Nick Briz is a Chicago-based new media artist, educator, and organizer. Briz teaches at the Marwen Foundation and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has shown his work internationally, and is the co-founder of the GLI.TC/H conference. While all of that is undeniably impressive, I must say I knew Briz was a genius when I first saw, “Apple Computers,” a powerful affront against Apple and a manifesto for the prosumer of our age. So, when Briz made “How To / Why Leave Facebook,” a piece about leaving Facebook, I knew I should pay attention.
I recently left Facebook as well, but I was uninterested in any self-congratulatory artwork or dramatic fuck-you to the social platform. I hadn’t enjoyed my time on Facebook for a while, but Facebook had been such a large part of my life for 9 years. I don’t buy most complaints about it “not being real life,” or some useless addiction. As the largest social network in the world, Facebook is very much a part of real life, I just hadn’t felt like I was benefitting from that part of my life.
My vague discontentedness with Facebook finally reached a boiling point in light of their emotional contagion study. The highly controversial academic study was recently published, and it claims that Facebook had secretly manipulated the emotional state of nearly 700,000 of its users. I understood that Facebook’s main purpose is to make advertising dollars from it’s users, but this felt excessively creepy. And as VICE News has already reported, one of the study’s researches received funding from the Minerva initiative—helping the Pentagon study and quell social unrest—that made it all the more creepy. Yet I knew Briz would offer some insight beyond the most recent headlines.
Briz’s personal video-essay and tutorial starts with a neat breakdown of the fundamental reasons he decided to leave Facebook. Briz says: “My issue with Facebook is how they have time and time again demonstrated a lack of respect for their users in the interest of prioritizing other interests, like those of their advertisers.” Briz breaks down how these convergent interests have played out into four categories: the filter bubble, recycled Likes, sponsored stories, and experimenting on users.
I’m not going to delve into all of these, Briz does a great job at describing the issues in the first half of the video. The one that really upset me the most is the recycling of our likes, or as Christian Sandvig, a professor who studies the internet, calls it, Corrupt Personalization. Sandvig writes, “Corrupt personalization is the process by which your attention is drawn to interests that are not your own,” namely, monied interests. Facebook has been a powerful platform to stay connected to friends and family, but increasingly the interests of advertisers are placed in between our relationships.
Briz and Sandvig describe how Facebook will secretly reorder and highlight posts that have commercial value to advertisers. Unbeknownst to many, our Feeds are not defined by our closest friends, time of posting, or the best posts, but rather a balance of content you’re most likely to interact with that is also of the highest value to advertisers. This means posts about companies might feature more prominently in your feed, even if your friend’s beautiful photography might be preferred.
Also, whenever you Like a post linking to a company, Facebook interprets that as Liking that company. Even if the post says something like: “Wow, I cannot believe McDonalds did this, disgusting. [Link to McDonalds]” Liking this post means you Liked McDonalds in Facebook’s mind. This is why every so often you may see a notification that reads something like, “Seven of your friends like Target!” Even if one of those friends is dead and none of them ever intended on Liking Target. This is corrupt personalization, relationships for the highest bidder.
After his evidence against Facebook, Briz does something much smarter than me when I left Facebook. I simply deleted my account, basically making it impossible for me to use Spotify, or do social media work for a company (which I’ve done), or login to many apps I often use. Furthermore, deleting an account doesn’t really do anything in terms of the information Facebook knows about you, they save it all either way. Facebook even creates shadow profiles for people who have never even joined, so deleting your account doesn’t really change much to Facebook. So instead, as that this is mostly a symbolic gesture, Briz made some easy scripts to save all of his data, untag himself from everything, delete all of his images, unfriend everyone, leave all of his groups, and delete all of his activity. He shows you how to do all of this in the links under the video.
Briz believes that many other types of webs and social platforms are possible. He points to Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu in the video, which is an entirely different way of connecting websites to allow for deep linking, and seeks to build a stronger relationship between source material and new documents. Briz is interested in a decentralized, P2P, and encrypted system, citing Twister and Bitcoin as inspiration. But, Briz understands why companies might have a centralized system and doesn't mind so much as long as it's more transparent and serves the users in a democratic manner, both of which he believes Facebook has failed to do.
Now, Briz’s ghost-town of a Facebook page has become only a sign, telling people why he has left. His header and profile image all point to the video, “How To / Why Leave Facebook,” welcoming onlookers to investigate Facebook themselves. Like the best of Briz’s work, he stays committed to being an enabler and educator, as well as an artist. The video and website performance is part lecture, part video art, part how-to guide. So, even as Briz leaves the most popular social network in the world, he still believes in net artists, and is constantly fighting for their right to make online; offering any tips and tricks he has picked up along the way.