When it came out to people, it felt like I had just ordered a non-alcoholic drink at a bar in front of a group of friends looking to celebrate: Everyone asked why. And so the explanation begins. This fact alone — that not having Facebook or leaving Facebook seems to require a “why” — is just one reason why Facebook leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
But before I try to articulate my why, let me tell you what my relationship with Facebook even looked like before I left. It must have been out of control, right? For me to cut it completely out? Nope.
My Facebook History
I first got Facebook in 2006, I believe, as a senior in high school. I can’t check to confirm, for that would mean logging in, but it was definitely during high school. I simply used Facebook as another means to have fun with friends, to continue insiders away from school and AIM.
As the site grew, there were many times in my younger college years that I saw someone enjoying him or herself via a Facebook status or photo, and I either got jealous or felt bad about myself. It took years before I realized what had happened there, which I’ll get into in a bit.
Every now and then I’d go on a friend removal binge, getting rid of about 300 each time, which always felt refreshing. (My Facebook friend count usually fell somewhere between 300–400 these last couple of years, to get an idea of how I used it.) The older I got, the more I only wanted to be Facebook friends with people I actually knew and regularly saw in real life — not people I’d met at a student council conference one weekend back in high school.
Over the last six years I’ve lived abroad for three of them, and Facebook was indeed a nice way to keep an eye on the happenings back home. Because as an expat, hearing the small and mundane details can be a comfort, and you’re not going to hear such “news” in your biweekly 30-minute phone call home.
Fast forward to myself at age 25. I never signed into Facebook chat; I only use gchat for that. I didn’t upload photo albums anymore, and I hardly ever wrote a new status. Even though I got my first smartphone while living in Korea last fall, I never downloaded the Facebook app (There’s no reason to see that crap instantaneously on my phone). But I’d still check it at least once a day from my laptop. I’d look for that tiny red notification telling me I had a new message or comment.
If there weren’t any new notifications, which was more often the case than not, I’d be off right away. Sometimes I’d scroll down a bit on the news feed, but it usually wasn’t for more than a few minutes. I no longer got sucked into Facebook in the ways I did during college. So I didn’t think I was that bad, since the total amount of time was small, but I still checked it every day, and clicked on link bait when I definitely shouldn’t have.
I wanted to have discipline like my mother, who only checks her account on Saturdays, but I couldn’t. So it was time for the whole thing to go.
I’d wanted to leave Facebook for a couple of years now actually, but my friends from all over the globe were the final thread that had kept me staying. So why this desire to leave?
Firstly, the fact that one’s profile is a carefully curated exhibit makes it such a distorted reality. People get to pick and choose how to present themselves on their profile, which is hardly ever the whole picture.
I touched on this briefly above, that when I was younger (ages 17–21 more or less) I’d fall for the trap. I would see other photos and postings and wish I were having as good a time as them, or that my life were as exciting and happy as theirs. With time I grew up and realized what you see online is only a fraction of the real person behind the screen.
Everyone has shit they’re dealing with, insecurities, and fears — but it’s usually not publicized. I really worry for the sake of young people (teens), though, because until you figure that out, a few minutes on Facebook can make you feel rotten about yourself.
But even once you’ve figured it out and know that Facebook is just a slice of reality, that realization unfortunately doesn’t guarantee you’ll be spared from making comparisons or feeling jealous twinges. No matter how briefly or subconsciously those types of thoughts pop into your head, it’s negative energy and it wears you down.
Plus, I’d rather know the whole person — actually know them. I’m talking where you feel comfortable calling, texting, writing letters to, and spending time with someone, rather than just passively “liking” parts their life, as seen through a warped view.
Buzz and Racket
In contrast to when I first joined back in high school, Facebook has since become a place filled with an obnoxious buzz and loud racket. No longer is it simply a place to connect with friends and family, now it’s filled with ads and marketing up the wazoo.
With pages for businesses, never-ending sharing of useless internet finds, Candy Crush invites, short-term instantaneous gratification, and sidebars of ads, Facebook is playing hundreds of tunes at once, with no central beat. The company has spread itself too thin, branching out into insignificant fizzles without having a core purpose.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consuming and creating. How much am I consuming vs. how much am I creating? Facebook is a place where BuzzFeed’s “Top 10 Things You Need to Know About X”-type articles and “omg you’ll never believe what happens at :18” videos thrive. Such posts are re-shared to thousand of people at the quick click of a button, whether or not they have any lasting or meaningful impact.
Facebook is therefore a haven of consuming, but I wanted to create. So for me, leaving Facebook was also fueled by my quest towards minimalism. I got rid of distractions and hollow fluff to make room for real-life elements that make up the heart of my existence.
I love that Facebook keeps people connected, but over the years it’s evolved into unnecessary garble and has lost much of its original usefulness. Either that or any usefulness has been covered up by all the loud noise.
I find Twitter and GooglePlus to be so much more worthwhile, for example, since each has a specific (and useful!) purpose. Most importantly, I use both without ever feeling the negative emotions Facebook brought upon me. (Update 2018: I no longer use Twitter or Google Plus and have deleted both accounts.)
While there are indeed some private companies with fantastic missions and values, Facebook is not one of them. It wants you to use its website and it wants you to get hooked, end of story. Oh, and I heard it through the grapevine that Facebook wants to make money, too.
While that alone might be fine for any other company, the trouble is that Facebook’s true motives are hidden by a facade of concern and interest. Facebook does not actually care about keeping you connected with the people you care about, and that’s a key problem that seeps into every inch of the product.
A rather extreme example is that of a man named Eric who lost his daughter in 2014. Facebook rammed her picture into his face this past December by putting her on the cover of his 2014 Year in Review video, which wasn’t optional. Facebook was trying to spread its computer-generated Year in Review product, and caused great hurt to a grieving father in doing so.
Of course the company didn’t intend for this result, as Eric clearly points out in his follow-up post (in which he apologizes to Facebook, which is perhaps too kind if you ask me), but that’s what happens when you use computer algorithms to manage people’s personal lives.
There was a 114-year-old woman who had to lie about her age because Facebook wouldn’t let you select a birth year earlier than 1905. Sure, that’s just a tiny flaw, but it shows the control that Facebook has over your personal profile — which is a digital representation of yourself. Shouldn’t you be the owner of that content?
In January of 2012, Facebook skewed news feeds of nearly 700,000 Facebook users, making the news more positive and happy for some, while darkening it to have a more negative tone for others. Then they took note of users’ own statuses after a week to see if they were more positive or negative, and the results were published in a new scientific study. Talk about manipulation of your reality, and with zero consent to boot!
Facebook has the power and control to manipulate and experiment as they desire, using your life and feelings as the specimen to make their product more deeply engraved into your life.
Lack of Privacy
You can no longer make your name unsearchable, meaning anyone can see your profile by typing your name in the search bar. This causes problems for people seeking to live a normal life while avoiding violent exes or harmful people of that nature.
Jessica Ferris was found by a dangerous person in her past when Mark Zuckerberg made everyone’s friend lists public, taking away the option of making them private.
Facebook data mines like no other, using your personal information to get more users and increase engagement with their site. Facebook has done a study on “self-censorship” where they took data from people who waited ten or more minutes before posting or not posting a status update or comment. They claim to have not tracked keystrokes, but apparently were able to tell when someone had typed more than five characters in the field, and how long the cursor remained in said field.
As a user, it may be impossible to keep your information private from Facebook, but to keep it private from other users was always a headache for me, needing to manually change each of the numerous settings. That’s one aspect I definitely don’t miss.
How I’m Thriving Since
I did two things to prepare for my departure from Facebook: Scribbled down important birthdays in a notebook, since I do send out birthday snail mail, and tried to get contact information for people I was only connected with on Facebook.
I put up a post announcing the date I’d be leaving, which also asked for people’s emails, snail mail addresses, and phone numbers (I’d recently moved back to the USA with a new phone number myself, and didn’t have any contacts). I got just a handful of responses, some from unlikely people, and that was that.
I’ve written letters to those who gave me their addresses, including a Canadian guy I’d met just briefly while in Tokyo last September. He reached out after seeing my post, wanting to keep in contact when I left Facebook. Our communication has evolved since then, and now we text daily and have talked on the phone. There’s even been mention of traveling to meet up sometime in the near future! It’s exciting to build a new relationships with awesome people, so already leaving Facebook has made me more deeply connected with others.
I’d thought that leaving Facebook would be more difficult than it’s actually been. After all, if I’d been checking it every day, wouldn’t it take a while to break the habit? Surprisingly, I haven’t even accidentally typed “facebook” into Chrome since leaving, and I have no desire to do so!
Facebook was always part of a three-site check for me: Gmail, Feedly, and Facebook. So now when I feel like checking, I just take a peek at my email and open a new Feedly tab, and the urge is satisfied. This is probably why leaving has been so easy, since I didn’t have to give up the entire habit.
There’s been just one situation so far where not having a Facebook account prevented me from participating in something. I’d signed up for a life coach’s free week-long course, and it turned out that all of the daily videos were released exclusively on a Facebook group. I emailed to ask if there were links that could be sent via email, but only one third of the videos could be shared that way. To watch the rest of the videos and see the discussion, I’d have to have a Facebook account and join the group.
While that news hardly made me blink, as I don’t think I missed out on the experience of a lifetime, it was still a tiny bit bothersome that some entrepreneurs are perhaps unknowingly limiting clientele/participants to Facebook users. But I quickly moved on.
I know I’m better off not being a part of Facebook, whether or not my friends and family understand my reasons for leaving. I no longer have encounters with “Facebook envy,” meaning my thoughts remain positive and my motivation is high. In cutting out this detrimental distraction, I spend more time on meaningful creation.
Plus, my personal life and information isn’t being used to help this company grow. Also, by keeping in touch with friends and family through more personal ways, I’ve strengthened relationships too. And if that weren’t enough, I dream less about random acquaintances now that I no longer see their faces on Facebook right before bed!
On December 1, 2014 I deactivated my Facebook account, and boy what a great decision it was.
This post was originally published on Culture Glaze.