It is now 10 years since I first signed up to Facebook and over that time it has turned from being a fun way to interact with friends and family into what has at times seemed a necessary window on the world. As with hundreds of millions of other Facebook users, my involvement with Facebook grew until my family, extended family, my friends and even some business contacts were on my friends list. I was now in touch with relatives and friends I had not seen or spoken to in 30 years. I had joined myriad groups and added likes and follows to all sorts of special interest topics. Clubs I had joined outside of Facebook used it to communicate about events and news. The Facebook NewsFeed was my first port of call for daily news and events. More lately, my wife and I started a business, and Facebook became a key element in our marketing plan to attract and communicate with customers. Growing discomfort with the privacy aspects of Facebook has been added to in recent times by the way various governments and special interest groups have managed to string arm Facebook into censoring content they deem offensive or politically unacceptable. This governmental reach has taken on sinister dimensions since the advent of so-called “war on terror”, where ever more draconian laws have been passed giving the security services reach into the data transmitted over the Internet and, especially data stored on computers hosted in the USA.
Not since the East German Stasi secret police, with their dossiers on all citizens, has so much personal information been accumulated that is technically accessible by a myriad national and foreign governmental agencies. But, where the Stasi blackmailed and paid citizens to spy on their neighbours and provide the information they collected, we have been perfectly willing to feed every aspect of our lives into Facebook’s databases—lists of our relatives, friends and business associates; what we like to eat, see, drink, read, listen to or watch; what political party we support; where we live and work and with whom; what places we go on holiday and what we do there; what we share with our friends in chats; and what we think and say about events, politicians and other public figures. What is more, we have no idea who has access to this information, where it might be copied to or how long it will persist—even after eventually we delete our Facebook account.
It is now clear that Facebook has been designed to target human psychological needs in much the same way as poker machines get people hooked and keep them coming back. While I’m no great fan of Alex Jones of InfoWars.com, his YouTube video makes it quite clear that the Facebook was made to be addictive right from the start. However, it seems to me that the “left” is not alone in being beguiled by Facebook—an obvious slur from Alex that reveals his own right-wing prejudices—and that people from all side of the political spectrum have quite willingly embraced Facebook since its inception.
Going cold turkey
The insidious nature of Facebook only becomes apparent when you consider what life would be without it. It was a complete failure when I tried to go cold turkey about a year ago and one day suddenly decided to delete my account. The first thing was my wife was worried that this virtual-world suicide might be misinterpreted and that I may have deeply wounded or insulted our family and friends. Then every single document, photo and post that I had added to a club Facebook page disappeared, and the club president called me to find out why and how we could get them back. I had not realised that when you delete your account, everything you have done disappears from public view. In some ways, this is a good thing, but it has unforeseen implications for others who might be relying on some of that stuff.
As it happens, my daughter had been considering deleting her account around then as well and, taking my example as a “go ahead”, she decided to take the plunge as well. When she found out, my wife was upset because our daughter lives in another city and we had been using Facebook to chat and share stuff happening in our lives. After some discussion we solved that problem using the Telegram chat app where, as well as the usual one-to-one chats, we have set up our own private family channel to share news, post web articles, exchange documents and share photos.
After a few days and after some consideration of the impacts on the club, I canceled my Facebook deletion notice and progressively got back to it being a centre of much of my online life. But the family kept the Telegram channel going, which we all seem to like, and my daughter is still a non-Facebook person.
Eight easy steps for your Facebook break out...
1. Stop using Messenger and the Facebook phone app immediately
The push notifications and access to photos, documents and your location that these apps reinforce the psychological dependence you have on Facebook. Replace messenger by going back to SMS or use another chat app such as Telegram, Signal or WhatsApp.
If you still want to occasionally access Facebook while on the move, then sign on using a phone based web browser. To make this a little easier, most of the newer Android web browsers allow you to create a desktop shortcut for sites—set one up for Facebook and use that.
2. Stop using Facebook (and Google for that matter) to sign on to other web services.
Track down any you have done that with and set up a separate secure password for each. Password management apps like Dashlane make it easy to have a different password for each web service and also have great random password generators for creating really secure passwords. Before doing this, consider setting up a new email account with a secure online service such as Tutanota or ProtonMail (not based in the US, or with your ISP and moving away from the likes of Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook.com and Yahoo wherever possible).
3. Stop posting statuses on your own and your friends Facebook walls
Just don’t do it. If you have something to share with particular people, use a chat app or SMS. If you want to share with the world, set up a weblog or consider less predatory alternatives (see item 6 below).
4. Strip back friends, groups, likes and follows
As a first step allocate all but your partner and kids to the Restricted group so that most of your “friends” will still be on your friend list but none of them will see whatever you do post. Cut the traffic through your News Feed by removing yourself from the myriad groups you have probably joined over the years and then track down and remove all of the likes and follows you have set up. Then once they have got used to you going silent, ruthlessly cull your friend list to just immediate family and a few close contacts (I aimed for five max).
5. Set up one or more alternative news feeds
For your daily news hit, you could subscribe to daily or weekly email bulletins. But, if you are a news junkie like me, this can quickly clog your email box. Consider using a feed app like Flipboard or Feedly, both of which have phone apps and web browser capabilities for PC access. They allow you to add feeds from most news and magazine sites and categorise these as you like. A quick flick through and you are up to date with what is happening. If something strikes your interest, you can click through to the online web article.
6. Find alternative online discussion forums
If you really want to engage with strangers on topics of discussion, then seek out specialist sites for your interests with like-minded people. For instance, if like me, you love Jeeps and four-wheel driving then try out a site like Jeepforum.com. Alternatively set up an account on an alternative site such as Minds, Instagram, Tumblr, Tagged, Diaspora, Ello, Reddit, Quora, Wordpress or Steemit.
7. Find other ways to interact with social groups and clients
In my experience, this is the hardest thing to crack in finally ditching Facebook. You probably belong to groups and clubs, as I do, that have set up Facebook groups and pages for sharing stuff, setting up events and broadcasting news across the members.
For clubs and social groups, you either have to encourage them to shift to an alternative site (perhaps better utilising the club’s website by adding a newsfeed and weblog), get them to keep emailing you with the important stuff, or accept it and keep logging into Facebook occasionally to check what is new.
8. Delete your Facebook account
If you are successful, you should by now have removed all of the things that kept bringing you back to Facebook and you will be wondering what made it the centre of your life for so long. Congratulations—log on one last time to download anything you want to save and then delete the account. Instructions to do this are here.
Now, what about LinkedIn?