Why I’ve quit Facebook for 99 days

Reading time: Just over 4 minutes

Are you a writer who’s addicted to social media? Consider joining me in quitting Facebook for at least 99 days….

I have long mocked my brother-in-law for never having had a Facebook account. He’s a structural engineer, so you might be inclined to brand him as a socially inept smart guy — the kind of person who adds columns of figures effortlessly but who has a hard time looking you in the eye. But he’s not. He’s friendly and cheerful. He tells good jokes. He likes meeting people. He converses easily.

But he’s never been interested in Facebook. Ever. Occasionally, it’s true, he’s had brief pangs of regret — when a cousin posts a photo of a new baby for example. Or when a family wedding is announced and he’s the last to know. But he’s always smiled and held firm on his no-Facebook policy.

Now, he’s looking like the smart one.

The recent admission by Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook “made mistakes” and let political consultancy Cambridge Analytica exploit millions of users’ data has many people — including me — rethinking their relationship with the social network.

I currently have both a personal Facebook page and a Publication Coach one. If you follow the latter, you’ll have seen a daily link to my blog post. But that’s stopping now. I’ve signed on to the 99 days of freedom campaign launched by Just, a Dutch creative agency. The challenge: quit Facebook for 99 days and monitor how it affects you. According to research, I may be more likely to quit Facebook altogether at the end of this experiment, but I’m prepared to keep an open mind.

Here is why you might want to join me, especially if you’re a writer:

Average users spend 50 minutes per day on Facebook. That’s one-sixteenth of your waking hours! Do you really want to give over so much of your time to scrolling through other people’s vacation photos or restaurant meals? Sure, it’s interesting to know what your friends are doing, but do you really have 50 minutes a day to spend on that?

Facebook is addictive. I don’t often spend much time on Facebook because I’d generally rather read a book or socialize with family and friends. But every time I allow myself to tarry on the site — usually when I’m on holiday — I’m reminded how addictive it is. Intending to spend only 10 minutes on Facebook, I log on and, whoosh, an hour sprints by. Experts say this happens because the site requires minimal effort, lets us share information with many people at the same time, feeds our naturally voyeuristic natures and gives us a forum for our egos. Ouch! But true. There are at least 21 reasons for Facebook addiction. See more here.

Facebook sells data on you, the user. When I started using Facebook, their business model didn’t bother me so much. I literally grew up in the newspaper business (my parents owned a weekly newspaper) and I understand how advertising helps make valuable services appear “free” to the user. ‘That’s a small price to pay,’ I thought, initially. Now, I’m not so sure. It strikes me as creepy that my searches for various books or other products end up tailing me for weeks, providing links to related things I just might want to buy. As a story on a BBC news site puts it, “Data is like oil to Facebook — it is what brings advertisers to the platform, who in turn make it money.”

Facebook blurs our understanding of the real world. In what ways did the Russians interfere in the 2016 US election? We don’t yet know all the details of their meddling, but the threat to democracy is appalling. We also know that the election of Donald Trump was a huge surprise to many people, in part, because of the way FB’s complex algorithm operates: You see the feeds of friends who share your worldview You don’t see the feeds of those who disagree. Frankly, I don’t like living in a bubble like that.

Facebook has put traditional media at risk. Facebook has helped “blow up” the old advertising model. And you can see the results in society. Traditional media outlets are shrinking and closing and young people no longer read traditional news, which appears both environmentally unfriendly (all that newsprint!) and boring. I have no problem with change — change is good and healthy. But who is going to become the watchdogs of the political world as we move into the future? That work takes time and training and skilled editors. There is no one to pay for that work anymore when advertisers move their dollars to social sites focusing on data analysis.

Facebook often oversteps. While it’s not true that Facebook owns the photos you post on their site (the terms of service clearly state that it has only a broad license to use your work), many Facebook employees appear to believe that they do. Read a fascinating article from Plagiarism Today for more disturbing news about Facebook and copyright.

The more time you spend on Facebook, the less time you have for writing. Lucky me, I’m not easily distracted by Facebook (I’m more prone to be sucked in by email). So, when I’m struggling with a sentence, a word or an idea, I have no tendency to want to scroll over to FB for a break. But if you are wired that way, the app can do serious damage to your writing. And, from a time management point of view, anything that sucks up 50 minutes of your day is a potential problem. 

Even if you don’t feel like joining me in putting Facebook on hold, I still urge you to take action to protect your personal info on Facebook. Here are some instructions for people living in the US, Canada and the UK.

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How do you feel about Facebook? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by March 31/18, will be put in a draw for a copy of The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.