I’ve Been Off Facebook for Over a Month, and It Feels Pretty Damn Good
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Aside from maintaining my Grace In Small Things group, I haven’t been active on Facebook since February 1st, and it’s been wonderful. I’ve struggled with my use of the platform for years, because I’m a curious kitten and can’t help reading up on its unconscionable abuse of our data, egregious violations of public safety around the globe, and the ever-widening scope of its newer real estate (a dating app, the Marketplace, Messenger and Messenger Kids, and yet more coming all the time). I continued as a fairly heavy user of Facebook both personally and professionally, because it was part of my job in some circumstances and because it kept me connected to family and the majority of the blogging community I became a part of beginning in 2003. I didn’t how to leave a platform that both made me money and kept me in touch with so many friends after the heyday of personal blogs and feedreaders faded into internet history.
In January, though, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The constant barrage of misinformation being passed around as truth was exhausting both psychologically and socially, so I took a closer look at the friendships I maintained primarily on Facebook, and I noticed that most of the connections were weaker than I thought. I was not going out with these people. We weren’t texting each other outside of the Facebook universe. Many of them never even showed up on my timeline or I on theirs because of algorithms. I was getting worked up about people whose voices I couldn’t even recall. Looked at through that lens, I couldn’t tell how much of our interactions were personal and how much were just a construct of the Facebook environment algorithmically banging (or not banging) us together.
It felt hollow and false, a manufactured sense of connectedness without the meat of it. We were handed what felt like control with lists and timeline choices and groups and whatnot, but we were still only being shown what the platform decided we should see that day. Facebook claims to connect people, but which people and when, under what circumstances? Facebook decides. I felt like we were being thrown into pits together to see how we would behave under certain conditions to improve their ad revenue. We already know that they’ve done it before. In a lot of ways, we were trained rats handing over data for bare bits of affirmation.
Shady terms of service, major privacy concerns, civil unrest, election manipulation, post removal guidelines that seem to favour men over women, an ever-widening scope, and on and on: it just all seemed like a really very terrible idea. Twitter’s no innocent, and I could likely make some of the same arguments against it, but there’s just so much wrong with Facebook, and at every turn they dig in their heels and try to do more of it. Our behaviour influences how others choose to behave, and I just didn’t think I could justify normalizing Facebook as a matter of daily course. (Yes, I know, I still have a group there. You can see that this disentanglement is an ongoing and complicated process.)
So, on February 1st, I held my breath and (mostly) quit. I assumed there would be a period of at least mild grief over the disconnection from the hundreds of people I hung out with there, but there wasn’t. I occasionally wonder if a particular person is okay, and if I have their email address or Twitter handle I check in, but for the most part it’s as though the whole span of years I was there is just gone like so much smoke in the wind. Strangely, for a place I spent hours a week with people I’d been connected to there for a decade, it was like there was no there there. I did not miss it like I do places I’ve loved before. It’s just gone, and there’s no feeling in it.
It’s a relief, to be honest. The largely one-to-many style of communication that happened in Facebook comments was often stressful. There’s nothing like someone’s bigoted relative dropping in to set you straight or watching opinion skew artificially extreme because the most emphatically correct person in a comment thread wins. I’m no longer bombarded by notifications, and then more notifications, and then newly invented notifications engineered to keep more of my time online on Facebook. Unnecessary knowledge — so-and-so liked so-and-so’s post and this person’s going to an event I don’t care about and this unrelated page wants me to like it — no longer eats up real estate in my brain, parsing my attention down into groups of seconds so it can employ me as a clicking robot to click this button, this link, this reaction, this invitation, that video. Enough clicks keeps their advertisers happy. More clicks keeps them happier.
It’s been a month and nine days since I stopped writing Facebook updates and wading through notifications, and my brain is starting to flower its own mini renaissance. I’m writing more, reading more, and experiencing less social stress online. After years of feeling anxiety about my commitment to that platform and its other users, it turns out that it’s a lot easier and sweeter to leave than I thought possible. I miss some of the people with whom Facebook was our only connection, and there were a couple of groups I found particularly helpful, but the payoff for not being there outweighs the FOMO. There are no noticeably empty holes in my days where there once was Facebook. It’s not there, it’s like it was never there, and I wonder how they managed to build a place I could spend a decade in and not feel a measurable loss.
Google Reader, an RSS/Atom feed aggregator that told us early blog readers when blogs we followed were updated, ran for under 8 years and did basically one thing until 2013, and I’ve never stopped missing it. Google Reader connected me with a world of people through their blogs more intimately than Facebook’s extraordinarily manipulative interface ever has, making Facebook truly remarkable for its lack of actual personal impact on me post mortem, and, while Facebook gaslights my decision to quit with emails about all kinds of unnecessary notifications, it’s still managing to manipulate me, only now it’s to wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I don’t feel more of a loss.
Facebook is akin to the abusive partner who isn’t happy unless you’re sad, fearful, or in some kind of need, even if that need is borne by a fabricated reel of unrelenting notifications. I won’t know what events I’m missing or whose relatives are the most racist anymore, but I’m freer from Facebook’s manufactured connections and ever-changing hierarchy of things to click, and I am free from it’s continual training to become a better clicking robot for its data-gathering.
I don’t know what the future holds for Facebook, but it’s highly doubtful that its efforts will be praiseworthy, and I’m relieved to be through with most of it. It feels pretty damn good.
(An aside: this post did not go where I intended it to. I intended to write about what it’s like to manually delete your life on Facebook in reverse chronological order, the fortitude it takes, and the introspection it conjures, but that will have to come later. I could write a whole damn book.)
10 Articles About Facebook
Zuckerberg has recently been using the word “privacy-focused” to reference a proposed Facebook rebuild that would have people interacting more privately in text messages and smaller groups, but this doesn’t address the real issue, which is data privacy. It’s sneaky shift of definition that will manipulate people to feel more safe in Facebook while doing nothing to address the real issue. —Mashable
“More frequent Facebook usage causes a decline in knowledge acquisition.” —Journal of Information Technology & Politics
It weighs us down with “vestigial friendship”. —The Atlantic
“The FCO’s theory is that Facebook’s dominance is what allows it to impose on users contractual terms that require them to allow Facebook to track them all over… When there is a lack of competition, users accepting terms of service are often not truly consenting. The consent is a fiction.” —WIRED
Zuckerberg said, “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” After years of data abuse and leaks, he’s got a point. —BuzzFeed News
The UN has linked Facebook with genocide in Myanmar. —The Independent
Facebook is constantly changing its privacy settings, sometimes changing your settings without proper notice. —@schmutzie on Twitter
2-Factor Authentication (2FA) involves sending a text to your phone as a secondary confirmation for a more secure login. Facebook has been using people’s phone numbers gathered for 2FA to further target them with ads. They’ve been using info given over for greater security to violate your privacy. —TechCrunch
Along with Myanmar, “Facebook has been used to undermine local democratic processes and stoke ethnic strife” in India and Sri Lanka, and they’re begging for Zuckerberg to something about it. —Quartz
Facebook “was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement” to access patient data. —CNBC