Long before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, I started drifting away from Facebook. Or rather, Facebook started drifting away from me. The old platform where I’d check in to hang out with friends all but disappeared. My newsfeed morphed into an endless stream of advertisements, angry memes, and links to news articles I wasn’t interested in reading. I’m not alone in this experience. I believe it’s direct consequence of the commercial model Facebook has adopted.
Ten years ago, I joined Facebook to stay in touch with friends scattered across the globe. Even now – despite disappointing changes to the platform – this remains an important function of the network. As much as I’m occasionally tempted to #DeleteFacebook, I really don’t want to until I can arrange something else to maintain those contacts.
So rather than quitting Facebook altogether, I’ve tried to be more conscientious about how I interact with the platform. Here are some of the steps I’ve taken in recent weeks in hopes of making my Facebook experience more pleasant:
Remove the Facebook App from Your Phone
One of the most effective decisions I’ve made is to access Facebook only from my computer. This not only limits the time I spend on Facebook, it makes the newsfeed more tolerable (see below). On the smart phone screen, you’re forced to scroll through endless ads, but with a wider computer screen, at least some of the ads are relegated to the side bar. This allows you to better maintain the happy delusion that your Facebook experience has not been entirely co-opted by commercial interests.
Avoid the News Feed
If there were such a thing as a happiness index, I’d say mine goes up by about 20 points on days I avoid the Facebook newsfeed. Seriously. The only purpose the Facebook newsfeed seems to serve any more is to annoy the user. Who needs that?
Avoiding the news feed does not mean avoiding the news. After all, there are other more reliable news sources like…Well, journalists. Nor does it mean avoiding contact with friends. In fact, by avoiding the newsfeed, I’ve been able to spend more time with friends, as I rarely see updates from friends on my newsfeed anymore. I interact with friends in groups or by visiting their pages. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I even text, call, and in the case of friends in Kansas City, get together with in person. Yes, that can still be done, and it is much more fun than scrolling through the newsfeed.
If You Must Look at the News Feed, Time Yourself
Now, if the newsfeed is something you can’t live without, or if – like me – you’re tempted to dive in every so often no matter how painful it is, try this: Every time you start scrolling, set the timer on your phone. You decide how long: 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes…But when the timer goes off, STOP. Set the phone aside and actively choose something else to do. Trust me. You’ll be happier for it, and don’t worry: you won’t miss a thing.
Create Small Groups for More Meaningful Engagement
I now interact with many of my friends primarily through Facebook groups. Groups are great because you can adjust privacy settings so that they are closed or even secret. You can also designated whether members are only added by invitation.
Keep an Eye on Those Privacy Settings – But Assume Everything is Public
If you were hoping all of this would lead to advice on how to keep your data private, I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. I wish I could. From the first rumblings of privacy concerns some 7 or 8 years ago, I think the writing was on the wall. Privacy settings have become so convoluted, it’s almost impossible to track them perfectly. Over the years, I’ve tried to set boundaries, but I’ve always assumed everything that goes into the platform is fair game for data miners. Whenever we interact with Facebook, we leave something they can sell to their clients. Until someone establishes an alternative platform that guarantees our privacy (one can dream, can’t one?), this is the devil’s bargain we’re forced to live with.