Gemma Rose looks back at a year fasting… from Facebook.
A year ago, I swore off Facebook. I was on holiday, idly spending the hours Facebook stalking when I saw a picture of someone who had blocked me about six months before. He was the first person ever to block me, an action I found so disproportionate and unreasonable at the time. When I saw the photo of him, my face glowered with rage for a few seconds, reliving those feelings. Once the rage simmered, I jolted up and I thought, “What am I doing, wasting my precious time looking at this idiot?” I decided then and there to quit Facebook…well deactivate actually. I wasn’t quite able to bring myself to commit virtual identity suicide.
Facebook is the world’s leading social networking site, with 1.18 billion monthly active users. It’s wonderful in many ways: allowing long lost friends and lovers to regain contact, bringing like-minded people together, spreading news and providing a counter-argument to mainstream culture. But it has also wreaked havoc: breaking up relationships, catfishing, grooming, spawning trolls and slut-shaming, not to mention the invasion of privacy and ownership of personal data by Facebook itself.
One of the major privacy scandals of Facebook took place in 2014 when it sneakily conducted a mood experiment. It manipulated the news feed of 689,000 users by reducing their exposure to positive or negative content. The study found that users exposed to positive content would publish more positive posts as a result and vice versa. The experiment caused outrage amongst academics, lawyers and activists since it was done without informed consent as well as the damaging repercussion of such experiments: that Facebook has the potential to manipulate behaviour on a large scale just by controlling content. Nonetheless, prior to this scandal, invasion of privacy was one of the main reasons for persons quitting Facebook. According to a study by the University of Vienna published in 2013, 48% of those surveyed left the site because of it.
Facebook stalking may have triggered my reaction to quit, but it was just an accumulation of my addictive usage, which was really the cause. I logged on several times a day. I would come into work every morning with sweet anticipation of notification alerts. This little icon would spike or dip my dopamine levels accordingly. I logged on more regularly when I was bored, stressed or needed a break. It is quite troubling now to think about how often I would do so.
Leaving Facebook was difficult at first; having to fight the urge and instinct to check it. I did miss catching up on updates of friends and family abroad. I did notice an absence and I wondered if people forgot to invite me to things because I was no longer on it. But quitting also brought about great relief. I didn’t waste time on it. I didn’t feel guilty about unfriending people or not accepting friend requests. I was relieved at not seeing cute baby pics, wedding photos or holiday snaps. I was also saved from not driving myself mad imagining that people were living far more exciting lives than I.
In response to the 2014 scandal, the Dutch NGO ‘Just’ set up a 99 days of freedom campaign, inviting users to quit Facebook for that period, with a check-up at the 33-day and 66-day intervals to see how they were doing. Cornell University analyzed the data and noted that persons who succeeded the challenge were those who felt better for leaving it, had privacy concerns or used other social media. Those who were worried about their reputation for leaving it or who appeared to be addicted to it were more inclined to revert before the expiration date.
The most important thing I learned from my Facebook fast was that I didn’t really miss out on much. My real friends did not abandon me. I continued to follow the news or stay up-to-date with causes close to me via other means. I still took part in events, advertised my flat and sold my furniture without having to rely on Facebook. Once I realized that my life had not been negatively affected by leaving it, I was confident that I would no longer crave it.
To appease my other half, this month I logged back on. I return with fresh eyes and because of this, I’m much stricter in controlling my information. This time, I know I won’t fall back into addiction because I have survived without it!
2015 was one of the most satisfying years of life. It was also the year I wasn’t on Facebook.