Why we’re quitting Facebook

At the end of 2017, Sheridan Wright did something she wished she'd done years before.

It was December 30 and she'd been scrolling through Facebook looking at friends holidaying in Bali and the news that a girlfriend had fallen pregnant when she realised this window into others' lives was making her miserable.

"Even though I knew logically it was a cultivated and curated version of reality, I couldn't help but respond emotionally," she confides. "It made me feel envious because I can't afford an overseas holiday this year and I don't have a nice big fat baby."

Like any addiction, there's a comedown period and I felt that for about 10 days

At 36, Wright is happy in her emerging career as an assistant producer in the television industry, is a keen writer and is committed to health and fitness.

Yet she realised her addiction to Facebook - at times she was checking in every seven minutes - was affecting her mental health, her sleep and her genuine friendships.

"I had this false idea that I was maintaining relationships because I was constantly interacting with people on screen," she says.

 

"I'd see that little red bubble with the number 47 in it, indicating that I had 47 messages, and it was like crack to a drug addict. The trouble was I wasn't picking up the phone and hearing my friends' voices."

What's more, she'd just signed up for a screenwriting course and knew that Facebook would interfere with her ability to write. "If I'd collated every useless pithy interaction I've had on Facebook over the years, I'd have written five novels by now," she says wryly.

So what did she do?

Sheridan Wright
Sheridan Wright

She quit Facebook. Indeed, she was so convinced she'd be unable to stay off the social media platform simply with willpower that she deleted her account entirely along with the Messenger app attached to it.

Going cold turkey was testing. "Like any addiction, there's a comedown period and I felt that for about 10 days. After that I didn't miss it at all."

While the social media behemoth releases no statistics on the numbers quitting its platform, anecdotally users are taking digital detoxes and adopting "self care" practices around its use.

And last month, in the face of disgruntled users protesting how much public content was in their feeds, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a major pullback on brands and media.

While Facebook's reputation as a time-waster is well-established, there's a growing feeling its impact on our lives is more insidious.

Concerns about fake news, the creep of advertising, privacy issues, its addictive nature and the impact on real lives and relationships have led many to question whether it's time to disconnect.

Heralded as a groundbreaking way to network and share when it was launched in 2004, Facebook quickly became a fixture in our lives. Instant, friendly and easy to use, it was a shiny new world you could visit whenever you liked. As one user says: "It was like The Simpsons - you could never imagine getting tired of it because it was the greatest show on Earth."

 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Thirteen years on, however, many of us have stopped drinking the Kool-Aid. The discovery last year that Facebook was using sophisticated algorithms to identify and exploit teenagers when they were feeling "worthless" and "insecure" offered a rare insight into its dark practices. Like something out of The Hunger Games, it was revealed that through covert surveillance the social network was gathering psychological insights into young Australians and New Zealanders with a view to selling targeted advertising.

Having been rumbled, Facebook issued an apology, admitting it was wrong to target children in such a way.

While the discovery, revealed in The Australian, raises profound ethical issues, it also increases fears about what else Facebook may be doing. Futurist and inventor Mark Pesce believes Facebook's surveillance of teenagers could be read as something akin to "torture or brainwashing" and he warns the social media juggernaut has the power to sway the moods of its two billion users.

In an essay called The Last Days Of Reality, he raises the idea of "emotional contagion" whereby Facebook manipulates the newsfeeds sent to you and your friends to manipulate your moods.

Likewise, he says the sharing of fake news and political stories that feed our established bias makes us feel we're in the right and creates a self-fulfilling cycle that's difficult to break away from.

As he told the ABC: "This is a huge commercial organisation that is in no way transparent about how it operates."

So what should we do?

Pesce says we don't necessarily need to quit Facebook but we should take it a lot less seriously.

Colleen Hodgson
Colleen Hodgson

"We really do regard it almost as gospel and if we could laugh at it more and know that part of what it's doing is tickling us because it wants us to stick around."

As he says: "All of these systems have been devised to create some subtle but pervasive emotional effects in us. They're kind of like drugs that we don't know we're being administered."

The first step, he says, is to realise you're being manipulated; the second is to interact and react to Facebook differently.

That's exactly the approach travel agent Colleen Hodgson has taken to Facebook after her partner, an internet security specialist, questioned her addiction to the platform.

"He was concerned about privacy but he also questioned why I was always on it," she says. "When I looked at it critically I could see that Facebook has largely become a forum for whingeing and boasting. Apart from looking at dog memes, I realised so much of it was people seeking sympathy or keeping you updated on their health kick. 'Cool, you've gone to the gym again this morning - good for you but I don't need to know about it'."

Hodgson says she now checks her Facebook feed once a week. It means she might respond to something like a school reunion notification a couple of days later than others but it gives her more time to enjoy her partner and her life. On a recent trip to Italy she posted just five pictures.

Dr Aleks Krotoski
Dr Aleks Krotoski

Social media psychologist Aleks Krotoski says the recognition that we are being manipulated and our fears of being addicted to the dopamine hit of social media has prompted a "scene change".

While she advocates interacting with our devices in a way "that's responsible to ourselves", she also expects the social media landscape will change significantly now Facebook has been around 13 years.

"That's a really long time in the lifespan of a social media platform, and what I've observed across different platforms is that once you start to get a number of people who are leaving then very quickly it becomes a critical mass," she says. Those who do leave often never look back.

Consultant Pete Livanes ditched Facebook seven years ago due to the "look at me" culture and an instinct that he'd rather catch up with friends in person than read a daily update of their activities.

"I don't miss it at all," he says. "I keep in touch with family through Whats App and I organise getting together with cycling mates via text."

But with he and his wife Jessie expecting their first baby later this year, will fatherly pride lure him back to Facebook so he can post pictures of his child's first gurgle and first step?

He laughs.

"I'll share little videos with my direct circle of friends and family. That said, Facebook has been great as a marketplace - Jessie picked up a cot for the baby for a really good price."

Oh the irony - that Mark Zuckerberg's grand creation might end up as a prosaic little pinboard for classified ads

Pete Livanes and wife Jesse
Pete Livanes and wife Jesse


Residents fear for CQ town's future after bank closures

premium_icon Residents fear for CQ town's future after bank closures

Banks leaving town and a damaged road make for tough times

96yo surrenders licence after freak crash pins mum

premium_icon 96yo surrenders licence after freak crash pins mum

Crash leads to elderly driver facing a magistrate

REVEALED: Inside look at Rocky's top-10 most expensive homes

premium_icon REVEALED: Inside look at Rocky's top-10 most expensive homes

MILLION-dollar homes from the most prestigious suburbs

Local Partners