If you aren’t feeling squeamish about using Facebook these days, you aren’t paying attention.
The social network, with its 2 billion users, was the primary vehicle for Russia’s covert campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and destabilize American society. It helped an anti-immigrant group learn the best way to target its fearmongering ads and then used those ads as a case study to test the effectiveness of a new ad format. Its ad-targeting algorithms automatically created categories for people interested in anti-Semitic topics.
Rigorous research confirms using Facebook is detrimental to physical and mental health. Even Sean Parker, a Facebook billionaire and the company’s first president, says he has become a “conscientious objector” partly out of concern for “what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
The problem is, however squeamish you are, it’s still really hard to cut Facebook out of your life. Sophisticated behavioral design makes it and other social media apps more addictive than any slot machine. And powerful network effects make it an ever more important venue for everything from party invitations to finding an apartment. Quitting means missing out.
A year ago, I suggested convincing a bunch of your friends and family to quit at the same time would make it easier for everyone to stay away. No one took me up on that, and I don’t blame them.
I don’t even want to quit Facebook, really, I realized. I have a lot of photos stored there that I’m too lazy to move, and I want people looking for me to be able to find me easily, and every now and then I have something to share with a lot of people, whether it’s a magazine article or a baby photo (although the decline of organic reach has made that kind of sharing less rewarding.) Deleting my account altogether would be a symbolic gesture, one I’m not sure is worth the tradeoffs.
What I really want is to use Facebook dramatically less — almost never, if possible. Doing that means I’d…