As the giant social network reels from a series of scandals, more Facebook users have begun to question what they are getting out of the relationship. The answer for some: Not enough.
Four in 10 Facebook users aged 18 and older say they’ve taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more, according to a Pew Research Centre survey conducted in May and June and released in September. About a quarter say they’ve deleted the Facebook app from their phone.
Though some people toy with a social media sabbatical or detox, using Facebook less frequently or deleting the app from their phone, most appear to have no intention of missing out on the lives of their online besties.
Facebook may not be growing the way it used to, but it isn’t shedding users in North America or Australia, either. The number of users who log into the service each day in the US and Canada – its most profitable market – was flat at 185 million for the third straight quarter, Facebook said in October. In Australia, it was a flat 15 million from 2017 to 2018. In Europe, Facebook lost 1 million daily active users, which it blamed on strict new privacy laws there.
Still, in recent months, a number of high-profile users have jettisoned Facebook, including veteran technology journalist Walt Mossberg. He announced this week that he would delete Facebook at the end of the year after nearly 12 years on the platform in light of the troubling revelations about how the company handles people’s personal data.
“My own values and the policies and actions of Facebook have diverged to the point where I’m no longer comfortable there,” he wrote on Twitter.
Four former Facebook users explained to USA TODAY why they, too, decided to delete or deactivate their accounts. They say they didn’t reach the decision lightly, especially with too few alternatives other than Twitter, which can be just as divisive, and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, but they are glad they did it.
For weeks after quitting Facebook, they suffered from phantom-limb syndrome, imagining their phone was pinging them with status updates. They punched in their user name and password on the Facebook login page only to realise they no longer had a profile. But soon they discovered that, without Facebook, they had more time for exercise, hobbies and, yes, real face time with their friends. Their message: There’s life after Facebook.
‘It’s a lot easier than you think’
Eric Tollevsen, a 46-year-old New Yorker, quit Facebook two years ago to escape the political bickering and cesspool of fake news during the 2016 presidential election.
“It was so demoralising to see. ‘The pope endorses Donald Trump’ or ‘Hillary Clinton is running a paedophile ring’. All this nonsense, but my acquaintances were treating it like it was real,” he says. “I realised for my own sanity, I had to get rid of it, recapture some time in my life and lessen my stress levels.”
The Facebook habit was tough to break at first. Tollevsen caught himself typing Facebook into his browser 20, 30, sometimes 40 times a day, and had to remind himself that he no longer had an account.
After the first month or so, he says he felt liberated, lighter and healthier.
“I am making healthier choices in my life and getting rid of Facebook was one of them,” says Tollevsen, who has gotten into meditation, yoga and running.
He’s not off social media entirely. He follows politics on Twitter and, as a visual merchandiser for a clothing chain, he keeps an eye on what celebrities are wearing on Instagram. To make himself feel better about using an app that’s owned by Facebook, he deletes Instagram from his phone each time he uses it.
After the recent news that Russians were targeting users on Instagram, not just Facebook, and that Facebook gave Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and other companies greater access to people’s personal information than previously disclosed, he’s reconsidering his use of Instagram, too.
“I wish I didn’t like it so much,” he says. “It’s my drug addiction.”
‘I just felt like: What am I getting out of this?’
Quitting Facebook was a more gradual process for Andre Viens, a 42-year-old software developer and father-of-two from the Boston area.
The bitter divisiveness during the presidential election soured him on the experience. Friends who were Trump supporters tagged him to pick political fights. An independent voter who supported Hillary Clinton, Viens says he was dismayed to see people he knew sharing fake news and living in their own partisan bubble, only consuming posts that reinforced their beliefs. He found himself spending less and less time on Facebook.
“It started making me question: why am I doing this?” he says. “That was the last time I was really involved in the platform a lot.”
About six months ago, Viens stopped signing into Facebook every day and deleted the app from his phone, relieved to be rid of the annoying pinging of notifications that interrupted his daily flow. He continued to check the mobile site every once in a while, but he didn’t see enough updates from close friends to make it worthwhile. So, after 10 years on Facebook, he deactivated his account.
“I think about how much time I was wasting on this product a day, just to get an endorphin kick. Now I don’t need to worry about that. I’m just not on it. It allows me to focus on the here and now,” he says.
“If I don’t miss it at all, and so far I haven’t, in the new year I am going to formally delete it so it’s gone, gone and I can never go back.”
‘I don’t miss it’
Since giving up Facebook, Sung Lee, 51, a photographer in Orange County, California, says he spends more time reading books. He’s also learning to play bass guitar. And he’s cooking more, rediscovering Korean specialties and attempting to make the perfect pizza.
“I’m just a more productive person,” he says.
Lee’s social life hasn’t missed a beat either, he says. Instead of updating his status on Facebook or scrolling through his feed, he calls friends on the phone or meets them for a cup of coffee. Sometimes he leaves his phone in the car so he can focus on his friends, even if they still pick up theirs to check social media. And now when he meets up with friends at parties, he doesn’t already know every single detail of their lives. From job changes to vacations, he feels like he’s truly connecting with friends in a way he has not since 2008 when he joined Facebook.
“Facebook was a big part of me having that death grip on my phone wherever I went. It’s like we always joke, the only time I didn’t have it was when I was taking a shower,” says Lee, who was dismayed when he switched to a Galaxy phone and the Facebook app was preloaded on it. “Now I try to be away from electronic devices as much as possible. I really enjoy interacting with the real world.”
Lee grew weary of Facebook and how political it became during the 2016 election, so he quit. Each new scandal, from Russian election interference to Cambridge Analytica, just reinforces that he made the right decision, he says.
He still uses Instagram to post photos and WhatsApp to message his wife, which makes him feel like a hypocrite since both are owned by Facebook. He’s looking for ways to cut ties with those services, too, and limits his time on Instagram to once a night for 15 minutes.
“The principle of not supporting Facebook is an important point for me,” he says.
‘I feel lighter almost’
After her month-long sabbatical from social media in February, Fatica says she still checked Facebook to get her kids’ sports and school updates, but felt herself drifting away from that, too.
She broke her Facebook habit in two steps. First, she mass deleted a bunch of friends. Then, she unfriended her entire family. “I think that was it,” she said to herself. “There’s nothing left for me.” The next day, she deleted her Facebook account.
Fatica says she doesn’t have any FOMO, or fear of missing out, and has found workarounds to get anything important she’s missing on Facebook. When her son’s all-star football photos were posted on a Facebook page, she got her sister to download them for her. Her book club now texts her with events and updates.
As she weaned herself off Facebook, she began to spend less time on Instagram, too. That has freed her up to write and to read. On her birthday in September, Fatica set a goal of reading 52 books in the coming year. She’s already whipped through 28.
New stricter limits on screen time for the whole family are far easier to enforce now that she’s not online as much. Her new mantra: Less time on screens, more face time with her kids. “I am present with my family,” she says.