For a couple of years now I have developed a growing unease about Facebook, and other ‘free’ services which operate with personal data as their true product. Facebook just happens to have hit my fed-up point first. My unease comes from both information coming to light about how these platforms are handling our data, and how they are manipulating us, as well as my own direct observations about how Facebook is attempting to manipulate me. In addition I have noticed that Facebook is not really making my life better. In fact it has made it noticeably worse in several ways. This blog post will talk a bit about my reasons for scaling back my use of Facebook, as well as techniques for doing so. How to get away from Facebook is something I see discussed often in technical circles, and this is my approach.
If Everyone Jumped Off A Bridge
For me, Facebook started out as a tool of convenience – an easy way to keep up to date with friends and family, a nice, spam-free interface for group and direct messaging, rapid event planning and more. As a web developer and technology-literate professional, many of my friends were confused that I was almost last to the mobile-phone and social media parties. In fact I skipped non-smart phones altogether and didn’t get my first until a few generations in. So I was a late adopter to say the least. And to be honest I don’t really remember why. It seemed like more hassle than it was worth. But as a result I have had more mobile-phone free years of my life than nearly all of my peers.
Eventually I was the only friend not reachable by text message. So it became easy to forget to loop me in to events and goings on. The fear of missing out (FOMO) being something I’ve always struggled with. I got my first phone when it was already going out of fashion to communicate by text message. Everyone was now using Facebook. Again I figured it was more trouble than it was worth – as a developer I already had so many accounts on things like forums, and email services. Why another? Well again the same thing happened – hey Sherri why didn’t you RSVP to my party? Oh, the event invite was on Facebook… And here we are years later, I am connected with the cool kids – but so much less happy than before.
I Used To Read Books
I used to read. A lot and often. For hours on end. Granted I now have children so my quiet relax time is very limited. But I hardly ever read books now. I reach for my phone. I browse pointless news-feeds like an addict and despite several rounds of my husband and I trying to pry ourselves away from these time wasters (his kryptonite is YouTube) we have seen limited gains. I’ve set up a DNS filter to block time-wasters including Facebook from our home network at certain times of day and this has been the best strategy so far. But if I have to literally keep myself from reaching these sites – there is a problem – what are they doing to me? I don’t remember the last real novel I read – it must have been months ago. I’m ashamed and horrified by this. I need my smart-phone to be less of a temptation and Facebook has been the big one for me.
Facebook Wants To Control, Not Serve
I refuse to install the native Facebook Android apps for Messenger or Facebook onto my phone or other devices. These apps are clearly spyware given the permissions they demand, and how they integrate into other non-Facebook information on your device like your text messages. But oh boy is Facebook mad at me about that. They dropped support for mobile browser access to messages. It just keeps sending you to the app install page if you try to browse your messages on the Facebook website in a mobile browser. If you spoof the browser’s identity or switch to desktop mode you can get in there, but it’s no longer in a mobile layout and hard to read. There are other ways Facebook punishes me for using the mobile website instead of the app. Fewer post background options, annoying settings, no way to mark all your notifications as read – you must visit each one. And more. Facebook does not want me to use the mobile website. Clearly.
So far I have stayed firm using Facebook only in a private-browsing tab on a browser. The private tab is my attempt to limit some of the tracking by wiping Facebook’s cookies. Whether this does any good is up for debate, but it also wipes my login session so I’m forced to re-login everytime and I like adding layers of hassle to combat the addictive quality.
Facebook also does not want me to unfollow posts that are annoying me with constant activity notifications. I have to perform 6 clicks just to silence a post. First turning notifications on (despite them being on by default) and then off again. Other annoying updates that I can’t turn off continue to spam me- including depressing updates about how few views my various pages get. Thanks Facebook. The persistent red unread indicator number in my status bar triggers the need to clear them, and keeps me on Facebook more than I want to be.
If Facebook was giving me what I want, I would see posts from my friends in chronological order. Instead I see very little that is relevant to me or my friends. But I do see controversial and click-bait-y posts, friends’ commenting and liking stuff by people I don’t know, and lots and lots of ads. I don’t ever click Facebook’s ad posts so it must be trying to make up for this by showing me an ad almost every 3rd post. I come away from a browse of my news feed knowing very little about what’s going on with my friends’ lives, but having wasted way too much time.
Facebook Does Not Foster Healthy Friendships
For a service that bills itself as being all about connecting friends… I have found that it doesn’t really promote healthy interaction. Intelligent debate seems to devolve into personal attacks and hurt feelings way too quickly. And that’s if you can even get people to engage with you about topics of substance. For the last couple weeks I conducted an experiment. I posted a mix of intelligent, important topics and news articles, along with frivolous posts about nonsense like buying dishes in mismatched patterns. My meaningful posts received almost zero engagement (likes, comments, etc) while the others seemed to get lots of attention. Not to say that people can’t chat about and share light-hearted and silly things… but it seems like either Facebook is not showing more important and thought-provoking posts to my friends, or, my friends just don’t care about any of that. In either case – this is not the environment for social connection that I enjoy or want to be a part in.
I want to engage with friends in a way that we can talk about both the silly and meaningless stuff and also the more serious topics and debates. But do people really want to open their hearts about real topics in such a public forum? When was the last time you posted something truly Real? Facebook feels like it is training us away from sharing our thoughts on serious issues. And I don’t want to be trained in that direction thank you very much. Facebook is teaching us to stay at the level of carefully curated small-talk and pandering, but what does that mean for us? Especially when Facebook is increasingly some people’s only source of news?
People in technology fields are sounding the alarms about the risks of social manipulation, loss of privacy, and increasing mental illness being fostered by platforms like Facebook. Roger McNamee wrote about his inside look1 at what Facebook is doing and it’s horrifying. François Chollet writes about the power that AI currently has to manipulate us2, shaping entire societies in the quest to trick us into buying more stuff. Technologist Brian Acton one of the founders of WhatsApp and a social media leader – has also quit Facebook3 among many others. In fact I see a growing trend in my industry – we the people who love technology and follow the news about it – are worried about Facebook and fleeing in growing numbers.
Unfortunately I can’t leave Facebook completely. Entire sections of my friends and family use Facebook exclusively for communication. I would lose all contact with them. As a business owner and specifically a web developer I need a business presence on Facebook in at least a minimal capacity. I am also responsible for a number of pages and groups which I administer. I’ve already off-loaded two, and I may consolidate more. So, my leaving of Facebook will mostly consist of the Facebook News Feed and not adopting any new Facebook tools. The rest of this blog post will discuss my strategies. (Speaking of blog posts – this is my first one in a loooong while. Funny how sharing bite-sized thoughts on Facebook stops me from sharing deeper, fully written thoughts on an open public forum like a blog.)
The Facebook Divorce
Step 1: Curate Connections
I visited my friends list (reachable from the profile page) and un-friended people who I honestly am not friends with at all. Or friends of my husband who I was getting roped into being the maintainer of the connection. I got my list under 100 people this way. I then did the same pruning of my group memberships (why did I belong to so many buy-sell groups??). And then to my Likes (liked pages) which also insert posts into my news feed.
Part of this curating also included stepping down from managing a couple groups and pages which I had originally created. In some cases I just deleted the page. For others I found new admins to manage the group or page.
Step 2: Use Lists!
Facebook has a little appreciated feature called Friend Lists (https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/lists/). You can add all your connections to these lists and then view a ‘news feed’ of posts from only people on those lists. So I have created multiple tiers of lists based on how often I want to ‘check in’ to see what’s new with the people on those lists. For me I have:
- Close Connections
- Good Connections
- Professional Connections
- Distant Connections
These lists only include people I actually want to check up on. And the frequency I will do so is different. There are still connections I have but don’t exactly want to un-friend who I will stay connected to but who aren’t on a list. Ie, I don’t actively look to see what’s new with them (like the spouses of my husband’s friends and other people I’ve literally never spoken to.
Some people have suggested that after everyone has been added to lists as desired, to then go and ‘unfollow’ everyone so you will eventually have an empty main news feed, and will have to go to your lists to see what’s new. I may try this option if I find it hard to stay away from the news feed. I have also installed a Chrome browser extension called News Feed Eradicator to replace my news feed with an inspirational quote. So if I’m on there checking messages, the news feed is hidden.
Step 3: Edit Your Ad Preferences
I told Facebook what topics actually interest me by removing ‘interests’ in various categories, found here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/edit/. I removed over two-thirds of these, most of which I have no idea how they got there. I have no illusions that Facebook actually ‘forgets’ the old categories but maybe this will make the ads I do see more relevant.
Step 4: Download My Data
Facebook lets you aggregate all the data they have on you into a download. I did so before any further major pruning. https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=your_facebook_information
Step 5: Delete Old Data
I am toying with the idea of purging my old posts, images, videos, etc from Facebook entirely. If and when I figure this out and make a decision I’ll update this post.
Step 6: Let People Know
Next, a post explaining what is going on and sharing this very blog post.
Publish a public post to my timeline with my public contact info, and links to my public profiles. Then publish a similar friends only post with my private contact info, so people know how to reach me. I will periodically re-share these as my intention is to make very infrequent posts summarizing what’s new with me and my family. I am going to actively fight the instinct to post every random thing that crosses my mind and interesting thing I find – as Facebook encourages us to do. To stay connected to people I care about, I’ll use the Friend Lists to see what’s new with everyone, and try to offer more meaningful comments than just a quick ‘like’ on their post.
This begins a new chapter in how I allow Facebook into my life. Hopefully it will allow me to reconcile my concerns about Facebook and the uses I still need it for.
Facebook Frequently Used Bookmarks:
- Friend Lists: https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/lists/
- Messages: https://www.facebook.com/messages/
- Upcoming Events: https://www.facebook.com/events/calendar/
1) I Mentored Mark Zuckerberg. I Loved Facebook. But I Can’t Stay Silent About What’s Happening.
By Roger McNamee
2) What worries me about AI
by François Chollet
3) Facebook Made Him [Brian Acton] a Billionaire. Now He’s a Critic.
by Nellie Bowles