Ignoring Facebook, one year on

May 11, 2018, 3:05 p.m.

Whilst I've deactivated my Facebook account several times in the past (mainly during exam seasons), I'd never really given it a proper go. Roughly a year or so before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the intrusiveness of Facebook across the web and the amount of time I spent on it. As the quality of content was simultaneously hitting a cliff with each new algorithm update, I decided to stop using it.

So I started out by doing what any vaguely technical person who's ever pirated Adobe Creative Suite before would do, and edited my computer's hosts file, routing Facebook to localhost, 127.0.0.1. Editing my hosts file couldn't stop me entirely from accessing the site, but it wasn't meant to - it was meant to make accessing Facebook sufficiently annoying that I wouldn't want to any more. When I wanted to, I could access the site, by just commenting out the lines in my hosts file, (which naturally I became fast at doing). Over time though, the impetus to do so kind of wanes - at the very least, you stop doing it out of boredom - the number of times where in my downtime my muscle memory would default to "F - tab autocomplete - enter" in my browser was quite shocking. But the longer I've been off it, the happier I've been not having frequent access to it.

Enjoying this feeling, I took it a step further, and begun methodically unfollowing every single person in my news feed, whenever I saw anyone post. I also uninstalled the Facebook app, only allowing myself access through their shitty mobile site - if I didn't have the willpower to stop myself using it, I could at least sabotage my own experience. Facebook doesn't make this easy, for obvious reasons, but after roughly 3 weeks I had nothing left in my news feed. My only route to access FB-proper now is through their shitty mobile website, and the user experience there is so poor that I don't want to. No news articles, no clickbait, no pictures of dogs or babies - it's been really refreshing, and you do feel a lot better for not comparing yourself to everyone all the time.

In the year I've been off, I've missed nothing life-changing, and have a lot more free time for it. Not to mention the privacy benefits - when you're not on Facebook any more and clear out your cookies, it's more difficult for them to track you across the rest of the web. I haven't gone cold-turkey on Facebook, like I had in the past - all I've had to do here is make the Facebook experience frustrating. As much as I'd like to leave their platform entirely, it's a problem of network effects - it's the only realistic method of communication I have with older foreign relatives, and its only way many event invites are sent out.

To compensate however, I've definitely upped my Twitter usage. That said, I'm even using Twitter differently these days. Your Twitter feed is as good as you choose to make it - as such I've been making a conscious effort to follow as many interesting neuroscience, machine learning, stats, data and infosec people as I possibly can, to the point where my Twitter feed is now 90% work-related content - it's more engaging and way less toxic. At some point in the past two months, Facebook decided that allowing a blank news feed was no longer acceptable, and started showing me my own most popular posts in this space, with no way to remove them except deleting the posts themselves, presumably to entice users back into browsing content again. If you're getting fed up with Facebook's shitty practices, it's maybe worth trying a similar approach - it's worked well for me in any case, and I have absolutely no intention of going back.