After nearly a decade of scrolling, sharing and liking, I decided to delete my Facebook account at the beginning of 2019. Although it felt quite liberating at first, my Facebook withdrawn syndromes have been complex. My current relationship with Facebook can be described as complicated.
I miss you but I hate you, Facebook.
My Facebook break-up feels like an ongoing drama with an ex, who takes away their share of friends and send you drunken texts after a night out (e.g. “we need to talk”, “let’s meet up”, and “ things will be different this time…”).
I set up a Facebook account in my early 20’s. “You don’t exist unless you’re on Facebook” — a friend told me while setting my account and agreeing to all terms and conditions on my behalf.
Facebook accompanied me in my transition to adulthood. As a young migrant, living away from my family and with a continually shifting circles of friends, it felt good to have an instant source of social connections.
My feed became a scrapbook of other people’s dreams and aspirations, which in a sense, also helped to formulate my sense of self.
As a twenty-odd-something woman, I didn’t have an idol or a role model that I would aspire to. Facebook provided with a catalogue of lives, personalities and possible futures. I’d choose and pick aspects of other people’s lives, create my vision of a role-model and implemented them (or not) into my grand narrative of my personal story.
With nearly a decade of my life filtered through Facebook, I often wonder — would I be the same person today, if I had never joined it in the first place?
My clicks and online/offline choices felt like autonomous and informed decisions. As an active social media user and “tech-for-social change” enthusiast, I believed that digital technologies can help us to build communities and make a world a better place.
It wasn’t until more recently, that I noticed some cracks in my utopian vision of the digital future. Online hate, targeted advertising, dis/misinformation, family arguments over something they saw on Facebook and finally #Brexit, made me realise that Facebook has become a toxic influence. I realised that social media echo-chambers have not only radically changed some of my closest friends, but turn me into a bit of anxious and grumpy clicktivist.
Delating my account was nothing like a light bulb moment. It was a lengthy process which involved loads of thinking and talking about my toxic relationship with Facebook.
Post-Brexit Facebook reality was probably the tipping point. The Cambridge Analytica scandal made me realise how little control I had when it comes to making autonomous choices about my future.
During my PhD and then post-doc adventures at Me and My Big Data, I was also able to take a closer look at the ins and outs of the data society and surveillance capitalism. I ended my relationship with Facebook in March 2019.
I’d like to be able to say that my transition into the Facebook free world was nice and easy, but the real story has been complicated.
From a practical perspective, having more time is supposed to be the biggest advantage of leaving Facebook. But then again, after ten years of scrolling, liking and sharing — what exactly are you supposed to do with all this free time? Some Facebook quitters talk about improved mental health and regaining control of their time. I continue to waste quite a lot of time, I just choose differnt channels to procrastinate (having more time off Facebook has meant spending more time on Twitter).
Personally, the real advantage of not being connected to Facebook was the ability to distance myself from my “facebook self”. For example, I no longer had to keep up with the standards I’ve imposed on myself over the years (e.g. sharing my weekly dose of pretencious wisdom in form of links, articles etc).I remember reading somewhere that when it comes to social media we’ve all become CEOs of ourselves — this is exactly how I felt about my Facebook presence. For me, it was a life-defining project that needed to be get done right.
Over the years, there were many days when I felt under pressure to check-in, share content or participate in heated political debates. Facebook was no longer only a vanity self-creation project (e.g. sharing holiday photos with my family ), but a battlefield where I had to play the role of a brave activist (e.g. responding to hate-speech on Polish Facebook forums). I wasn’t just wearing one Facebook hat, I had multiple versions of them — one for my friends, one for my close friends, one for my family etc.
Delating my account meant freeing myself from my complicated and time-consuming network of Facebook selves. I was no longer trapped in the complex social game of saying the right things in the right feeds. I became Facebook-free.
However, this freedom also meant losing digital contact with my close and extended family, friends from all over the world. For example, I have no idea what’s happening to my old friend who now lives Hawaii (oh, how much I loved and hated her posts!). I also don’t have access to my favourite groups and pages. I’m unaware of many events (e.g. local protests, parties). I’ve lost access to some of the information and choices I’ve had a tap away for nearly 10 years. Perhaps, with the loss of all of the services that Facebook offers, I’ve ultimately become unfree.
At the begining of 2020, I feel under enormous pressure to both stay off Facebook and to re-join it.
Facebook, similarly to a toxic ex, has become someone that I bump into, I hear about and from regularly. So, in 2020, Dear Facebok:
I’m 99% sure, I don’t want to hang out with you anymore. Please don’t encourage me to like, join or log in. There is no need to tell me that my friends will be around, I’m not joining your party. Most importantly, don’t tell me that you are sorry and things will be better from now on. Both of us know that our relationship has been and would continue to be incredibly manipulative and toxic.