This week marks the last week of January, where – let’s face it – most of our well-intended new year’s resolutions have crumbled away with compromises and rebounded bad habits back. This year I set one that I plan to stick with and wanted to take this week to talk about why you might want to consider joining me, Mamas.
On Jan. 1, I deleted my Facebook account. No, not deactivated, permanently deleted. And with 10 years of friends, posts, and photos, it wasn’t a decision I made lightly. There were a lot of considerations I contemplated prior to clicking ‘delete’, but these were the main ones.
It’s a time suck
I’m a tired ‘mombie’ most days and I found that whenever I had a moment to myself, my immediate go-to was mindlessly scanning through my Facebook newsfeed – which seemed to be mostly news articles and adverts these days. In fact, the average user in 2020 spent 2 hours and 25 minutes a day on social media platforms. That adds up to just shy of 37 days a year looking at (usually unimportant) posts, stories, snaps, and videos. 37 days! A month of my life was being sucked away per year. Think of how much more I could get done with 37 more days.
Tired of the drama
If there are any teenagers reading this, I’m sorry to say that high school drama really doesn’t end after high school does – but especially if you stay connected on social media. In fact, a recent study found that we tend to be ruder online. Though the anonymity factor does contribute, researchers found that it was the lack of eye contact that brings out individuals’ inner ruthlessness. As social beings we thrive on connection, but debates and discussions on social media seems to leave a disconnect. An aggressive comment you leave on a post requires much less confrontation than saying it directly to someone’s face, and we take advantage of that.
This past year, with all the back and forth on the polarized pandemic politics, I’ve noticed people become significantly nastier. Families have divided. Friendships dissolved. I quickly realized that there were better ways to stay connected with people I cared for without being bombarded by trolls and tactless remarks.
Messing with mental health
In recent years, more studies are linking social media use to depression and anxiety. Though correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, it’s worth a serious look. We see these correlations particularly in teens. Mental health concerns have risen significantly in recent years for youth and one of the variables that stands out from previous generations is smartphone use. Kids are connecting with their peers more online and less in person. When you don’t connect with individuals in a deep, empathic way, you don’t reap the social benefits.
Anti-science & algorithms
Over last couple years, it’s scary the amount of misinformation being pushed around by the anti-science community, and I found it shocking when I found a few of my Facebook friends sharing them. I found myself thinking, I thought I knew these people. What would lead them to support such a skewed perception? It’s not just kooky Aunt Carol wearing the tin foil hat these days, and social media programming could partially be to blame.
Facebook’s addictive algorithm is programmed to show you ads, articles, and posts that align with your values based on the data they mine from your profile. If you’ve made a few anti-vaccine comments or shared a skeptical post, it has learned that you like to see that sort of material and will show you more.
You don’t even have to post anything – if you’re microphone is enabled in the app, it can hear your conversations.
Fun fact, last Spring a L.L. Bean clothing catalogue was misdelivered to my mailbox. I sat down in the living room, flipped through it, and exclaimed to my partner sitting across the room, “You know, this L.L. Bean stuff isn’t that bad!” Sure enough that evening, L.L. Bean advertisements started popping up on my Facebook Newsfeed. I immediately disabled the app’s microphone access, but I got those advertisements for months afterwards.
As scary as that sounds, it’s a clever programming tool that helps keep users engaged. It appeals to our need to feel connected. We all like feeling someone out there shares our values. These days, even the weirdest ones can find company on the internet. The problem that I see is, if you’re constantly being fed information that appeals to your confirmation bias, you only ever see one side of an argument.
When my daughter was born last year, I made the decision to pull back on baby posts. As cute as she is, I wanted her to have control over her own image as she grew up and posting her life 24/7 on social media seemed to rob her of that. (That’s one of the reasons I’ve switched to doodled images for these pieces instead of photos).
Recently I looked at the fine print on photo use. Yes, you own all the content you share on your account, but a closer look at the terms of service says, “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.” In plain English, Facebook technically has the right to use your photos anyway they want without paying you any royalties or even asking for your permission.
Now, it’s way more profitable for social media platforms to use the data they mine from your account to fuel advertisers, so it’s unlikely that Mark Zuckerberg is selling off your cute baby photos. But I still don’t like the obscurity in the legal language and possibility of my photos being used without my say so.
Prepping for departure
A few days prior to clicking ‘delete’, I created post explaining that I was deleting Facebook and inviting anyone wanting to stay in touch to PM me and we’ll find a way to connect in an alternative way. Out of the 150+ people on my “friends list”, seven reached out to stay in touch. It was a jarring reminder of how Facebook has changed our definition of “friend.”
Living on the other side
So, it’s been nearly a month. What’s happened since I quit? The first week I was surprised to see myself exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. I’d habitually chick the now-empty app space on my phone. I felt anxious about “missing out” on newsfeed activity. I had to find alternative ways to connect with individuals and local businesses that I’d usually use Messenger for. It was weird.
But like quitting coffee while pregnant, the withdrawal symptoms subsided, and I actually don’t miss Facebook at all now. I get way more done around the house and read much more of my book than usual. And, I find my social wellness has actually improved as I now make the effort to connect with the people I really care about with a call, text, or email.
Reflecting on a month of being Facebook-free, this wasn’t a decision I made lightly; though since that decision, I feel much lighter.
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at email@example.com.