On Leaving Facebook

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After nine years of use, I’ve deleted my Facebook account.

I announced that I was going to do so about two weeks ago, the extended notice given so that people who really wanted to follow my writing might have a chance to see and possibly use the subscription link to my email newsletter Letters From The Desert. As it turns out, two weeks wasn’t nearly enough time to counter the inhibiting effects of the Facebook algorithm deciding who did or did not see the posts, but I couldn’t wait any longer.

During that two weeks, a number of people asked me why I was leaving. This post is an incomplete list of the reasons, ordered in no particular way.

1) Using Facebook made me think increasingly poorly of my fellow human beings.

I’ve been an editor and publisher for decades, and I generally approached Facebook in that mindset. Even when I posted trivial and personal things, like jokes about my ex-cat or snide one-liners, I usually paid heed to whether the things I posted were accurate. I wasn’t always perfect at it, but I did try. If I found I’d passed along misinformation, I either edited my post to reflect that or deleted the post. It disheartened me to see the degree to which people I otherwise thought highly of spread misinformation, or even disinformation, then raised their hackles when the erroneous nature of the post was mentioned. I saw this happening multiple times a day. Given that Facebook continues to reward such posting, thus ensuring its continuance, I decided that my esteem for my fellow humans could only benefit from me leaving.

2) Using Facebook made me think increasingly poorly of myself.

This was the inevitable consequence of item one. I was raised while young to think myself part of an intellectual elite and condescend to those who didn’t belong. I have fought against that early-life conditioning since about age 14, and largely successfully, but it is deeply rooted. There’s something about the inherently shallow nature of Facebook posting that prompts usually kind people to stoop to calling others “stupid” or worse. I worked to keep people from doing so on my posts, at least, and then found myself thinking less of the intellects of those who persisted. Which, in Facebook idiom, Do Not Want. It is a toxic dynamic and I eventually found it corrosive to my soul.

3) Facebook hacks your attention to maximize its profits.

Notification spam, sidebar alerts that your friends “liked” something not available to you, ads customized to mold themselves to your perceived interests, and the constant pings when someone reacts to something you wrote all serve to give you an endorphin jolt, thus reinforcing your innate desire to pay attention. This isn’t unique to Facebook: just about any successful website or app at least tries to do something to make itself “stickier.” Phone game apps boldly advertise themselves as “the most addictive game ever.” I don’t use those games, and I uniformly block websites that want to ping me every time they post something new. Why should I treat Facebook any differently?

As someone who has dealt with issues of attention span for nearly 60 years now, I might be more susceptible than many others to being bothered by this kind of attention hacking. Or maybe I notice it more readily. Either way, it affects my cognition in ways I increasingly find intolerable.

4) The more time I spend on Facebook, the more alienated and lonely I feel.

I put only a fraction of myself on Facebook. My significant other of 3.5 years has asked not to be identified as such on Facebook for several sensible reasons. I cannot talk about much of my relationship with my dog, who has some behavioral issues we are successfully working through, for fear of abusive litigation. If I talk about my emotional states, people give me unhelpful and condescending advice. (By no means does everyone do so, but some people do so every time.) If I talk about physical health, i get worse advice. And I resolved some years ago during a particular life crisis that I was not going to complain unconstructively about my life on Facebook. So I put about 15 percent of myself on FB, and people (quite understandably) assume without meaning to that that 15 percent is the entire me, and I feel unseen and misunderstood the way I did in middle school. If I had gone to middle school. Which I didn’t. And very few people on Facebook know that, because I also don’t talk about my early schooling career out of concern over reactions to my former career as a child prodigy, which people resent even as they claim to admire it.

Leaving Facebook means I’ll have the impetus to replace that false companionship with the real thing, and more time to do so.

5) Also, more time to read actual books.

They’re piling up here.

6) Emotional Labor

After about one in six of my Facebook posts, I find myself having to reassure someone I’ve never met that the post was not intended as a criticism of them. Or at least not of them alone. Last month, when I posted a short thing that said, among other things, that it would be good if people checked the dates on news articles they posted, I got a dozen such private messages.

There’s also this, and I choose my words carefully here because I see this behavior throughout my own posting history, having in fact written an entire book from stuff I posted online while sad, and I am ruminating on what I ought to do about that, but: my feed is full of people complaining about things in what amount to pleas for sympathy. This is not a bad thing to do. Sometimes you just need to ask for sympathy, and sometimes there isn’t anyone at hand to ask, and so Facebook becomes the obvious venue.

It’s just that lately, my feed is far more full of such things than usual, and my feed usually runs about 40 percent sympathy asks. Maybe this has something to do with me clicking “heart” on many of these posts: Facebook might have decided I want to see more of them.

I have woken at 6:15 am some mornings and been thoroughly demoralized by 7:05 after checking Facebook. I strongly believe this is not a result of people acting badly but of the dynamics of the venue. Nonetheless, the fact remains: it is draining me of energy and enthusiasm I need for other things.

7) Facebook is Evil

I dutifully boycott companies that act badly, sometimes without an actual boycott being called. The CEO of Barilla said something some years back about his pasta not being for gay people, and I didn’t eat their pasta until about two years after the GLAAD-endorsed  boycott officially ended and Barrilla came to its senses. Arrowhead takes a few thousand gallons of water illegally, and I stop buying Arrowhead water. I went through my entire twenties without eating a single table grape. And cetera.

Meanwhile, Facebook bears a large share of the responsibility for the current administration coming into power, by privileging rumor and disinformation over fact, and letting the hateful run rampant within its walled garden, and that administration is making it far easier for corporations to do all the things I have spent a life boycotting them for. How can I even consider continuing to do business with Facebook?

And, I might add Thoreau-to-Emerson style, how can you?

8) Intellectual property

Following from the above, how can I justify giving my writing gratis to a corporation that has demonstrated it has no intention of respecting either intellectual property rights or privacy?

9) Facebook has privatized what was an anarchic, free internet

My British Isles forebears suffered greatly when the commons were enclosed by the rich. This is exactly like that only without the starvation and beheadings. Lots of people have written about this so I won’t belabor it.

I also grow increasingly uneasy that the idea of not using Facebook seems unimaginable to so many of my friends. The history of online communication is littered with dead venues that people once used daily. Facebook is no more indispensible than Friendster or Compuserve. To assume otherwise seems profoundly unhealthy.

10) I miss my blog.

More to come on that. Also, did I mention I have an email newsletter you can subscribe to?

4 thoughts on “On Leaving Facebook

  1. Joy

    All of what you said, and more. I dropped it some years back when they confirmed my suspicions of the feed manipulation I had noticed in my timeline, and I had been lurking mostly for a period before that. I don’t miss it, and my blood pressure and my view of humanity is improved. My real actual friends and colleagues have managed to stay in touch. I applaud your decision and I will be surprised if you regret it.

  2. Dave Bonta

    Great post. I quit Facebook kind of on an impulse on May Day, and so had to briefly reactivate in order to hand over the administration of a group, but am finding I don’t miss it as much as I thought I might. I am getting a bit more reading and writing done, but more that anything I am loving the extra time to sit out side with my coffee or a a beer and listen to bird song. The main thing I will miss I think is keeping up with the extended family. Maybe we’ll all have to go back to writing christmas letters…

  3. Louisa Dell'Amico

    I totally understand your arguments, but I only heard of you today, and tried to find you on FB. I could have followed you on Medium, but they wanted access to my information so I canceled it. I ONLY post news – usually animal rights stuff (I try to emphasize the positive changes), environmental and political (usually funny stories about Trump) and I don’t post anything personal. I’ve also “Unfollowed” a couple hundred people in the last year mostly because of their posts about horrific stories of individual cases of animal abuse. I’m not interested in stories of cat and dog torture which is already illegal – I’m interested in raising awareness around systemic, institutionalized violence toward farmed animals, which many cat & dog lovers don’t seem bothered by. Anyway, I just shared your piece about grass-fed beef being unsustainable on a page that organized what I thought was going to be a hike and ended up being a tour of a grass-fed beef farm and its surrounding land. Please keep up your work. I’m sorry you’re not on FB.