Return to facebook (maybe) — to share the places and people I care for

Ron Steffens
7 min readMar 24, 2018
Sunset on the Tetons — one of the many National Park Service locales worth supporting — which is one of my motivations for returning to Facebook.

Yesterday over breakfast at the coffee shop I logged in to Chommy (at https://personaldata.io/chommy-information/) and asked their service to help me gather all the intel about my online social-media bio (my psycho-data?) that has been collected and most likely sold by Cambridge Analytics. And then, on a roll, I completed the same request for Facebook.

I sort of expect Facebook to answer. Not so much for Cambridge Analytics.

Requesting ownership (or at least the knowledge of) the data collected from and about me was my first step back into Facebook, which I’ve been informally boycotting since it became clear that our civic processes have been degraded in part by manipulation of Facebook communities and individuals. My boycott was similar to my mid-1990s vow to not watch television until the OJ Simpson trial was over.

There are far deeper reasons to disengage — or to engage with the goal of surpassing and mastering these new tools. But engagement and mastery takes time — and it asks us to humbly acknowledge that we may have been players in the malaise of our times — in our conversations, real and virtual, and in our broader actions, such as our complicity with carbon pollution. We are in part a cause of our existential risk (to air the current phrase that is worthy but somehow too vague). My concerns are framed by danah boyd, who notes that

While we have many problems in our media landscape, the most dangerous is how it is being weaponized to gaslight people.

In her Medium post,

… Boyd refers to the 1944 film, Gas Light. This is a film I’ve watched a time or two and refer to often — in part because it was filmed in my hometown of St. Louis and it (both the film and the technique) frames the sort of dark streak that bookends the equally authentic Midwestern lightness — of the place and its peoples, as embodied in the film Meet Me in St. Louis (and as channeled in my hopeful smiling soul).

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Ron Steffens

Writing on people, places & priorities. Working as a park ranger & firefighter & adjunct faculty @PrescottCollege. From Arizona, Oregon, Wyoming, Africa & afar.