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In July 2019 I kicked my Facebook & Instagram habits. I thought people might be interested in my experiences so far. To keep things simpler I’ll just talk about Facebook.

Background

First up a bit of background: I have been interacting online since 1989, which predates the worldwide web. From 2000 to 2009 I created & ran Vorb - one of New Zealand’s most popular online communities of that decade. It’s fair to say that online social interaction has been a big part of my life since I was a teenager.

One of my reasons for walking away from running Vorb is I could see the rise of massive social media platforms like Facebook dominating both people’s time & advertising dollars - making the survival of smaller online communities even harder to maintain.

At the time Facebook was fun to use & it fed my decades long habit of interacting with people on the internet - so I was happy to embrace it.

What changed?

Two reasons finally switched me off Facebook:

Reason #1: Algorithm Controlled Content

In the old days were were shown the most recent posts by people we were friends with or following. It got to a point that this was overwhelming & Facebook introduced “bots” which use algorithms to control which posts you get to see. The issues with algorithm controlled content could fill a number of blog posts so I’ll just talk about my biggest problem with this approach.

Understandably the “bots” are instructed to keep people using Facebook as long as possible. More people looking at Facebook for longer periods equals more opportunities for advertising. The big issue with this is that happy/ content/ socially active people don’t stare at screens. If someone put down their phone/ goes outside/ socialises with their friends in the real world then Facebook is not getting advertising income from them.

 

                                                

So - through no malice - the “bots” will show people posts that keep them stuck to their screens. Posts that aggravate, posts that divide, posts that cause outrage, posts which generate drama. Happy people don’t stay online as much as angry/ sad/ outraged people do. So the “bots” will naturally feed people content that makes them angry/ sad/ outraged.

This feeds into user behaviour - we’ve unwittingly enter a game where we’re seeking comments & likes for our posts. So we end up fashioning our communication for anti-social algorithms rather than our friends.

For a while one of the strengths of Instagram was the lack of algorithm controlled content, but that also succumbed to machine control.

Interestingly the newer social media platforms like TikTok are entirely run by algorithms with users have next to no control over what they see. The trend seems to be moving towards less control over what content you see, rather than more.

Reason #2 Lack of Corporate Responsibility

I found Facebook’s reaction to broadcasting the Christchurch Mosque Shootings absolutely pathetic. I get why the attack was broadcast. The same algorithms that measure engagement for cute puppy videos would have measured engagement for a video of 51 people being murdered & shown it to more of the demographic who engaged with it the most. It’s a terrible situation, but I get how it could happen.

But it was Facebook’s lukewarm reaction to their part in the attacks that really annoyed me. Social media has turned into a hotbed of fake news, mis-information & hate speech - some of it generating real life consequences & generally making our world a worse place to live in. But instead of accepting these issues & facing into them the tech titans are endlessly downplaying/ dancing around them - presumably because they don’t know how to fix it without damaging their profitability. Or possibly they have no idea how to fix it, full stop.

 

The Reality of “Leaving” Facebook

The reality is while I’ve kicked a habit which had me checking Facebook at least a dozen times a day I haven’t “left” Facebook. I still use Messenger, I still post blog posts like this to Facebook & I still use Facebook Marketplace. I’m not making a moral stand - I’m just adjusting my social media usage so I’m not being constantly aggravated by pieces of software trying to milk me for advertising dollars.

 

The Good of Kicking my Facebook Habit

The first thing I noticed was I got more time to do other stuff. The second was I was checking my phone less. Both of these are pretty obvious but good pluses. I also breezed through a couple of events (like local government elections) that would have normally generated online aggravation. Instead I could engage by following news & talking with people face-to-face about stuff. Getting news from genuine news sources has been a bonus too.

More time = good, less aggravation = good.

 

The Not Good of Kicking my Facebook Habit

I do have less of an idea about what my friends are up to. Facebook has become the default place to announce to the world engagements/ pregnancies/ new jobs/ moving house/ getting a pet & other life milestones. While I miss these announcements I don’t miss the other 95% of my Facebook feed.

Part of my post-Facebook plan was to make an effort to contact people directly more often. But it turns out that I’m hopelessly unorganised when it comes to that sort of malarkey & badly out of practice. I’m going to try harder in 2020.

 

And Finally: Yes, I still use Social Media

Yes while I no longer check Facebook & Instagram a dozen times a day, I do still use social media. LinkedIn is part of work, even if it can invite a lot of spam. My use of Reddit has picked up too - but that’s mostly reading about stuff I’m genuinely interested in. My Youtube & podcast consumption has also risen.

But I’ve also created an online community called “Sift”. It’s subscription based which means it’s funded by the users for the users. It’s had over 4,100 posts in 5 months & has discussed everything from mountain bikes to caravans to electric kettles to Fonterra. Call me old fashioned but I do enjoy linear discussions where insightful people write thoughtful responses containing well-formed paragraphs & Sift is full those.

 

Summary

After spending 12 years on the Facebook I thought I honestly thought it would be harder to dump.

From a quality of life viewpoint I do miss knowing what people are up to, but the extra time & reduced aggravation of not checking Facebook are too good to pass up.

For social media in general we already know that Facebook usage has plateaued & is beginning to decline. Facebook has dominated the social media landscape for the past decade but newer services like TikTok - which are aimed at different (younger, non-Western) audiences - are on the rise.

While I’d dearly like to see a return to smaller interest based online communities I’m not sure if there is business models that can support them en-masse.

As always a big part of why I enjoy working with online technology is the constant evolution in how we communicate & engage.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt                                                                                                                                                                        Thought Catalog