Donald Trump and lots of crying
The majority of posts on Facebook are garbage posts. People complain, photograph their dinner, repost poorly researched (and dated!) clickbait articles, and try to make themselves feel better about their mediocre lives by making you envious of them—on a good day.
I was pretty tolerant and at peace with all this as long as I have had an account.
Then, the 2016 presidential election happened. It brought the worst out of everybody.
Donald J. Trump won the election, a lot of people weren't expecting him to win, and a lot of emotions were invested in the outcome.
Not surprising. The election was going to be a historic win for somebody. The U.S. was either getting its first female president or an unorthodox political outsider for president. Either outcome was going to be big news.
Lots of people on all places in the political spectrum started losing their fucking minds once The Donald got it.
Again, not surprising. It was going to be big either way.
A few days after the election, I hop on Facebook and I'm still seeing people losing it. My pro-Hillary friends were still "having literal panic attacks" and my pro-Trump friends are still posting tons of "America, Fuck yea" Rah-Rah bullshit.
I'm a pretty approachable guy so a few friends actually reached out and we had some genuinely constructive conversations about the U.S. and the political situation.
Those conversations were way, way more valuable than hearing about panic attacks and patriot porn.
Getting distracted by all that noise just isn't worth the time so I decided to silence it.
No More Newsfeed
I decided that despite some redeeming features in other parts of the platform, the Facebook newsfeed is useless and should shut up.
Facebook would disagree with me because the newsfeed is a crucial piece of machinery in their business. Facebook is in the business of courting your attention for as long and as often as possible. The newsfeed does a good job at keeping the users engaged, so that's why they keep it parked in the center of the screen where it takes up lots of real estate.
Further evidence that the newsfeed is great for Facebook and useless for you:
example 1: Like Buttons
Remember when they added different kinds of "like" buttons to express different emotions? That wasn't because people wanted them. It happened to be a feature that is similar to what lots of people wanted, but it was ultimately put there because it helps keep users engaged with the platform—that's why they didn't simply add a "dislike" button as people requested.
Instead of a simple dislike button, they added several buttons that correspond with emotions because—as even a novice salesman knows—if they can connect with your emotions, you are more easily manipulated.
A like/dislike button system just makes Facebook a voting machine. Instead of voting, by focusing on your emotions, you are "expressing" yourself and becoming emotionally invested in the platform. Silicon Valley business babble types would probably explain this as an "improvement" or "upgrade" that makes the platform "more human".
Hardly. Those little emotion buttons are inherently useless, but easy to implement function that helps court your attention, which serves the company's interests and delivers zero value to you. You get a quick squirt of reward chemicals in your brain and then it's over.
example 2: The Echo Chamber Effect
The reason Facebook tries to show you articles and pages you might like is not because they are chill dudes who want you to have a good time at their party. They want you to never see anything that will discourage you from using the platform.
It's well known that they intentionally manufacture an echo chamber for you in the hopes that you won't leave because you're surrounded with things you like and opinions you agree with.
Going back to the Trump thing, I think a big reason why so many people lost their minds when The Donald won is they live in their own worlds without realizing it.
The newsfeed on Facebook and several other platforms are a big culprit because they steep people in their own opinions and surround them with people who agree with them. Click on an article about climate change? As soon as you finish reading you see 10 more links to similar articles right below it.
Despite hating hard on the newsfeed, on election day I was able to watch the echo chambers start to crack over the course of the day which had some value for illuminating how it affects people.
I work in the arts world where the overwhelming majority of people are Hillary Clinton supporters. During the day, there were lots of smiles and optimism and pictures of "I voted" stickers, which veiled a smug confidence that Hillary Clinton was the only logical choice for president and she would win by a landslide.
I say "smug" because nobody seemed particularly scared or had any urgency in what they were saying.
I even found this gem of an event.
After Trump had about 50 electoral votes in—still far from being declared the winner—you would have thought it was 9/11 from the things people where posting. Things like "HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?", "I'm crying and shaking...", lots of Hitler pictures, etc.
I'm positive some percentage of those people didn't even vote because they really, truly, deeply believed a Trump victory was too off the spectrum weird to happen, until it happened.
On the other side of the politics, lots of Trump supporters felt instantly validated. This unfortunately includes the worst behaved ones who then went out and committed hate crimes. They too steep themselves in their own opinions with people who think like they do.
The echo chamber effect was never more painfully obvious. Nobody likes to be out of touch, yet so many people clearly were. The echo chamber (that they've been tricked into emotionally investing in) promised them more of their own viewpoint for 8 months and the result of the election shattered all of that.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all the other social media companies you can name all are in the business of attention arbitrage. Building an echo chamber full of stuff you like is a proven tactic to barter for your valuable attention. Nothing in the business model is there for your benefit or edification.
They tell you that you're getting a "free" service when it's actually the opposite—you give them your attention for free and they sell it to other people.
Can you list any concrete ways that an echo chamber adds value to your life? I certainly can't. Is that something you would build on purpose for yourself? Hell no. Smart people want to be challenged with differing viewpoints and be forced to think and grow.
The newsfeed is setup to do the exact opposite.
Delete my facebook account?
I'm really railing hard on The Good Book so you may be asking why I don't just shut up already and delete my account.
Deleting my Facebook account outright doesn't make sense because parts of the platform are legitimately valuable. I get called for work through Facebook Messenger fairly often and I search my friend list all the time when I need to get in touch with people. The Marketplace, Facebook Pages, and Events are all valuable for my purposes as well.
The best compromise I know of I can't take credit for. My buddy (and total badass tuba expert) Jack Adler-McKean showed it to me over the summer in Lucerne: block everything in your newsfeed until nothing shows up.
I see nothing. Isn't it beautiful?
You get to have all the perks of Facebook and also experience the pleasure of plunging a dagger into the beating heart of the greatest distraction machine ever built.
This is really easy to do, but it'll take some time if you have lots of friends and have Liked lots of pages. Hang in there and grind away until the machine lurches to a halt.
One fun discovery you will have in the process is you see everything they've been hiding from you. You get to watch the echo chamber crack and crumble. As you unfollow people, the machine will scramble to try and show you things so a lot of the friends and pages you never see start to pop up. Block those too.
How to silence your useless Facebook newsfeed:
Step 1: Click or tap the little grey arrow in the upper right corner of a post.
Step 2: Click the Unfollow button.
Step 3: Repeat this until you stop seeing things in your news feed.
The process is a little different for ads.
Step 1: Click Hide Ad
Step 2: Tell them the truth. I always put "it's not relevant to me" because they refuse to implement a "This is useless" button despite my numerous requests.
But What If Everybody Does This?
If you're thinking, what would happen if everybody did this? Stop. Everybody won't do this.
One of the reasons why people are ok giving away their attention to a tech company is they don't value their attention much and they make it fun.
But what if you found this post on Facebook? Doesn't that prevent people from finding my stuff? Yes, it does. I don't care. I'm more interested in people finding my articles through Google and I write primarily because I like to write sometimes.
Also, you can subscribe to my email list if you want to see my articles. You don't need Facebook for that.
Another reason is most people don't care and won't do anything I advise because the idea of living in an echo chamber sounds great. Being pushed and growing is uncomfortable. Most people get kicked around all day at work and look for comfort wherever they can get it.
People also aren't comfortable with being bored. It's more fun to dip into the echo chamber while you wait in the grocery line than it is to just be stuck with your own thoughts.
If I'm wrong and everybody takes my advice, then Facebook will do something that prevents people from doing so and the internet will come up with another way to subvert that. The internet has a rich tradition of finding creative ways around roadblocks that other people setup to prevent them from doing what they want.
Lists are the exception
This whole post has been about throwing a wrench in a machine that was built to serve other people, not you.
Everybody's moronic behavior after the election in particular ticked me off so I just shut the thing down.
The one exception is I keep a few lists on Facebook.
I made lists of friends that I want to keep in touch with who don't constantly spew garbage from their computers.
Monteux 2012 is a list of people from a summer festival I went to. Interesting Posters is a group of people who consistently post cool stuff, not clickbait. NYC/NJ freelancers is mostly musicians I work with often. Rarely Heard From is a list of people I like, but for whatever reason(s), Facebook's algorithm wouldn't show their posts very often. Ping List is lots of people I like to contact periodically because they send a lot of work my way.
So, I can actually turn the newsfeed back on if I want, except instead of relying on the one size fits all algorithm, I turn on lists where I choose segments of people that interest me for whatever reason I want.
Maybe you think I'm being completely silly with all this. But I don't care. I'm just doing me.
But if you want to be able to open up The Good Book to get in touch with someone without being bombarded with well intentioned but inane bullshit, this method works.