Last Thursday, March 31, I decided that I was going to stay away from Facebook for the month of April. I wasn’t going cold turkey but I decided that I definitely wouldn’t post anything to my timeline and that I would only log in for a few moments a day to check notifications – no scrolling, no conversations. I notified one friend by text who I knew would worry if I didn’t post anything for more than a few days and replied to a weekly posting that another friend does to let that group know what I was doing. Otherwise, I was done.
Only a few days in, it’s getting easier. At first, I had to resist the urge to login every so often just out of habit but that’s going away. I removed Facebook from my favorite bookmarks in the browser so I can’t just click on it out of habit. That’s been a nice reminder. I don’t even feel much curiosity about what’s happening there.
I’ve been thinking about this move for a while as the controversies and criticisms of Facebook have piled up. The latest was that Facebook hired the PR firm Targeted Victory to malign TikTok through op-eds and letters to newspapers talking about the dangers of TikTok to children, even blaming it for trends that started on Facebook itself.
That’s not to say that I even remotely care about TikTok’s future but I find it disturbing that Facebook is so willing to engage in this kind of manipulation. It’s certainly not the worst of the problems with the platform but it is something that they deliberately set out to do, as opposed to many other abuses to which they often turned a blind eye.
I’m not here to prove to anyone that Facebook is harmful. If you’ve been watching then you know what’s been going on and if you haven’t, you probably don’t care. I’m only saying that, for myself, I’m pretty well done with it. I’m not jumping on the #DeleteFacebook bandwagon and will maintain the account as a point of contact but I’m done providing free content to their platform.
Incidentally, if you’ve tried recently to find something that you posted even a year or so ago, you know how bad their search features have become. I’ve been on the site since 2009 and have put quite a bit of creativity into some of my posts. There have been a lot of fun conversations. Trying to look up a specific item in the constantly changing labyrinth of menu settings they’ve created is simply painful. I’ve had to laugh when I’ve seen people speculate that today’s social media content will provide a historical perspective for future generations.
I’ve come to understand that my frustrations with others are often really with myself; if someone deceives me, I have to ask if I’m really angry with them or with myself for being deceived. I have to admit that my devotion to Facebook over the years has been a monster of my own making. I went through a bunch of the trends – the games (yes, even Farmville), the quizzes, pokes, friending co-workers and then gradually unfriending them after leaving a company. I’ve done the political arguments and lost a few “friends” over those, too.
In my own way, I bought into the idea that social media gave us a voice and then posted opinions on current events as if people were actually eager to hear them even as some part of me saw the narcissism in it. Every so often, I imagined myself going back to the 80s and trying to explain my participation in social media to the people I grew up with. At some point, when I try to imagine it through the eyes of people who have never heard of the Internet and are generally content to share their ideas with a couple people at a time, I always imagine them asking “You put all this out there and people spend time reading it? Why?” The fact that many of those same people are now on social media themselves makes it even more absurd.
The social media companies wanted to build their storehouses of marketable data so the message has been to build “communities” and “audiences” online and share details of our lives in order to “engage” with people. Everyone got a chance to be a celebrity in their own little online bubble and some of us actually fell for it. These accounts became online echo chambers where we had the ability to control the message and the audience.
It’s always easier to engage with people who are guaranteed to agree but communication is like many other activities; when you take away the resistance and the difficulty, you eventually realize that you’re not really doing anything and there’s nothing really there.
I’ve been operating a blog of one kind or another since March 2000; is that any different? It’s still based on the idea that I can put my opinions out there for a worldwide audience and the assumption that someone wants to read them. Given the potential size of that audience, it’s probably a safe assumption no matter how wacky the opinions; the Internet has definitively proven that at this point. I’ve also gained clients through my technical content, so I have proof that people found at least some of my ideas worth paying for. That does good things for the ego.
Blogs and websites have to be maintained and attracting an audience to a WordPress site takes more effort than sharing memes on Facebook. Websites are also a modern version of self-publishing which I’m completely in favor of. So, in that sense, perhaps I’ve done more to earn whatever audience finds these words than I ever have on the electronic billboards of social media.
Billboards still have their place, however. There is value in sharing important content in a space where people are guaranteed to see it. I just hope that these modern billboards can evolve into something healthier.
I’ve seen plenty of people talk about how leaving social media has changed their lives. I don’t know how this month will change mine but I already feel hints that it will be for the better.
Update – May 2, 2022
So, I did it; I actually went a month without posting anything. Yesterday morning, I thought about doing a post but couldn’t think of anything to say that I figured people should care about so I didn’t. The past month has also been a bit of a reality check in that nobody, outside of the people I’d told about the hiatus, reached out to ask why I hadn’t posted anything and if everything was okay. One person remembered my birthday and messaged me. (I’d hidden my birthday from view so I wouldn’t get a bunch of notifications drawing me back in. I almost forgot it myself.)
Again, I’d told a few people I wouldn’t be posting anything but, of the people I actually know on there, most either didn’t notice or simply assumed I was off doing something better. The reality I’ve suspected for a long time, based on the usual likes and responses, is that most of my FB friends simply don’t see much of what I post so the majority probably didn’t notice any difference.
I also noticed just how much of the content on my FB feed is actually filler that the site uses to keep people engaged even as it obscures the content from actual human friends. I did a complete review of my Facebook settings yesterday morning, partly to tighten up security and partly to find that ONE setting that would let me stop the flood of “Suggested Pages” and other nonsense. It wasn’t there and, for every page that I banish from the feed, there seem to be two more.
My first post was this morning when I posted some news about local job openings and career fairs. I’ve been getting these flyers by e-mail for years from the local job office and sharing them on Facebook and LinkedIn. That’s at least useful information.
I could talk about the books I’ve finished in the last month or the wonderful feeling of starting the day away from the computer and enjoying breakfast outside. I tried starting a second blog during April but couldn’t keep going with that; I’ve always been bad about actually committing to writing. I took some time to declutter and thought about the real meaning of “letting go” of things. I’ve felt my mind clearing and my perspective changing.
What really struck me is how quickly the spell was broken and Facebook came to seem like a complete waste of time. I lost the urge to doomscroll through the posts and Suggested Pages and other filler content pretty early in April. When I tried scrolling through stuff this morning, everything in me was screaming “What are you DOING???” One friend had shared a political post on one of the issues that gets under my skin and I read it out of morbid curiosity. I thought about replying but my better judgement immediately killed the impulse like a friend steering a drunken buddy away from a bar fight.
Again, I’m not here to tell you that you should give up Facebook or any of the other sites. There’s an anti-Facebook contingent on Reddit that’s gotten shrill and overbearing even as Reddit and LinkedIn have started looking more like Facebook. I don’t want to be that person.
Still, as the social media companies keep coming up with new ways to keep the public engaged, it’s worth taking a regular, hard look at what role it’s playing in your life and how it’s affecting you. Even a week away from the sites might lead you to some surprising realizations.