Abstinence isn't safe - why quitting social media isn't the solution

(Another in a long list of posts which will turn out to be touchingly naïve!)

When teaching people about safe sex, one topic bitterly divides people - whether abstinence is a suitable method. Simply refusing to engage in sexual activity will protect you from pregnancy, disease, and trauma. Abstinence is particularly promoted by religious zealots.

Similarly, whenever social media is discussed, privacy zealots proclaim that the only safe option is to jUSt dELeTE FaCEBooK!

The problem with teaching abstinence is that it is unrealistic and leaves people unprepared.

Thousands of years of evolution produce a strong sexual drive in humans. It is literally impossible to prevent hormone sozzled teens from engaging in genetically programmed activity. Refusing to teach about safe sex leads to an increase in pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Similarly, humans are hardwired to be social. We like talking to our friends, seeing their photos, and playing games with them. Asking people to become social pariahs is not healthy.

As The Age of Surveillance Capitalism points out - social networks need to be regulated. We need to punish their bad behaviour just as we punish sexual abuse. But banning bad behaviour, sadly, isn't enough. We also have to take responsible steps to protect ourselves.

How to practise safe-Facebook

This is what I do in order to protect myself when I engage in risky social activity - like visiting Facebook.

Use Firefox - I use FF as my main web browser. It has built in tracking protection for Facebook and other sites. To me, using Firefox is the equivalent of wearing an condom. A sensible precaution to prevent unfortunate accidents.

On my Android phone, I don't use the Facebook app. Instead, I use Face Slim. It's a stand-alone web browser with its own icon. It keeps your phone protected.

That's the technology - the equivalent of contraception. But in the UK, we don't just teach Sex Ed - we have Sex and Relationship Education. There's no point in addressing the mechanics of sex without also addressing the emotional risks and rewards.

Don't hang out with idiots and dangerous people. I prune my FB friends list. If you're constantly sharing stuff which angers me, or makes me upset, I'll unfollow you. Because you don't have a right to make be feel bad. If your sexual partner does stuff that makes you uncomfortable - and won't change - then you should leave them.

If you're generally nice, but are always sharing inflammatory articles from a specific newspaper, I'll block that site or app. Removing yourself from a dangerous situation is sensible.

I don't use Facebook to sign in to any other apps or websites. I don't want my partners to kiss-and-tell.

Different social networks give me different things. I'm not "going steady" with Facebook - I'm also in a relationship with Twitter, LinkedIn, and some cool new social network which goes to a different school, you haven't heard of them.

Most importantly, I educate myself and my friends. I encourage you to go forth and multiply do the same.

Right, I think I've exhausted this metaphor.

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11 thoughts on “Abstinence isn't safe - why quitting social media isn't the solution”

  1. says:

    To tell people to not use Facebook is not equivalent of saying that they shouldn't be social.

    Me telling people to not use Google products if they care of their online integrity is not equivalent of me telling people they shouldn't use search engines or e-mail.

    What we're asking is for people to take a personal responsibility to use ethical software. Frankly, it doesn't seem that Facebook will ever be that.

    1. says:

      Can you convince everyone not to shop at a big supermarket? Or does it work better if you can get them to buy organic / fairtrade / ethical produce in that supermarket?

      People like Facebook. And they like malls and superstores. I think our focus should be helping people make better choices within a context they comfortable with.

      1. gammtrall says:

        If it'd be just as convenient to buy locally, I could. If the alternative was as easy as driving to the supermarket, no one would mind. People like convenience, and people are lazy. Facebook is very convenient, mostly since everyone is already there (all the groceries are close at hand).

        But the devil is in the details. However much you try to layer your interaction with Facebook, through whatever privacy filters you got setup, you'll still be a user on Facebook. And as such you'll still be contributing to whatever Facebook is. That's why I think there's a reason for a person who claims to stand with FOSS, and who argues for the right for integrity online, can't also claim that using Facebook is a viable option. Not if these are your concerns.

        Sure, I get the idea of the lesser of two evils. I'm just saying it's important to note how it's still evil.

  2. Eric Andersen says:

    Question about tracking.... I have wondered.... Facebook has my email address and I use it as my login ID. Many other sites also use my email address as login ID, too. Even though I don't login in through FB but I use the same email address as a FB login, am I exposing myself just as though I though I logged in through FB???? Jeez, what's the answer? Do I need a new email address for each platform I use as a firewall? "userid.FB@gmail.com" for Facebook, "userid.TW@gmail.com" for my Twittering, "userid.LI@gmail.com" for LinkedIn, and on and on and on....

    1. says:

      Yes - I use a separate email for each service I use. Your email can be matched by Facebook to your other accounts.

  3. loserone says:

    Any reason to recommend Face Slim (not updated in two years) over e.g. SlimSocial for Facebook (last updated six months ago).

    Must admit I had not considered an "app" for browsing facebook, and probably should have.



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