Why Women Are — & Aren't — Deleting The Social Network

illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Heading offline for a week, you know where to reach me if you need me.
Taking a break from FB while exams are underway. Catch you all in a month #prayforme
Vacation = ME time. Signing off for a bit, so text me for anything urgent.
These kinds of status updates announcing Facebook hiatuses used to pop up occasionally. For example, during law school exams, med school applications, or summer vacations. For the texting generation, they were the equivalent of answering machine messages.
All of that changed over the weekend of March 16, when investigative reporting from The Guardian and The New York Times revealed that data from over 50 million Facebook users had been obtained by a third party voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica, without their knowledge. The massive breach of information and trust, coupled with a slow response from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, led to the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook. Facebook users were no longer posting about temporary leaves of absence — they were leaving for good.
But the tricky thing is that boycotts, especially digital ones, are hard to sustain. Remember January 2017's short-lived #DeleteUber campaign protesting the company’s decision not to suspend service in support of taxi drivers speaking out against President Trump’s travel ban? Despite the hashtag’s popularity and subsequent media coverage, Uber reportedly only lost 200,000 members, which isn’t very many when you consider the app’s 40 million monthly users worldwide at the time. Uber bounced back quickly: It’s currently ranked 14 (far ahead of its most direct competitor, Lyft) on the App Store’s list of most downloaded apps. As of January 2018, Uber had 75 million monthly users, even after its rocky year.
Social media hashtivism can draw a lot of hype and attention but not a lot of action. Some apps just prove too useful — or addictive — to quit altogether.
How’s all this playing out for #DeleteFacebook? The app is still at number seven on that App Store list — putting it behind YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram, but ahead of popular apps including Google Maps, Spotify, Gmail, and Amazon — despite the data drama. Curious to see where women stood on the issue in the weeks following the Cambridge Analytica incident, Refinery29 reached out to four women for insight into why they have or haven’t left the platform. It turns out that quitting Facebook, a place where people connect with communities and keep tabs on college friends, is far harder than deleting Uber, where the consequence is inconvenience rather than social separation.
The Executive Director of Pantsuit Nation: Active Facebook User
Pantsuit Nation, originally a Facebook group, was created in October 2016 as a place for users to show support for Hillary Clinton. The group experienced meteoric growth: Within three weeks, it had 2.5 million members, tens of thousands of posts awaiting approval, and the christening of the presidential nominee herself. It's no surprise, then, that in the years since, Pantsuit Nation has evolved far beyond its Facebook origins. There's now a book, a podcast, and 50-plus chapters around the country.

"Ultimately, as we have in the past, we decided that we can improve our own systems for securing our community against potential breaches while staying with Facebook in order to have the greatest potential impact."

Cortney Tunis, Executive Director of Pantsuit Nation
The group still has a strong presence on its home base, Facebook, where it has over 3.7 million members. For Cortney Tunis, 35, who has been a Facebook member since August 2004 and is the executive director of Pantsuit Nation, the platform's pros outweigh the cons:
"Facebook is the only platform in the world that could have supported our initial exponential growth and the subsequent depth of engagement from our community members, much of which has led to tangible offline progress, from the unprecedented number of women running for office to the thousands of people who have shared their #MeToo stories to break the silence and stigma around sexual harassment and assault," Tunis said in an email to Refinery29.
As a longtime Facebook user, Tunis was not surprised by the Cambridge Analytica incident, but said the scale was "definitely noteworthy." She approaches the company from a cautious standpoint, but is aware that as with anything new, mistakes are made.
"I think, like a lot of people, Facebook feels more personal for me because our online identities are often based there, but I also understand that all products, particularly relatively new ones that are being used in ways that aren’t always anticipated by those who design them, are flawed," she said.
Ultimately, the social network's ability to reach individuals around the world quickly and easily is a compelling enough reason for her to stay, though she said Pantsuit Nation will be improving their own systems to secure their community.
illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
The Urban Designer & Planner: Recently Deleted Facebook
Sera*, 27, has had a Facebook account for over a decade but has not used it very much over the past four years. There were two factors keeping her on Facebook: She wanted to stay in touch with friends who lived far away, and she served as an administrator for her NGO’s Facebook page.
Sera based her to decision to delete her Facebook account on moral grounds. “I’m very concerned with what the opaque back-end of this social media machine means today and how it is used to support some powerful players to further manipulate our political systems,” she told Refinery29 in an email, referencing Cambridge Analytica’s ties to the Trump campaign. “I am personally troubled to be supporting Facebook’s business model by having an account with them.”
Sera is no stranger to the desire for data: Her NGO was approached by investors who wanted to buy the data. She refused on the basis of the NGO’s user agreement.
Prior to deleting her account last week, Sera posted a final status update to let friends know she was signing off for good. The responses to that message reinforced her decision to leave: “I heard from people I hadn’t heard from for years and I’m sure we’ll find a way to stay in touch, especially in this day in age.”
The Former Social Media Director: Active, If Reluctant, Facebook User
Clara Artschwager was 19 when she joined Facebook in the fall of 2004. Her relationship to the platform is different than many others: For years, it was part of her livelihood. Artschwager, who is now 32, was a social media director and consultant before becoming a life and business coach.
For her, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has left her feeling “disturbed, disheartened, and disappointed” — but did not come as a surprise. “While I don’t think it’s right, prior to this happening, I figured that when you create profiles of this kind, you’re subjecting yourself to this type of risk,” she said.
She hasn’t thought about deleting her account, but she has spent more time thinking about how her information is used. “I knew they had in depth data on my likes, dislikes, and general interests and that someone could compile that into a pretty detailed persona on me as a consumer,” she said. “The case has opened my eyes to what companies are willing to do when it comes to leveraging that data.”
The ease of communicating with friends and family is the primary factor keeping Artschwager on Facebook, but if she does choose to delete her account in the future, she said getting rid of Instagram, another Facebook-owned app, would be a much harder decision. It’s a place she goes to not just for the community, but also for content and creativity.

“Overall, I feel that leaving Facebook has both helped me stand up for what I believe in and enabled me to gain hours of my life back that were previously lost to mindless scrolling.”

Kimberly J. Simms, author and educator
The Author & Educator: Recently Deleted Facebook
Kimberly J. Simms, 42, created her Facebook account in 2008, when she was pregnant with her daughter. As a first-generation British-American based in Greenville, South Carolina, Simms wanted a way to keep in touch with family and friends who lived abroad.
She began thinking about deleting her Facebook account in 2016, when issues of fake news arose following the 2016 presidential election. These concerns continued into 2017, when she had her first run in with trolls on a local page discussing community issues. The Cambridge Analytica incident only heightened her alarm. “To be honest, I was stunned that my data was connected to my friends’ data and that the actions of my friends could cause my data to be passed along,” she said in an email. (Facebook has since introduced policies forbidding the sharing of friends’ data with third-party apps.)
Simms’s decision to leave Facebook was not an easy one: In addition to her personal page, she is an administrator for four Facebook pages, including one for a literary non-profit she runs. She said the audience reach, as well as the ability to connect with members at a moment’s notice, would have been more difficult to leave behind had it not been for Facebook’s decision to change its algorithm in January. The new prioritization of posts from friends and family reduced the traffic to Simms’s non-profit pages. Since she couldn’t afford to prioritize her content by paying for sponsored posts, the platform became less critical to her.
Simms let friends and colleagues know she was deleting her account on Twitter. In the week since, she hasn’t regretted her decision. “Overall, I feel that leaving Facebook has both helped me stand up for what I believe in and enabled me to gain hours of my life back that were previously lost to mindless scrolling.”
*Last name has been withheld for privacy concerns.
If you have a compelling reason for leaving or staying on Facebook, we want to hear from you. Email us with your story.
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