Like, I Dunno, Maybe Facebook Is Toxic?

When the news broke about Cambridge Analytica obtaining personal information on Facebook for use in a presidential campaign, I shouldn’t have been surprised. And yet.

My first reaction was to nuke my posts from before some arbitrary date, in an attempt to deny Facebook that information. However, a friend pointed out that Facebook doesn’t actually scrub that data — it’s “tombstoned,” a programmer term for an object flagged as “deleted” but whose data is still available. While nuking old posts is a good idea for other reasons, it won’t prevent access to the company or third parties.

The ultimate solution may be to leave Facebook entirely, denying them further data and ad impressions. But what about your friends — that is, your real-life friends — who still use the service?

I had recently taken steps to distance myself from social media. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and other social media apps no longer reside on my phone. Messenger, the one FB feature I rely on for communication, had to go as well, so I ultimately told my friends to send me SMS messages rather than use Messenger if they needed to get to me immediately.

And yet.

Fear of missing out, or FOMO, is just the adult manifestation of the fear of social ostracization. If (like me) your self esteem is dampened due to mental illness, FOMO can be an intimidating bully. This, combined with the Skinner Box effect of the infinite scrolling timeline, is just enough of a carrot-and-stick to keep the user coming back. Dopamine hits when your selfie gets “love” reactions, and intense envy when your wealthy friend posts pictures from their trip to France.

And this doesn’t even touch the viral news stories that turn out to be false more often than not.

It’s time for a divorce from social media, but like any messy divorce, it’ll be a long and protracted separation. Don’t let them onto your smartphone, or whatever devices you need with you at all times. Don’t give them more information than is absolutely necessary — no more check-ins or location data, no more text posts, no more re-shares. Deny them ad revenue by installing ad blockers. Close that tab if you’re not using it.

Oh, who am I kidding. I crave those selfie likes, too.