Having Skin in the Game Made me Realize Facebook is Not Really Evil
And how we can tell who to trust by looking at what they do, not what they say
I deleted my Facebook account in mid-2020.
That time was what seemed like the peak of social media hysteria: a perfect storm of data abuses, political interference, and the threat of an AI apocalypse.
I listened to podcasts, read articles, and followed hundreds of Twitter accounts of people who would attest to Facebook’s negative influence on society. Every other day, it seemed, there was a new smear against Zuckerberg or some aspect of his monstrous company.
I did what was the only logical think to me: took action. Rather than only expressing my discontent with the platform, I removed myself from it. How can one go around saying that this platform is destroying our democracy, blurring the lines between truth and lies, and taking too much control over people’s lives — and the keep on using it. This baffled me, yet it’s what many people did.
For them, the pros that Facebook offered ostensibly outweighed the negatives of being off of it complete. So my departure from the platform was a way for me to test that hypothesis:
Are the actions of Facebook truly as bad as many claim they are? And if so, is deleting it the solution?
If the hypothesis proved true, Facebook would inevitably slowly die as a company. Because companies fail when they lose the faith of their customers, which in turn causes a decline in revenue.
If the things Facebook was doing directly resulted in a large number of people leaving the platform, then it would mean that all the hysteria was justified. But if it’s all talk, and no action, then how can one actually support their claims of abuses and exploitation.
The result: Journalists continued to investigate, to expose, and then they used Facebook itself to spread their reports to the world. Meanwhile, Facebook‘s userbase continued to grow during the time I was off of it.
While there may have been some extreme cases where people, like me, took action, these were the exceptions, because the advantages of what Facebook offers — the ability to remain connected with people in our lives through technology — greatly outweigh the cons of whatever alleged “evils” journalists love to highlight. People’s perception of reality, and reality itself, had grown far apart.
Facebook paranoia had essentially become a form of entertainment. In some masochistic way, we were convincing ourselves that Black Mirror was real, perhaps because we wanted to be a part of something unbelievable — our lives are unfulfilling as they are, so we feel we have to be a part of something greater, even if that greater movement doesn’t actually exist.
I created a new Facebook account earlier this year, and started to reconnect with old friends. Nothing had really changed. People were still sharing photos of their Sunday picnics, their dogs, the occasional meme, as well as a barrage of political and ideological content. Because that’s just it — ideologies are an excuse to complain, and complaining has become a pastime, just like cooking or going to the park. They have no bearing on real-life, because if they did, we would be taking action by adjusting our way of life accordingly, rather than posting memes about them. (Protesting, by the way, is not an example of taking action — it’s just another form of complaining, just on the street instead of on social media).
Skin in the game can make you exploitation-resistant
The main thing I’ve learned from this experience is that if people don’t practice what they preach, then what they preach is either pure entertainment, or completely useless.
If someone just talks, and does not do any of those things, that’s either an expression of their ego — they’ve created an identity based on an ideology of resistance, a chosen belief rather than a classification of a record of getting things done — or it means they have an ulterior motive: they are representing a party which would like to have them believe what they are saying because there is, most likely, some financial incentive for the party they are representing.
Making bold ideological claims is an incredibly effective tool for monetary gain, because the effectiveness of the campaign depends solely on feelings. If you manage to make someone feel bad about something by saying negative things, they will turn against it, even if the reality is that those negative things are completely untrue.
The only way to ensure that feelings are aligned with facts is to have skin in the game. To have a personal stake in whatever it is you are talking about so that your actions directly correspond to your ideological position. If those actions then turn out to harm your quality of life, then that’s a clear sign of the fact that your ideology is broken.
To be exploitation resistant, then, we can see through the talk and determine whether the person speaking is also taking action — whether they have skin in the game. If not, then we can’t trust what they say, and they’re probably trying to take our money.
There is an incalculable number of negative things, injustices, inequities in this world. But is calling them out really a solution? We as a society have gotten so caught up in the game of “awareness” that we have forgotten what it means to take action. If we are not compelled to take action, then being aware of something is solely a topic of conversation, a subject of humor, the butt of a joke — not something to get angry about or to accuse people of being evil over.
Have some skin in the game, put your money where your mouth is, practice what you preach — these figures of speech, however cliche, have so much wisdom in them. They are what we need in order to realign our perception of reality with reality itself, and make ourselves exploitation-resistant. Only then will the issues in society start to resolve, because people will be taking action, and actions speak louder than words.