Friend requests from other authors you don’t know that turn out to be spammy demands (worded as “invitations”) to “like” their author page or buy their books or to promote their work. Being added to groups without your consent. The expectation that you must “like” and “comment” on every single post from someone else they’ll write you a note asking why you aren’t doing this. The seemingly constant flame wars. Finding out someone’s horrible beliefs. These are only a few of the reasons why people find Facebook so problematic as a platform. And if it’s not one of the above, it’s the News Ticker or the promotion of personalized (and creepy) ads in the sidebars or the invitations to play games. Even with apps and filtering software to shut down most of the nonsense, and despite the fact that Facebook does remain one of the most popular and heavily-used social networks, people are starting to throw in the towel more and more.
Since March of this year with the whole Cambridge Analytica kerfuffle, many people who had mixed feelings about Facebook decided that was the last shove they needed to delete their accounts (or at least deactivate them for the long-term). Many folks have already talked about this topic articulately so I’ll leave that to them. But I wanted to take a moment and address the serious implications of the link between mental health issues, such as depression, and Facebook. The social network, in its insidious nature, convinces people to believe that it helps them when they’re down. The truth is that Facebook continues to be one of the major causes for them being down in the first place. Again, this topic is one that has received major coverage on many other websites, so I’m not going to repeat what’s been said there other than to emphasize that Facebook + depression is a terrible combination.
In the past, I have made concerted efforts to curb my Facebook usage. On two separate occasions, I made the decision to stay off for an entire month and both times, despite my antsiness to return, I resisted. The process both of those times made me feel like a drug addict in relapse, and I had to use online games like Candy Crush Saga to stay afloat during these breaks because I was starting to feel myself unravelling. No social network should have that kind of an effect on its users, and yet Facebook was designed to be one of the most addicting websites on the planet, far more than email. Similarly to websites such as Buzzfeed that are designed to lure people in with one headline or story and then keep them there for as long as possible via quizzes and other interactive features, Facebook was definitely one of the first, if not the first, to master this.
This time, however, I’d had enough. For the past three years in particular, my depression has hit some truly awful all-time peaks, and starting this year, even though I was well-aware of the links between Facebook and declining mental health but had never been able to bring myself to quit, I began my transition away from the website. What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that I don’t miss it. Not even a little bit. This is the first time that I don’t have that dreaded “fear of missing out.” I’m not sure why, but I’m definitely not complaining, because in the past, this “fear” was the thing that always catapulted me back onto the website, more addicted than ever. Now, granted even though in the past I did use Facebook on my phone through the website (never the app itself), and I did download Messenger and uninstall it ultimately, I was not in what I would consider a dangerous territory, so to speak. Yes, I absolutely did have an addiction and checked it multiple times a day, but I always curbed it by logging out after every use, and did not just always have it “on” or in the background. I’m not judging when I say that, mind you–it’s just never the way I used the website.
What has surprised me is noticing which of my friends agreed to my request for alternative arrangements, such as texting or other means of communication, and which just dropped off without much fanfare. But what I really don’t miss is the way Facebook enables people to create these delicately curated profiles that present a highly filtered version of themselves to the world and to their friends (or “friends” as the case may be), which always, without fail, made me feel completely and utterly inadequate. Facebook reinforces this tabloid culture, for lack of a better term, almost presenting this view of one’s friends as a highlight reel of reality TV where you are meant to “tune in” to see the latest updates.
Now, some of the features, I will grant you, can be useful. Some functions of Groups (some) include useful information that one can’t find elsewhere, but often, it turns out to be gossip or conjecture, so I question the value of that. The ability of Pages to allow businesses and conferences to post the latest updates is a useful feature, as well, and it does offer a decent means of keeping up international friendships. However, it is essentially a data collection mine, and getting back to the Cambridge Analytica issue, this has greatly distressed a number of users. However, even though some of these folks have hopped over to Instagram and WhatsApp, both of which I’m trying now, and both of which, coincidentally, Facebook owns, I think people are perhaps realizing the sheer difficulty in a platform that completely locks up access to user data (or if such a thing exists).
In the end, I may end up returning to the website one day, but for now, I’m staying as far away as I can.
What about you? Are you still on Facebook, and if so, what’s your take on the spate of privacy issues that have plagued the website this year? Will you ultimately stay on or do you plan to leave?