Matt Marshall

 

The Great Reclaim: Where I am with social media

A little while ago I reflected on my Facebook use, discussing what I used it for and how I felt about it. It's been about four months since then, so I thought I'd see where I was with that.

Since writing about my concerns over my Facebook use I've went through several bouts of limiting my activity on the site, to varying degrees of success. In June I took a two-pronged approach. The first was deliberate and conscious Facebook "fasts" on alternating days. This dealt with distractions at work. I'm used to fasting, so this was a pretty simple concept to wrap my head around. I'd do a quick Facebook check early evening, and not check it again until the same time on the following day. The second prong was to log out of Facebook on my phone's browser, and to clear my browsing history so I couldn't just click a thumbnail on 'most visited'. This worked for a long time, up until I was experiencing a week with an above average amount of waiting around outside, checking my phone. Signing back in on my phone lead to me getting hooked on the notifications again, and the advent of CHI-writing time at work meant I was looking for distractions. I got off the wagon.

In July, however, I managed to solve the majority of my mindless browsing by giving myself my RSS feed in Brimstone. Both the investment in the development process and the result, as well as a conscious ritual rule of "Always check the site before checking others" meant that a lot of my 'getting updates' has shifted over here. The effect of this was lessened somewhat when I joined a few groups and all of the notifications and News Feed posts that includes became a factor.

Finally, early this month (Oct '16), after months of guiltily removing Facebook pages from my phone's "most visited" browser page; I declared that I am to instigate my tactical withdrawal from the site and to maintain a skeleton profile there. All I did for four months was share news articles anyway.

Motivation

I think it's important to make explicit my motivations for the move. So that I can be honest with myself, and others.

  • Control over identity. I'm pretty open with my thoughts and feelings online. Actually, the majority of my online identity is centred around what is fundamentally mundane activity. I must be so boring to those who end up following me. That being said, I want a large degree of control over that content. Facebook exposes me to the machinations of the platform. They take some half-baked measures to placate the privacy conscious, but I've liked and said some pretty stupid things in the past that I want to be able to remove with a large degree of ease. I also get to control how it is displayed, collated, stored, and fed.

  • Ownership of content. The main reason tbh. All for-profit social media platforms derive their commercial value (regardless of revenue stream) due to the content produced by their users. These can be posts/articles, likes, media content, etc. How this content is processed to produce value is of a different matter. Most often they're used to either provide a profile for targeted ads (through likes etc), or a draw for those ad services to find a home (content). The thing that remains, however, is that the value is derived not from the platform itself but from its use. More explicitly, the content and labour of those using it. Facebook's share prices go up, but its users don't get a share. I admittedly maintain a Twitter presence mediated through this site, and even though Twitter gets versions of my posts they always have a citation -- and I always own a copy.

  • Reclamation of Time. I spend a lot of time checking Facebook. I won't pretend to know exactly how, but I think it's obvious that the News Feed and notifications systems are designed to keep me checking in and posting content (Time Hop anyone?). It's quite frankly embarrassing how instinctual it is to open up a new tab and type fa + enter and spend the next 15 minutes like a zombie. Obviously I know that the social interactions make Facebook use more than just slaves. We're connecting with people. Their whole spiel is, for the most part, true. It's my relationship with it that's unhealthy, and unhealthy relationships need adjusting.

Current Status

The first thing I did when I declared my tactical withdrawal was to download all my Facebook data, mainly for the photos, and then promptly remove what I could from the site. Up there now is only my current profile picture, banner, and a few shared albums I can't touch. I have this data to do stuff with later. This act was, for the most part, related to investment. If I don't need to sign in to get to my photo history, that's less motivation to do so. I removed all of my old profile guff too such as quotes, affiliations, gender identity. Everything I could.

I did encounter a problem when trying to remove old posts and content. Using the timeline review bollocks I can go back and see old activity and undo it, but there's no tool to do it en masse. I tried a few greasemonkey scripts to no avail. Will try again soon.

Next was to prevent my inclination to post new content. I set my post status to "only me" in case I got weak. Presumably this applies to shared posts as well. Boom. No more bothering people with glorious Communist propaganda.

My inclination to check the site was dealt with through sheer determination. I spent an entire half hour unfollowing everything that entered my News Feed and refreshing the page to start again. Friends, pages, groups. Nothing was safe. Eventually Facebook told me that they couldn't show me anything and that I should add some friends to see some content. I did, for the most part, preserve my connection to friends, pages, and groups by remaining friends and a member, or liking it. They're still there (largely for messenger purposes). This means that if I ever decide to go back on Facebook, I need to consciously choose what I follow and then seek it out like a surgeon. Next time I sign into Facebook, I hope that there's a tumbleweed there for me.

I need to keep Messenger. Too many people use it and it's socially irresponsible of me to try and force people into using alternative services just to talk to me. I've made my peace with that. Currently I'm signed into Messenger at home, but not at work. I check it in the morning, evening, and before bed. So far it's been relatively quiet and uneventful.

I've not checked the site for about a week now I think. I have a lot more time on my hands. I do more at work, and at home I'm more motivated to spend my time productively on the things that matter to me.

The Plan

I forgot to remove people's ability to tag me in things, and post content on my wall. I'm waiting until the end of the month to sign into the site and deal with that stuff, alongside any other issues I perceive of during that time period. If I sign back in now I might get tempted back. I need to break it as a habit first and foremost; so a good month off will be good.

diary facebook reflections socialmedia