It hasn’t been a good year for Facebook. In March we discovered that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was exposed to Cambridge Analytica, a company which helped Donald Trump to become President of the United States through targeting of potential voters with bespoke messages. Elon Musk announced he was quitting Facebook, taking his companies Tesla and SpaceX off the platform too. Facebook launched an advertising campaign to persuade us that they now suddenly care about privacy, but does anyone really believe that? This tweet puts it perfectly:
I have been watching Facebook adverts everywhere (subway, billboards, YouTube ads,etc) about how they are changing what you see on Facebook, how they are going to do better. And it makes me distrust them even more.
Last Thursday Facebook’s stock value plunged by $120 billion in a single day, the largest single day loss in the history of the US stock market.
Quitting Facebook may feel like an option for some, but for many of us it now plays too important a role in connecting us to our family and friends. (As it turns out it wasn’t even an option for Elon Musk but appears to have been a promotional gimmick – Tesla’s Facebook page is back online now.)
So what about those of us who are not ready to quit Facebook? Can we at least limit the attention it demands of us and the time we spend on it?
I have to use Facebook for my work as a software developer, therefore quitting is not an option. It’s also the only platform that most of my friends and family are on, and used by some groups I’m in. Although I often find myself spending too long on the web, Facebook is one site I no longer have a problem with, because I am well aware how addictive it can be, and I follow a few simple rules. Here’s what works for me…
1. Don’t install the Facebook app on your phone.
This is one of the most sensible and easiest steps to take to keep your Facebook usage under control. It’s just too tempting to use it fill those moments when you are bored on the train, or find yourself awkwardly without company at a party. You become more and more hooked, and checking Facebook quickly becomes habitual.
When I bought a new phone two years ago, I didn’t install the Facebook app. One reason for this was that I was concerned about privacy and the number of permissions it was requesting – I didn’t want Facebook to have all my data. But in hindsight a more immediate benefit has been helping to keep my Facebook usage under control.
I still use Facebook on my laptop, but that means the action of checking Facebook has to be more deliberate. I also have the Messenger app (by Facebook) on my phone so I can message people with whom I am connected on Facebook.
Do you have the Facebook app installed? Try uninstalling now and see how you get on!
2. Always log out after checking Facebook.
By always logging out after using Facebook, I know that I will have to log in next time. This small barrier makes me think twice if I find myself mindlessly visiting Facebook out of habit. As a side benefit, it means Facebook won’t be tracking me around the web.
3. Unsubscribe from email notifications.
By default, Facebook will send you all kinds of email to keep you engaged with the site. Whenever I receive one, you can unsubscribe at the bottom of the email. But that only unsubscribes you from one “type” of email so you may have to do this about 15 times. Facebook have clearly designed unsubscribing from all emails to be as difficult as they could get away with. Unfortunately, this is a common technique that many companies use.
To save going through this extended process of unsubscribing, which may take a number of months as Facebook cycle through sending the various different types of email notification, I recommend explicitly turning off all email notifications. Log into Facebook and visit Settings -> Notifications and then under email, select “Only notifications about your account, security and privacy”. This will mean you only receive the most essential email notifications. It’s worth taking a couple of minutes up front to do this to save distractions later. Do it now!
Finally, when you do check Facebook, try to be aware of the effect on your mood. People are often only comfortable sharing their best self: perfect photos, amazing holiday experiences, and big life achievements. Comparing your daily life to all these highlights of other people’s lives there is a tendency to feel your life is pretty dull. Try to remember that all these amazing people probably experience the same feeling looking over your profile!
Do you have any tips for limiting Facebook usage? Share what works for you in the comments below.