1 Friend Request, 1 Message, and 14 Notifications.
That’s what greeted me when I just opened a tab to Facebook before I started writing this. I haven’t opened Facebook in, probably, two weeks. Most of the notifications were to tell me that someone else had ‘posted for the first time in a while’.
I officially swore off Facebook back in January. That was when I deleted it from my phone, removed it from the front page of ‘Recently Accessed Sites’ in Google Chrome, and resolved not to look at it. Avoiding it on my phone was easy – the Facebook mobile site is not great – but I still found myself checking occasionally on the laptop.
It took another month or so to truly stop caring, but I was supremely glad when I did.
It’s all Trump’s fault.
Most of last year, a bubbling undercurrent of political nightmares kept rising to the top of the Big Facebook Saucepan, but it really boiled over after Election Day. In the run up to the inauguration it felt like all I read was a stream of American Chaos. Even existing in – mostly – an echo chamber (as most of my friends are of a similar political, social, and ethical disposition) the roar of Trump’s impending inauguration became too much. The negativity was reaching out of my devices, wrapping its slimy dark tendrils around my brain and applying subtle but definite pressure.
There are plenty of articles, opinion, and real research on the effects of negative news, and in an entirely anecdotal blog post I’m here to agree with it. The constant negative noise was having a detrimental impact on my wellbeing.
Like anything in life, if there is something that’s having a negative effect on you, you either need to fix it or kick it to the curb.
Facebook was a thing, a website that had somehow become an extension of myself. It sucked me back in, time after time, with its mind-numbing banality and ever increasing desire to know more about me. To know who I was, where I lived, what I liked, what I disliked, who my friends were, what my political views were … and then it wanted to sell me shit based on that information or, worse, bombard me with curated news based on what it thought I would best respond to.
So, I kicked it. And after a few weeks, I didn’t miss it. My mood was improved. I considered stopping reading the news entirely – I get my daily dose from The Guardian – but I decided that there was a difference between cutting out negative noise and being uninformed, so I kept on with the professional journalism intake.
Every so often, I questioned whether I was missing out on something important. The answer, as far as I could see, was no. I checked back in now and again, and immediately felt somehow dirty. The only thing I was using it for was Facebook Messenger, in order to make VoIP (Voice over IP) calls to my girlfriend in the US.
After a while, I began to feel like just quitting Facebook wasn’t enough. I had spent years feeding the machine with posts and pictures and other identifying information, and I started to feel bad about that. I’m not one of these paranoid IT types, that eschews any form of social media and refuses to use Google (I’m a big fan of G Suite), but the fact that Facebook had so abjectly let me down by targeting stuff at me that made me miserable, well that gave me a sense that I needed to ‘withdraw my support’.
Facebook gives you the ability to delete previous posts. It’s only when you start doing this that – I’m sure this rings true for most people – you start to realise just how much shit you posted over the years. The end result is that, unless you have a stunning amount of free time, endless patience, and a way of combating Repetitive Strain Injury, deleting your stuff is going to be an impossible challenge.
So instead, I decided I would just delete my account.
People will ask me why I don’t just ramp up the privacy settings, why don’t I just resolve to not login and not post anything, and why I should delete my account and remove any historical references to myself from their own timelines.
The short and simple answer: because I want to. It’s my own ‘right to be forgotten‘ and I choose to use it.
The one remaining function of Facebook that is legitimately of use to me is keeping tabs on contacts. With the Mac (unsure if Windows now offers this level of integration) you can synchronise your Facebook account and have contacts automatically update. I’ll hand it to them – this is pretty useful, especially for someone who is about to move 3,600 miles across the Atlantic.
My compromise is thus; create a new account. Add all my old friends. Post nothing. Delete the old account.
For a long time, it has felt that Facebook had gone from being something we used, to something that used us. This is my own way of flipping that back around again.
As you’ll see from the sidebar, I haven’t eschewed social media entirely. I still have my Instagram account open and yes, I’m aware that they’re owned by Facebook. I feel in this instance that Instagram is much more like Facebook used to be – other than its annoying Curated Timeline – in that I can follow selective people and see what they want to show me without having a mixture of other stuff shoved down my throat.
It’s also relatively quiet – people are more likely to share words than pictures and even if it is something as unimportant as what they had for dinner, at least it’s nice to look at.