see the number of people who 'liked' me, or who they were, so couldn't transplant all my friends to a new personal account.
I could still post words and pictures, and people could reply. Their replies and likes and activity was graphed, and I received little updates telling me which of my posts were 'performing' best and that I should consider saying more like that, or paying for them to be seen by more people. About a tenth of my friends saw what I posted: wouldn't I like to contact all of them? In short, I was the proud owner of an electronic echo chamber where my friends were ranked and graphed, I was constantly being invited to buy popularity, and I didn't get invited to parties. Life as a business was very much like being a teenager.
More worrying, though, was how much of my life I lost when I lost Facebook. I'm studying, and my fellow students share schedule changes, mutual support, and ideas on a private Facebook group. To learn with my peers I need Facebook. My shared house is administrated through a Facebook group. If I want to know about parties, internet downtime or kitchen storage, I need Facebook. My mum has Facebook to keep up with my life, and I have friends who prefer Facebook messages to emails. I joined Facebook in the first place because I was missing invites to parties. Hey, everyone was on there, and it was just a tickbox, and seriously, inviting 50 people personally?
Facebook is easy. And it's good. It's good to share photos and news and jokes with people far away, and to hear about people's lives without needing to ask. It's a big world with lots of good people in it and I like to hear from them without needing mad administrative skills. I missed it; I asked Facebook to explain why they chucked me, and reinstate me. There was no reply, so I tried living without it, and made a new profile a few months later.
We're now trapped into a service that can eject you without a second thought, with no reason or appeal. Facebook can cut off from your housemates, your classmates, your family and friends and they won't even tell you why. And when you tell your friends what happened (if you can: how many of your 'friends' do you have emails and phone numbers for?) they will try to stay in touch, or try and remember to tell you that the washing machine is being repaired, but it's just too easy to post and forget.
Ease of use favours a centralised service run by a single company, and aimed at the lowest common denominator. Facebook-dependent people are not the ones running exotic operating systems or working from the command line. Any centralised service invites dependence upon those running it. Do you trust Facebook to decide what you see and who you can talk to? Forget me. Do you trust them to keep your private messages private and not hand material over to law enforcement without good reason?
Homophobes and people scared of breasts have successfully got people and materials banned from the platform. Small businesses and artists can no longer update their fans with news: unless they pay, only a fraction of people who asked for updates will see them. The Facebook insistence on real names puts people at risk and denies genuine identities in the name of preventing abuse which still happens. Facebook are not angels, despite their blue, friendly appearance. And even if you are happy with them now, they have a history of moving the goalposts.
If you have to trust a single company to mediate your social interactions, your photo collection and your past, is this the best one? It may be: we are running a bit low on good guys, and hell, you need to share selfies somewhere. You probably won't run into issues, other than a deluge of Farmville invites, social faux pas and gender-role-reinforcing ads.
Or, you may want to start cultivating a backup network – collecting emails and numbers –, and take a record of your data and photos, in case one day Facebook decides you, too, are not a person.