A week without Facebook

I started teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005, and on the first day of class that fall, I asked the students about their favorite news sources. Several mentioned The New York Times (online, not in print), ESPN and The Daily Tar Heel.

One told me emphatically: “Facebook.” I responded that I had read about Facebook, but I wasn’t on it yet. The student’s response: “Mr. Bechtel, you have to be on Facebook!”

Of course, I am now, along with more than 400 million other users. And yes, it is one of my news sources. I use Facebook not only to keep up with what my friends are doing, but also to see what they are sharing there, especially news stories that they have seen that I have overlooked.

I recently took a Facebook hiatus. Annoyed by news about Facebook’s slippery policy on privacy and by the hacking of my account by spammers, I decided to take a break. I’d had enough.

Being away from Facebook was more difficult than I expected. I missed my friends, both old and new. I missed knowing what they were talking about. I admit that I cheated on my pledge once, to look up an e-mail address for a former student to let her know about a job opportunity.

During my week away, I realized that leaving Facebook would not improve my privacy online. Let’s face it: There is no privacy online.

For example, the content of my Gmail account is regularly mined so Google can offer advertising related to what my friends and I are talking about:

  • Discussion of a recent canoe trip led to ads for kayaks.
  • A friend and I had a jokey exchange about Grecian Formula, and now Gmail wants to sell me hair dye.

That’s because Google is a company interested in making money. And Facebook is not a public good; it’s a business.

I’m back on Facebook and will keep using Gmail. I like Twitter too. They’re all convenient and free.

I’ll also do what I can on Facebook (and elsewhere online) to guard my privacy. I urge you to do the same — stay connected, but stay cautious.



  1. The problem with facebook isn’t the lack of privacy, but the lack of knowledge about the current state of your privacy at any given moment. They constantly change their policy and it’s difficult to figure out how to change the state to something that is acceptable. It’s going to be tough to leave though…

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