One Man's Mission To Mess With Facebook
I used to love Facebook. I really did. And, for a while, I knew how to do it right. At least I thought I did.
It was like hanging out with friends at your favourite bar: Songs were exchanged, football matches were discussed, and, of course, photos were shared. I’d post some of my work for the admittedly small group who bothered reading it, and get the occasional “nice one mate”. It felt good.
Most of all, it was a place to show-off. I’d think of a funny line and would wait – sometimes weeks – for the appropriate moment to post. Click, sit back and wait for the acclaim for my Wildean wit to pour in. (Or at least for the Australian girl I had a crush on to like my post.)
For a while Facebook, having swallowed the internet whole, was home. It was like being in the Matrix, except by choice.
Things started to change around 2014, though it could have been even earlier. Since then Facebook, the company, has had to deal with one scandal after another. Selling of personal data, fake news, Cambridge Analytica.
At first, if I’m honest, I cared little for that; I had made peace with the privacy issues long before. No, what eventually turned me off was the radicalisation of Facebook as a social platform.Out went brunch photos and cat GIFs, and in came fake stories about immigrants, racist videos and deluded political opinions. And few things are as soul-crushing as discovering you have racist friends.
I started to wonder if the world’s ills, like migrant issues, terrorism and climate change, wouldn’t be cured if only world leaders checked out my timeline. After all, that’s where all the experts seemed to be residing. How could something that started off so cool and fun turn so toxic? That local bar had slowly been taken over by a loud obnoxious crowd.
Like most love affairs, my relationship with Facebook didn’t end overnight. There were no tantrums, no big pronouncements of storming out and slamming the door that would more than likely result in a tail-between-legs u-turn a few days later. The withdrawal was discrete.
First, I removed the Facebook app from my phone, a step I would recommend whether you plan on escaping Mark Zuckerberg’s clutches for good or not. My usage plummeted, and the time saved better used doing literally anything else. I also avoided checking it at work. Only certain job requirements stopped me from abandoning it altogether. But the end was nigh.
By that point, I’d hit 1001 friends. Fact: nobody has 1001 actual friends. I had – at a push – 30 friends, 20 that, I hope, like me, and maybe eight or nine that I see or speak to regularly. The majority, lovely people that they are, I had only the most tenuous of links to. If I needed to look at faces of people I barely recognise, I could just head over to LinkedIn. We were Friends only according to Facebook’s definition.
Something just didn’t add up.
I decided to delete my friends list. From 1001, I went down to one. I no longer had a friends list; I had a friend list (though I doubt the chosen one was thrilled by magnanimity).
I hadn’t posted or engaged more than a year so it was hardly surprising that barely anybody noticed my purge. Vindication. And the biggest gauge of how little people cared? Birthdays.
I used to own September 23. Ryan Gosling would have struggled to match my popularity on my birthday. The next morning, like a ritual, I’d sheepishly compose the humble thank you note that has become the birthday equivalent of Boxing Day on Facebook. Without a reminder last year, I received a handful of text messages and phone calls from my family and close friends – and absolutely nothing from my former army of adoring friends. Ryan could breathe easy again.
Just how did we remember birthdays before Facebook? I suppose the obvious answer is, the same way we remembered phone numbers and how to stick to plans without hundreds of back and forth WhatsApp messages.
By the time my purge was complete, something odd started happening. Without a friends list or any sort of engagement, Facebook just didn’t know what to do with my account. It was, and remains, rattled. One friend? One? Zuckerberg’s gang has overlooked having an algorithm for the sad – or liberated – person with a lone Facebook pal but, to be honest, the hilarious friend suggestions I receive is the only thing stopping me from the inevitable final step of deleting my account altogether.
We cling on to Facebook because we convince ourselves that “it’s a good way to keep in touch”. Just like hanging on to clothes you haven’t worn in years in the hope that one day you wake up miraculously 10 or 15 kg lighter. Or clutter that you carry around with you for the rest of your life because “you never know when you’ll need it”. Here’s a tip: you won’t. Marie Kondo can vouch for that much.
So, sorry Facebook, it’s not me, it’s you. We just can’t be friends any more. I’ve got all the friend that I need.