Facebook: Just Say No to Weapons of Mass Distraction
“As much as I’ve enjoyed seeing ridiculous pictures and keeping tabs on folks I don’t see on a regular basis I think it’s time I delete my facebook page. I really dislike most of what fb offers and am constantly discouraged by the amount of time that can be zapped from your life while perusing other peoples lives. It’s weird, and creepy and quite sad that as a whole we know more about our friends’ bowel movements than we do about world geography or how to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions at the bottom. I want to be present and focused, not oblivious and distracted by a false sense of reality.
So if you’re interested in keeping tabs with me message me or call me if you’ve got my number…I’ll give it a month so I can get into contact with folks and can exchange necessary information with those interested.”
–Facebook Status Update, Oct. 3, 2012
One day after this status update was posted, Facebook reached one billion users.
Facebook has an undeniable appeal; in the United States, about 50 percent of the population has a Facebook account. The site’s social potential is almost impossible to overstate: users can stay in casual contact with acquaintances; form shared-interest groups; create, promote, and RSVP to events; share photographs with friends and family; explore products and groups; play online games with friends; and “chat” in real-time.
But the cost of Facebook too often goes unspoken. The almost limitless connectivity of Facebook means users are inundated with sponsored ads, suggested “likes,” unsolicited lists of friends’ activities, and questionable sidebar advertisements. Users—naturally—highlight the best in their lives, which leads to a shiny, happy, and ultimately fake perspective of reality. The phenomenon of feeling dejected after browsing the glossy lives of Facebook acquaintances is so commonplace it actually has a name: “Facebook envy.”
In addition to a loss of self-esteem from its use, having a Facebook account can also result in major losses of privacy. Aside from such privacy-destroying apps as the one that allows users to be tagged at a location in a friend’s post—so anyone with access to your account can see where you were—people can also upload photos of you and tag you in them; read posts of non-friends that a friend has commented on; and use profiles as an employment screening tool. Some of these functions can be controlled—for instance, users can manage their profile settings so that they cannot be tagged in photos—but Facebook’s notorious practice of introducing new default settings makes privacy management a time-consuming chore.
But the highest cost is Facebook’s almost limitless capacity of distractions. In a country where corporations are people, coal is “clean,” and education budgets are slashed, Facebook’s cozy matrix of witty friends, pictures of irritated cats, and pithy political quotes does too good of a job making everything feel all right. Everyone knows Facebook is a time leech—pop on for 15 minutes and next thing it’s 2 hours later—but worse, Facebook is a leech of energy, motivation, and action.
Thankfully, more and more people are shaking off the Facebook daze and choosing to break free—the site’s American user base has dropped by almost 2 percent in the past six months alone. Here’s how you can add to that 2 percent:
Make a post alerting your friends that you will be leaving Facebook at a certain point in the future. Ask them to message you for your contact information, if they care to. If you really want someone’s contact info, request it privately. Around the date you mentioned, deactivate or delete your account. (This can take awhile, since Facebook will ask you about eleventy-billion times if you’re sure you want to leave.) Deactivating your account means all your information is saved, so should you ever want to have a profile again, you can start off where you left. Deleting your account actually requires a waiting period.
Often, people feel overwhelmed by Facebook but aren’t positive that they want to quit. In such a case, take a lengthy Facebook break. Alert friends that you will be leaving the site and do not know when you will return. Deactivate your account. Then give yourself at least three months to live your life. If you consider returning, think about what you wanted from Facebook and what was interfering with that. Sometimes, living a season without Facebook is all one needs to regain a healthy perspective and control of one’s habits.
To stay in contact with friends and family outside of Facebook, you can start a blog (read other people’s, too!) or get an account on a photo-sharing website like Flickr and regularly upload a few photos from your life. Or you can be a true Luddite and resort to telephone calls (heaven forbid!), letters, postcards, and emails. Reacquaint yourself with a life not led at the speed of light.
Wondering what that “Promote” option is that recently appeared under your Facebook posts? You’re not alone—Facebook users who run pages with over 400 “likes” have been wondering the same thing. They’ve also been wondering why their posts have been reaching only about 15% of their fans as they had previously. In a not-so-surprising twist, Facebook now requires artists, publications, brands—the majority of popular pages—to pay to “sponsor” posts so that they reach the additional 80-85% of the page’s fans. While it’s a free market, and Facebook is allowed to request such fees, it can mean paying hundreds of dollars to promote a single post, originally a free service.
“My page has over 40,000 fans and when Facebook started this the traffic to my website dropped from 30,000 a day to 5,000 a day,” said Bill Downey, in a comment to a NY Observer article on the subject. “It’s probably fine for McDonald’s page or Coke who can afford $200 per post for the full reach. I would be all for paying if the cost to play wasn’t so steep, they need to come up with better scaling for the fees for smaller pages. They don’t care about the little guys when they can sock it to the big companies.”
But hey, they don’t have to care about the little guys when they’re raking in $1 million per day on these “sponsored” posts.