Years ago, in a bid to claw back some time for myself, I decided to wave my Facebook profile off on a cyber-funeral pyre. It had become the ultimate time-suckage device. It’s a blizzard of white noise featuring pointless animal videos, “inspirational” Marilyn Monroe quotes, and new parents yammering on about their babies as though they’re spewing Wildean witticisms. Add in the odd passive-aggressive thread argument and the general sense of unease when faced with the highlights reel of every life you know, and I knew that I needed to find a way out of Zuckerberg’s playground.
“Not so fast,” was pretty much Facebook’s first response.
“Look who you will miss out on keeping in touch with,” the screen posited, as photos of my dead mother, an Australian friend and a cousin materialised on it. Algorithm or not, it was a pure masterclass in emotional manipulation. The Facebook profile would go on to live, and annoy, and time-suck, for another while. Suffice to say that when it comes to my relationship with Facebook, it’s complicated.
But a growing number of people have no truck with Facebook’s emotional pull, and according to the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook, a movement to delete Facebook is rapidly gaining ground. Much of it has to do with Facebook’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica “data harvesting” fiasco (the data firm had gathered info from 50 million Facebook users and used it to target voters during the 2016 US election).
“If you’re angry about what Facebook has done with our data then just #deletefacebook. We all moved on from MySpace, we can move on from Facebook too. Remember, we aren’t the customers, we are the product,” tweeted one user.
Yet a lot of the #DeleteFacebook campaign also has to do with the conceit, ringing ever louder, that Facebook’s feed is quite literally wrecking our heads. Academics have found that its bright red notifications and neverending rolling feed (among other features) activates the same centres in the brain as Class-A drugs. Anyone who tended towards neuroticism, narcissism, ruminative behaviour and social comparison were also at risk of increased social anxiety from prolonged use of Facebook.
“I deleted my Facebook account over a year ago and noticed a very real drop in anxiety. I have never been a particularly anxious person and, until then, hadn’t realised how deeply entrenched I had become in what is essentially an addictive game with shit graphics,” tweeted another former user.
Dublin-based writer/musician Dara Higgins deleted Facebook years ago with nary a backward glance.
“Giving up Facebook is like giving up smokes, only less traumatic,” he says. “It is, after all, a website. But it’s about breaking the habit. Five minutes to spare, a cup of tea, just don’t refresh that page. Read a book, check out the news, watch some videos on YouTube. After a while it stops being an automatic thought.