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A Social Life from outside of Facebook’s Walls

About 8 months ago, I cold-turkey quit Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Admittedly I didn’t have a lot going for me on Twitter – but leaving Instagram was a big-ish thing, and Facebook a huge one; I’d been active (and advocating for) the platform since about 2004.

The decision to leave was the culmination of several years of feeling uneasy (in part because of the pandemic), but the catalyst was my partner being randomly banned – we assume his account was hacked – and despite the 72hr probationary period, and providing all sorts of personally identifiable information as Facebook requested – his account to this day is still not reactivated, and he still has no alternative course of action to get it reactivated. He lost a lot of connections that he hadn’t thought to collect alternative details for – because you never think it’s going to happen to you.

Until it does happen to you. It did happen to us.

Ultimately, I didn’t like anyone having that much control over my connections, and in a partial-solidarity move, downloaded all my data and deactivated. My partner told me to not delete, outright, just in case I wanted to come back some day.

But I won’t.

Let me share a weird experience that solidified my stance of not socialising on Facebook any longer.

Fast forward to the Brisbane floods this year (2022)

The floods effected everyone in Brisbane, because of the sheer amount of water that was dumped on us. In our suburb we recorded 737mm of rain in 4 days. We were fine – but we were cut off from all other suburbs, and the panic buyers in our area cleaned out the supermarkets in a day.

At this point, I was seeing updates about Brisbane in general on reddit, which is okay, but I thought, what would be really useful is the local community group, to see what’s going on, on our new island.

So I started a new facebook account, using a new email address, using my name (though alternate surname – a surname I identify with more than my real one if I’m honest), and set all my privacy settings to ‘only me’. I had no intention of friending anyone – all I wanted to do was look in on the local facebook groups and see what the latest is with the floods, who needs help, who has stock, and which roads, if any, are open yet. I’m approved for the groups within minutes and spend a few days keeping up to date locally via there.

At this point I’m thinking, “hey. Perhaps I can use Facebook in a way that works for me. Maybe I’ll-”

Oddly, almost the moment of that thought – I was banned on Facebook.

I was hella confused. I hadn’t done anything, liked anything, interacted with anyone. I was a member of two community groups. But Facebook banned me.

I clicked through some prompts to reactivate my account – and was faced with a series of questions – requests for more personal information, including a photograph of my license to prove I was who I said I was.
All I can assume in this scenario is that, because I’d locked my privacy down (something they are obliged to offer after all the privacy violations they’ve committed), and liked nothing, Facebook had no idea how to advertise to me. So they needed a way to gather details to start building a picture of who this new person is.

Or maybe that’s my inner-cynicism talking. Whatever the real reason, it seemed fishy, particularly during a state emergency when the sharing of local data is kinda important to people’s lives. I was attempting to use the platform in a way that suited me, and it wasn’t the ‘right’ way, so I got booted.

I will never go back to Facebook.

There are some interesting observations you make once you start living your social life outside of Facebook’s walls.

One is, I can’t think of many people under the age of 30 who are on it. It’s a dying platform for an entrenched, overworked, exhausted population who can’t bear the thought of ‘starting over’, because social media is no longer fun to them. It’s a chore. Why would anyone choose to leave one chore they’re familiar with, to start another chore that’s going to feel alien for a while?
It’s increasingly only reaching and speaking to a generation of 40-70 year olds. So if you don’t like Facebook – don’t worry. It’s in its death throes.

Second is how a proportion of that generation (my generation, to be fair), feel that they have to be on Facebook, because everyone else is. They feel if they leave, they will have no social life, connections, and be out of the loop, have no way of keeping in contact with family and friends overseas. This is a self-perpetuating cycle; those that feel they must be there keep sharing information only there. The overwhelmed words I keep hearing, however, is that people wish they didn’t have to be on Facebook.

Third is that some of my generation will rigidly justify their being on this platform over any other in an incredibly hypocritical way. For example; in a recent in-person social gathering, I suggested the formation of a Discord group. It’s private/invite only, it mimics a more forum-style of communication, it’s much more directed, it’s free, no advertising etc. We could make it work for us-

One person went out of their way to shoot it down, after some ‘research’, because people have used Discord to organise violence in America. They didn’t understand the whole private server aspect. But they expressed, clearly, I will not be part of anything on Discord because it can be used in this bad way.

But. What do you think happens on Facebook every – single – day?

Here’s a sample: THE TRAUMA FLOOR: The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America – via the Verge.

That bad stuff still happens, on Facebook, on Discord, on any platform that enables people to talk to other people. There are armies of severely-underpaid moderators on Facebook, who have to face down the most offensive content on the internet. Not just violence but horrible acts and rights violations that I won’t even go into. These people have to watch the content, and get rid of it, AFTER someone has seen it, deemed it inappropriate and sent in a report.

So sure, go right ahead and not join a service based on whether said service has been used to do something bad. But be consistent. Facebook’s guilty of the same. It’s guilty of worse. So don’t make excuses, just say what you mean: you don’t want to leave Facebook, because it suits you to be there.

I’ll say it again. People continue to use Facebook, deep down, for one reason: because it suits them to stay right where they are.

And I think this is one of the surprising things I’m starting to learn after leaving:

You don’t have to be friends with everyone. You can observe someone’s behaviour, hear someone’s words, choose to not associate with them, and still ‘see’ them around. You don’t have to live in this perfectly cultivated to your opinions bubble. You don’t have to troll people you disagree with, ridicule them to your social circle to have a chorus of people agree with you to make you feel better or right. What I outlined above didn’t sit right with me. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to agree with me! Because – what I proposed didn’t sit right with them. That’s okay!

But it’s something I had to re-learn, because Facebook perpetuates a mindset of:

  • you must have as many friends as you can.
  • but remember, you can hide anyone you don’t agree with.

It’s…kind of damaging.

We are allowed to disagree with people. It doesn’t mean either of us are bad (unless your actions and opinions are hurting someone, and then, yeah, you’re a dick, come at me). It doesn’t mean I’ll want to spend time with you, but in the long run it doesn’t matter, it’s just part of what makes us different, and we don’t have to be, aren’t meant to be, friends with everyone.

Moving on, because this is rant-y enough and I’m sure you get the picture.

What was the hardest part of leaving Facebook and Instagram?

Figuring out what to do with the nice things that occurred in my life. Things I wanted to share with others.

For over 15 years when something really nice happened, I’d post it to facebook and see who wanted to engage at that moment. When the nice things happened from outside of Facebook’s walls, I had to stop and think; “Who would appreciate this?”

Then I had to message them directly, which felt awkward. What if they didn’t care? Didn’t respond? What if they-
It was more work, and it was putting myself on the line, in a way that felt invasive to the other person.
But guess what?
The people I messaged didn’t seem to take it that way. They lol’d. They chatted for a bit. And then we went off on our merry ways again.

Think about the process of being contacted by a person in reverse. When someone contacts you just to say, hey this nice thing happened and I thought you’d like it – is your response to roll your eyes and wish you never knew them? Unlikely. If someone does that to me, I feel seen and I feel nice, that I was important enough to that friend that they thought of me, and took the time to contact me individually.

I feel like they might actually know me.

I think social media has somewhat broken this one-on-one connection from being a natural thing any more. We throw our words and images into the ether and hope something sticks for long enough for someone else – random acquaintance or work colleague or best friend – to reply to, to make us feel seen, and not so alone. To validate us.
But the reward of reaching out to someone privately about the moments of your life you want to share with them – it is far more enriching, and meaningful for both parties.

So if you are (as I was) looking for meaningful connections, I’d hazard you give it a try for a week, a month, whatever suits you. Instead of posting it on the feed, private message individuals, or groups of 2 or 3 who you believe, through knowing them, will appreciate what you’re sharing. Try doing so via something other than Facebook, just to make sure you have another way to contact these important people in your life, in case some day, you get banned from Facebook for no apparent reason.

Send stuff to them to make their lives better.

What have you missed out on because you refuse to be on Facebook/Instagram?

Nothing much. Every now and then I’ll have a parent at school ask if I’m going to this or that’s birthday, and I’ll advise them I didn’t know it was on. At that point they remember I’m not on Facebook, and I get an invite. It’s not a big deal. I don’t feel excluded; they don’t feel embarrassed.

Anyone who wants to talk to me otherwise knows exactly how to find me. I’m part of Discord groups, I’m on Supernova (if you haven’t heard about this great emerging social media platform, I urge you to research it; it’s lovely), and I chat to people on Signal, WhatsApp (which I had prior to the Facebook takeover so uses my phone number) and text message.

So you’ve just replaced one social media platform with a bunch of others?? Pointless.

Not pointless to me. Facebook and Instagram made me miserable. I couldn’t put my finger on why then – I can now after gaining distance. Discord and Supernova do not make me miserable. The opposite in fact. I love being there and I love socialising online again. And I’m doing it in the way social is meant to work – talking to people because you want to chat and share silly memes with your actual friends – to enrich each other’s lives.

How do you get the word out to everyone these days, then??

Um…why has telling everyone become a requirement of socialising?
If there’s a bunch of people I want to tell something to at once, too many to message individually, I create a group on Signal, Whatsapp or text, and tell them? It’s not hard.

What the hell is your point, Min?

I wanted to post a snapshot of life without Facebook, what I’ve learned by leaving, and how I’ve redefined how I connect to people, for no reason other than it’s interesting to me, so maybe it’ll be interesting to someone else. Maybe it’ll help one other person be brave and look into alternatives, for no reason other than it might make their life a little sweeter.

Or, maybe not. Don’t care! It’s your choice.

The only hard part about it, truly, is coming up against the people who refuse to use anything but Facebook, and take your refusal to be part of it as an anti-social move. But they are a vast minority, and growing smaller by the day, as more and more people become brave enough to leave and take control of their social connections.

If you ARE feeling uneasy about the social you use: you don’t have to perpetuate the status quo, if it makes you feel bad, or trapped. You’re choosing to be there, and choosing to run your social life through that platform. If you’re dissatisfied, be courageous and find for a way to connect with people that actually suits you. If it ends up being Facebook, that’s fine. At least you’ll know why you’re there, and it’ll be your choice. But not everyone has to be there, or agree with that choice.

I’m learning to love talking to people who I want to talk to, all over the world, in a variety of more positive ways, and that’s what I care about today.

Facebook somehow robbed me of that; I’ll never go back.


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