Why I Deleted My Facebook
Reflecting on my social media usage
Facebook has changed since 2009...or has it?
The summer before 8th grade, my parents set me up a Facebook account as a birthday present. It was a whole new world. The experience seemed so much more streamlined than AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger. It was the year of Farmville and feeds were full of direct messages left on each others' Facebook walls.
In that time of my life, and Facebook's existence, things seem so innocent. Or, at least that's how I remember them. When I started reflecting on my Facebook and social media usage, this is the first sentiment that comes to mind. Things were simpler back then or people have changed since then, but is Facebook really all that different since its early days? Yes, the UI has evolved, Facebook IPO'ed, more copycats and competitors sprung up like Snapchat, Instagram, and now TikTok, and you can probably argue that there's been a cultural shift over the last decade in the United States that has changed the public opinion on Facebook. Events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Myanmar genocide showed just how powerful the platform has become. But has Facebook fundamentally changed since I first joined in 2009? No, it hasn't. It's evolved to keep its reputation afloat and participated in ethical and legal hearings when necessary, but the platform I joined in 2009 has almost the same core feature set, the same business model, and the same psychological effects today as it did in my middle school days. In my reflection I have discovered that it is me, not the platform, that has changed.
Before I go any further, I want to drive home that these thoughts are entirely my own opinions. You may have had a completely different experience with Facebook and social media - and that's OK. I'm not trying to wave a universal flag of
FACEBOOK BAD. This article is the result of my own reflection, and I would challenge you to go through your own discernment before agreeing or disagreeing with my thoughts.
Establishing my image, based on others' opinion
Back when Facebook was the day's Instagram or TikTok and not the MySpace it's become today, you wouldn't be caught dead without a Facebook account. Or, that's how it seemed, at least. Entire friend groups were formed and destroyed online. Facebook Messenger replaced a lot of text messages, and finding out if someone was single required only a little bit of online stalking. Class discussion groups transitioned into Facebook groups. From early high school to mid-college, I felt like my whole person was judged based on my Facebook profile, mostly because that's how I judged others.
If you had asked me in 2015 how much time I spent on Facebook, I'd probably vastly underestimate my usage. If you asked me in 2015 how much my opinions of current events, institutions, and my friendships were shaped by what I saw and read about them on Facebook, I'd be equally defensive. However upon reflection, it's uncanny how proportional the correlation between a Facebook headline and my opinion had become. For example, I remember my first year in college (circa 2014) as the rise of the man bun. Some Facebook groups I was in at the time despised the man bun, critizing it for being too feminine or having some other negative trait. And so for most of that year, I too despised the man bun, even though I really had no opinion on it. Funny enough, I have my hair in bun while I'm writing this, so look who's got their own free will now, Facebook.
I again observed this happening on Facebook before the US Presidential Election in 2016. Short snippets from candidates' speeches would be edited into videos surrounded by biased opinions and clickbait headlines, resulting in binary commentary with an us vs. them tone. In the summer of 2016, I had already chosen my candidate, and if you disagreed with me, you were wrong. How could argue for your incorrect positions? I was well-informed from my correct political videos on Facebook, not your incorrect political videos on Facebook. The discussion was devoid of actual discourse.
You may argue that my polarization, whether on mens' hair styles or political candidates, is not entirely the fault of Facebook. Frankly, I'd agree with you. Facebook is not unique on the internet just because it has a behemoth user base. There are plenty of pockets of the internet where discussions are opinionated, biased, and binary. Strong critical thinking skills are a requirement of being a modern internet citizen. However being entrenched with daily opinions on Facebook gave me little time for discernment. Over time, I noticed myself becoming callous to the differing opinions of others, with my ability to practice empathy slowly fading.
The long term affects of a Facebook addiction
At the outset of the Facebook revolution, I found my comparisons of myself against others helpful. Marco said the new sandwich shop downtown was pleasant, I should give it a try. However after years of trying to mirror the online status quo, I became acutely aware of how insecure and malleable I had become. I often find that subtle negative changes in my life, like those enforced unconciously by constant usage of Facebook, Reddit, and similar are hard for me to pick up on day-to-day. It's only after some time of feeling depressed or empty or changed that I take a step back and ask myself, why do I feel like this? In bouts over the last couple of years, and especially during 2020 with COVID-19, I have felt more and more alone despite being connected to more and more people. I've tried to take some time to reflect on how using Facebook makes me feel, and I've realized that seeing an endless flow of others' manufactured happiness did not make me feel "good." It also helped me realize how little I was interacting with the people I cared about outside of social media. New job? That's a Like. Got engaged? Here's a like. Having your second kid? Let me leave a heart reaction on your post. Why wasn't I just calling these people to actually talk to them? And why didn't I just stop scrolling endlessly?
Has deleting Facebook become cliche?
In 2014, deleting your Facebook account was definitely a statement. There was a growing movement to remove oneself from the platform, but only recall one friend my first year in college who was not on Facebook. However in 2021, I would dare say that deleting your Facebook account has become a bit cliche. Perhaps you disagree with Facebook's opinions on public figures, or maybe you just finished watching The Social Dilemma. Regardless, when deciding on the fate of my Facebook usage, I wanted to be sure I was making this decision from my own devices and not just a political or Mark Zuckerberg bad sentiment. If I delete my Facebook, where will I get my news? How will I keep up with my friends? How will I instantly evaluate new people I meet?
Is deleting Facebook a privilege?
This may seem like a weird question, but am I lucky to have the option of deleting Facebook? In this context, I'm referring to any Facebook product, like Instagram and Whatsapp. For some folks, Facebook products allow for vital communication. If you have a family member working abroad, or you'd like to share pictures with Gramma who can't figure out how a group text works, Facebook provides an online connection that many other platforms cannot rival simply due to its size. I bring this up because I do not want to preach a message; I do not want to broadcast my opinions as a path forward or a one-size-fits-all solution. Although I would argue that there is a reasonable alternative for every product in Facebook's lineup, for many folks that's not feasible or interesting. And so as I continue forward with deactivating my Facebook account, I want to keep in mind that I may be shutting some folks out of my life. It will be my responsibility to continue those relationships on a non-Facebook avenue.
A soft breakup with Facebook
Starting in 2020, I began winding down my connection to Facebook. First, I deleted the Facebook mobile app off my phone. This made it so I had to make a deliberate effort to access Facebook, and meant that I would only use the website if I had a specific need in mind and not to endlessly scroll. Then, I went through each person on my friends list and asked myself a couple questions. If this person knocked on my door right now, would I be able to hold a conversation with them? Does this person have any investment to what's going on in my life? If the answer was no, I unfriended them. Eventually I reduced my number of friends from over 1300 to less than 250. Next, I removed myself from every single Facebook group in which I had not sent a new message in the last year. This turned out to be all of my groups. I also removed all the celebrities, companies, and pages I followed.
After gutting my account, what was left were the people I actually cared about. Every status that popped up in my feed was from someone that I had a connection with. Gone were the mindless pyramid scheme invitations and edited selfies and remaining were engagement photos from close friends and job updates from former colleagues. However, I noticed that the Facebook experience became bare. It's not that just the useless posts in my feed were gone, most of the posts in my feed were gone. I realized that the most toxic sources in my feed, like the people I had no connection to or the groups making sexist comments, were the ones posting the most often. I realized how Facebook has truly transitioned, at least in my circles, into a relic of the past. Since I do not have Instagram or any other equivalent (except maybe LinkedIn, of which I am also growing weary), Facebook felt abandoned. That is, except for the ads. Every other post in the feed is for some product I don't need or want. Just another reason to leave for good.
And so, after a few months of deliberation, I've decided it's time for Facebook to go. I downloaded all of my pictures and uploaded the ones I care about to my cloud storage, and I took screenshots of some of the favorable memories, conversations, and posts I've had over the years online. It's a bit sad to think about turning off my account for good, but like a fading relationship, it's also a bit of a relief. Over the last year with COVID-19 and being quarantined alone for long periods of time, I've realized that it was the people on Facebook that made it so enjoyable in the beginning. Without the connection to friends and family that I care about, Facebook has become another decrepit piece of technology, like a framed picture of an old memory. Perhaps Facebook fell into the emerging inevitable cycle of social media networks: taking over a generation through connections, growing into a bland marketplace profiting off privacy and comparison, and fading into history when some new startup replaces it. I'm happy I got to grow up in an age when nascent social media networks were transforming the world. But, I'm excited to make more of an effort to connect with the amazing people in my life in a manner more thoughtful than a Like. Regardless, I feel fortunate to have wonderful relationships on and off the internet. It's always been the people in my life that make me the most happy.
Artwork by grandfailure