When I’m starting this piece, news of the day is that Facebook’s userbase declined for the first time in history. The side effect, apart from crashing stock prices, is that it became fashionable to brag about having quit Facebook a while ago and calling others to do that. I’ve been living ‘Facebook-free’ since mid-2010s and I want to say: sure, if you feel like it, go ahead. But first, let me tell you what is gonna change if you decide to quit Facebook cold turkey. Because, you know, maybe you shouldn’t.
But first, let me take a selfie
I mean, my personal story first.
I’ve been on Facebook since late 2000s up to 2016 or so. It was long before my parents or anyone from my family picked it up. It was long before the COVID pandemic, anti-vaxxers and various political tensions that would render people angry while scrolling their news feeds. Just a few years before the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook and Messenger, as I remember them, regularly placed on top of most battery-draining and productivity-disrupting apps on every single device I’ve owned. I took steps to make them work a little better by curating my friend list, using custom lists and focusing my attention on a small selection of groups. I would try using each and every feature that would enable me to customize my experience even a tiny bit. But I still couldn’t help the feeling I was wasting too much time on this damn site.
So uhm, one day I quit
Just like that. Not much else to say.
Even though I have strong (mostly negative) opinions on Facebook’s contributions to humanity, I didn’t quit for ideological reasons. I never stopped using WhatsApp and lots of people in my circle still use it. I can be reached on Signal and Telegram, but very few people do that.
Years passed. My profile URL on Facebook was taken over by someone else. I no longer had to worry about my phone dying before the end of the day. I reclaimed a lot of free time I could use in productive ways. I’ve been happy.
But that kind of happiness came at a cost. I needed quite a few years to get a grasp on how much I was giving up back then. I’m in a fortunate position where none of my critical life needs depend on having a Facebook account, so I label that cost as acceptable collateral damage.
My life is not your life. I’m not gonna say you should blindly follow my path. If you feel Facebook is making you unhappy, quitting it might be the option.
But first, I’d like to tell you about the hidden cost of quitting so that you make an informed decision. Some of those factors may apply to you, others may be completely irrelevant.
So, what exactly changed since I quit Facebook?
Contacting my family got harder
In mid 2010s only a few members of my extended family could be reached online. If so, they would use Skype on their laptops.
Fast forward to 2022 and everyone, including my mum, can be reached any time on Messenger. Meanwhile, some of my most tech-savvy relatives never heard of WhatsApp. And it’s them who look weirdly at me when they can’t find me on Facebook, even though they perceive me as the most computer-literate in our family tree.
Obviously, plain ol’ voice calls and text messages never went anywhere. Alternative instant messengers entered the scene. Reaching me is as easy as always. I can still contact my closest family any time.
My problem is different. As long as Facebook Messenger remains the dominant messaging tool I’ll always have to keep a few messaging apps because none of popular alternatives to Messenger gained enough traction among my whole family. I contacted some of my family via WhatsApp video calls. With others I chatted on Telegram. And I’m totally not ready to explain why Signal is better than all of them.
If you live in a country where WhatsApp is more popular than Messenger, I envy you a tiny bit.
Getting hyperlocal news got almost impossible
There’s a layer of reality that doesn’t get covered by news sources. Highly local news that affect small communities and never make it to mainstream outlets. Gossips, discussions and interesting insider tidbits. Unfortunately, most of this stuff is hidden inside numerous Facebook groups.
Honestly, I am not sure if I really need to know all of that. I personally believe in ‘the less you know, the better you sleep’ mantra. I also believe I’m much healthier by not knowing how idiotic my neighbors are based on what they post on our neighborhood’s group.
But I have no doubts I missed a lot of interesting opportunities by not being at the right time at the right place solely because I had missed some announcement on Facebook.
There’s no clear solution to that problem. Nor am I looking for any, to be honest. But if you need your dose of gossip like I need caffeine, well, good luck.
Finding interesting events got trickier
I must give it to Facebook: it worked quite well as a tool for organizing, managing and discovering interesting events, whether it was your friend’s birthday or a marketing conference you always wanted to attend.
For events available to the general public, like concerts or conferences, you should be fine without Facebook. Meetup, LinkedIn, Eventim and a few others fill that niche fairly well. But without Facebook, anything smaller in scale became hard to come by on my radar. And that’s one of few things about Facebook that I genuinely miss.
I’m cut off from knowledge from specialized groups
A decade earlier certain Facebook groups would have been online forums. Easily discoverable and searchable, full of intimate knowledge on a vast range of topics, maintained over the years by tightly-knit communities. Facebook groups irreversibly ruined that. Other closed platforms, like Discord, are ruining that even further.
Want to know what it feels like to be a migrant to a specific country? Looking for other enthusiasts of your niche hobby? Asking for honest non-sponsored buying advice from people who faced your dilemma earlier? For these and many other topics, the valid answer is still, unfortunately, ‘go ask on Facebook groups’.
In my country, local Reddit-like sites do exist. Reddit itself is slowly getting traction as well. For everything else not covered by Reddit and alikes, I have to ask people from my circles or use creative ways to find answers. That takes time and doesn’t guarantee satisfying results.
If I ever signed up anywhere with Facebook, I can no longer access it
Many websites offer ‘Sign up with Facebook’ option and that is fine. However, not all of them made it possible to set up alternate login methods alongside Facebook login.
In 2010s I wouldn’t have thought of quitting Facebook. But I definitely forgot I had accounts elsewhere for which Facebook would be the only method of access. Those accounts are left there hanging until another data leak.
If you used Facebook login on any non-Facebook site, don’t delete your Facebook account before you set up an alternate login method for it. Or delete that other account as well.
I’m cut off from interesting connections outside of my bubble
There’s a wide group of people that will never make it to other social platforms for this or that reason. They won’t understand Reddit, Twitter or Discord. They’ll never have a need to be on LinkedIn. They won’t check their email. They won’t have time or will to maintain their social presence at all. Facebook might be the only way to ever reach them online, ever.
By quitting Facebook I irreversibly lost touch with sizable group of people from past chapters of my life. Obviously, there’s still a burning question whether keeping my Facebook account would have changed that, but burning that specific one bridge certainly didn’t help.
If you’re worried about same thing happening to you, reach out to people you want to stay in touch with and make sure you can connect with them outside of Facebook. There’s always some alternative way. Alternatively, ask yourself if losing those people would really harm you long term. Maybe there’s no point dragging dead weight along.
I have no access to the most frictionless board for classifieds
This is another rant at Facebook groups, just worded differently.
Facebook is fast and easy to use and that makes it a fairly efficient platform for buying or selling stuff with minimum friction. Which means I’m missing on many interesting deals that would disappear within minutes after.
From the seller’s point of view, it’s not that big of a deal. There’s commerce outside of Facebook. Ebay, Amazon and their local equivalents in my area do exist and they serve their purpose very well. If I want, I will manage to sell all of the stuff I don’t need. But it will still take more of my time to post an offer on eBay, OLX or anywhere else than dropping a quick message on a Facebook group.
I’m cut off from information if businesses rely on Facebook as their only channel
I am not necessarily blaming Facebook for that. Business owners who gave up on the idea of having their own up-to-date website are to blame here. Putting all eggs in such a volatile basket is incredibly reckless.
It gets even worse when Facebook is the only reliable channel to get customer support. I still remember that one awful time when I couldn’t force my bank to resolve a certain problem about my mortgage credit. I managed to successfully escalate the issue by posting a complaint on my bank’s Facebook page and humbly asking my friends to drop hundreds of likes on that post. I hated that moment of boring dystopia with passion. Never again.
If you live in a country where Facebook is a building block for majority of your local commerce, well, I’m afraid I might have bad news for you. Maybe you shouldn’t do it.
Other platforms filled my need for dopamine hits
Quitting Facebook left me with plenty of time and I had to find new ways of spending it. I started reading more books. I found new ways for discovering interesting content. I started coding after hours. I build side projects.
But I’m still a simple human being with 1.5 kilograms of walnut-shaped matter inside my skull. I can’t be productive all the time. I’m a slave to my passions. I sometimes need easy dopamine hits. Quitting Facebook did nothing to solve that problem.
Rather than scrolling my Facebook feed, I switched to Reddit, Twitter and LinkedIn. All of these platforms have their own share of problems. Any other platform with unredacted human-generated content would have filled that void in my life anyway.
I’m still researching ways to cure my dopamine addiction but I have nothing interesting to say about it yet.
So yeah, quitting Facebook is going to leave a void in your life. Free time is a valuable asset and you can either make it work to your benefit or find new ways to waste it. Nothing’s wrong about having fun in your life but that fun shouldn’t mess with your brain chemistry.
None of my privacy or security concerns ever disappeared
Both privacy and security are broad categories and there are no easy solutions here. Putting them together with Facebook in a single sentence is like opening a can of worms.
The ultimate privacy problem I have with Facebook these days is ‘shadow profiling’, but I do not see any ultimate solution for that. Besides, I still use WhatsApp and that alone nullifies any of my potential effort in this department.
Security-wise, I am privileged to admit Facebook never rose into relevance in my personal threat model. And I was using it just like everybody else, sometimes oversharing stuff with little regard to privacy settings and keeping way too many secrets in my Messenger threads.
If privacy and security are your concerns, you probably know your threat model already. And you totally know better than me whether staying on Facebook is a right choice for you. But thanks for reading this. :)
There’s probably more…
…but fortunately none of that stuff was of enough relevance for me to remember.
It was a good decision after all. A lot of stuff that happened in my life wouldn’t have happened if I kept wasting time on Facebook. Inconveniences of being absent from popular social platform at the time eventually faded away.
Should YOU quit Facebook as well? Probably. I’m all for depowering that platform as much as possible and giving better options a chance. But it has to be your own choice, with all pros and cons carefully weighed up. Don’t blindly follow random people on the internet.