Taking Facebook off your phone almost sounds like a crazy thing to do. Bonus crazy points when you factor in how much of my career depends on being active on social media. But I didn’t get rid of my account. I just deleted the Facebook app. And I’m much happier because of it.
To be fair, I’ve barely used Facebook on my phone in the last few months. I mostly use it on my computer. Normally I delete apps I don’t use much, but Facebook was different. I knew I’d probably need it sometime, probably for work reasons. There was no harm in just letting it sit idle on my phone until I needed to access it.
Except it wasn’t idle. Even though I kept adjusting both phone and in-app settings, it wouldn’t stop sending me notifications. “Someone is going live right now!” “That person you met at a conference 6 years ago and haven’t spoken to since is having a birthday today!” “Friends have responded to events in your area!”
We’ve been in isolation since March. For most of that time, social media has been a constant companion. All these notifications went from annoying to a sudden urge to delete the Facebook app — at least temporarily. But I still didn’t pull the trigger right away.
Letting Go of Feelings of Obligation
Back in September, I had my first inkling of “maybe I don’t need to be on Facebook as much anymore.” My page has never been a huge source of traffic, and it’s always been a chore to deal with. That page is the whole reason part of my brain insists I “need” Facebook. But since it sparks anguish instead of joy and I’m not getting much from it, I started to wonder if I should get rid of it.
Cue a moment when I was listening to Tee Morris’ Twitch stream. I don’t remember when exactly it came up, or if isolation has been harder on me than I realize and I’m now just hallucinating Tee’s voice whenever I think really really hard about social media (At least my brain is nice enough to hallucinate friends?), but I distinctly remember a brief chat about Facebook pages not being as all-important as they once were. At one point, I believe he mentioned not spending as much time on his page as he once did. I remember looking at his page content and thinking, “Huh, now that looks like a much more reasonable example to follow than some other writers I know.”
Real or hallucinated, I felt like I’d been given permission for my Facebook page to suck. And by extension, stop stressing over it if it wasn’t working for me.
I still have my Facebook page, as well as my personal account. But I wasn’t in the habit of using my page from my phone in the first place. So with that imaginary obligation gone, not much kept me from deleting the app.
The Social Dilemma on Netflix
We watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. The first thing that struck me wasn’t all the specific data Facebook gathers on its users. It was how much of my career in digital marketing relied on using that data.
Figuring out how to get someone’s attention on social media and make them engage. How to get that person to return to a blog over and over. Understanding your target audience demographics to mold your content around their interests. The entirety of search engine optimization practices.
All marketing is based on psychological manipulation to convince people they need to buy a product. But The Social Dilemma pointed out something I hadn’t realized. Our attention is the product. That’s why so many small businesses and entrepreneurs with small budgets are crushed by Facebook’s algorithms for organic and paid reach.
As disturbing as the documentary gets at points, it didn’t scare me into deleting my Facebook app.
It Explained Why the Facebook App Annoyed Me
During one scene of the dramatized narrative that helps illustrate the topics being discussed, we watch an anthropomorphized algorithm come up with “nudges” to get a young man to open his social media apps. These nudges were notifications trying to hook him. One was an alert that a girl he knew (either his ex or just a girl he liked, I don’t remember) was now in a relationship. The algorithm picked this nudge because of how much time he had previously spent visiting her profile and going through her pictures.
I suddenly understood why, even though I turned off notifications, I was getting so many updates about people I hadn’t thought about in years. Because Facebook understood I wasn’t using the app as much as I used to. It was looking at times I’d been more engaged with the app and trying to use similar circumstances to encourage me to engage that much again. You know, like I did when I was a teenager.
Since Deleting the Facebook App…
In the two weeks since I deleted the app, my phone has been blissfully quieter. Not only that, but I’ve been spending less time on my phone. Even if I wasn’t interested in Facebook’s notifications, looking at them usually prompted me to open a different app.
I also set aside an hour to open Facebook on my computer and purge some of the people and pages I follow. It’s embarrassing how many remnants I found of the early days of going around liking all these dumb, very specific pages, like whether or not you eat the end pieces on a loaf of bread. (I do, by the way, if that’s important.)
The fact is there isn’t ever anything happening on Facebook that I need to look at whenever the app tells me to. And as long as I’m staying home at all hours, there’s no reason to have Facebook in my pocket the whole time. I’m hoping in the long-term that this will reduce the negative mental health effects social media causes.
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