Solving Facebook

I recently found a way to eliminate Facebook's feed across all devices and apps while keeping my account otherwise fully functional.

Like many people, I find myself in a bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook. On the one hand, it's an invaluable tool that facilitates many social interactions, most notably messaging these days, with a large portion of my friends using it as their primary platform. The other main draw is events: Facebook is still the defacto way to organise an event for almost everyone I know. Not being on Facebook entails extra bother when invited to, or planning an event.

On the other hand, Facebook 'knows' a scary amount about me, and harvests my data in myriad ways, effectively selling that data on to any 3rd parties so that they can advertise to me. Also, the facebook feed is an algorithmic echo-chamber, populated by algorithms designed with the explicit purpose of making me keep scrolling, liking, and clicking ads. It works, and I've wasted many hours scrolling the facebook feed.

I've been sorely tempted to delete my account many times, but I've never actually been able to pull the trigger, and it's questionable if doing so would limit what Facebook knows about me anyway - it's known that shadow profiles are maintained for people who they know exist, but aren't on the network. Also Facebook owns other things which I use regularly, most notably WhatsApp - which is simply unavoidable - so I'm not sure if deleting my profile would actually meant I'd 'left Facebook'.

The issues around privacy can be somewhat mitigated. I am extremely conservative with the information I share with Facebook, and have my privacy settings on the highest possible setting. I use a different spelling of my name, and have privacy tools enabled on all browsers I use to access Facebook - limiting the extent to which they can follow me around other sites. The latter issue, of the feed algorithm, is a tougher problem to solve. The feed is a page that's designed to be addictive, on which you are an experimental guinea pig, in studies which in the past at least have had no ethical oversight.

You may have tried browser extensions such as StayFocusd that you can set up to limit access time to certain pages, but personally I didn't find these effective. They're too easy to disable, and don't work on other devices - so you still end up on the feed, so you don't end up breaking the habit.

My solution is this: Facebook offers an option to 'unfollow' anyone from your main feed. One day, I decided the only way to kick the habit was to unfollow everyone. This is what my entire feed looks like now:

It only took about ten minutes of clicking the first time through (I regularly prune my friend list anyway), and a few follow-ups (for some reason, Facebook's algorithm will sometimes show you nothing, even if there are posts from friends you could see, so some new posts from friends you haven't unfollowed yet show up later).

I can still use Facebook, but it operates essentially much as it did in 2010 (before the 'wall') - I can go to other friend's profiles and see what they're up to, I can still communicate with everyone, I still receive event notifications, but it's now up to me what I want to see - not Facebook. I also don't see ads - Facebook does have the grace not to show you ads when your feed is empty (I hide the sidebar ads, tickers etc. with uBlock Origin). If I do decide that this was a bad idea, it's easily reversible.

I still find myself going to Facebook on impulse occasionally, seeing the empty page and remembering what I did, but without the dopamine hit the impulse to check is lessening.