People are considering logging off for good. Should they?
In early October, Facebook shut down for six hours. No one in the world could access the site, or any of the sites they owned, including Instagram and WhatsApp. And, for a moment, we peered into a potential new world in which Facebook does not exist.
Spoiler: It was alright. There were negative effects, of course, like shutting creators and small business owners out of their work, but overall, everything turned out OK. Maybe even better than OK, as it afforded everyone a chance to spend a few hours off of the addictive platforms.
Now, more people than ever are considering logging off, possibly for good, including every member of my family besides myself — but only because I have to stay on for work and the Shrek fan theories page. On Reddit, users chalk the mass departures up to everything from the platform being less fun to its harm on democracy. Currently, according to Facebook, more than three billion people use the site every month, and about 2.6 billion people use it daily, which means there are some 400 million people who have accounts but don’t log on every day. They keep their accounts not because Facebook is so much fun, but because the platform has become a staple in our lives on the internet. Deleting your account doesn’t always feel like an option because it is so deeply ingrained in our digital DNA.
For instance, as 26-year-old Tahmina Osmanzai told Mashable in March, “I do not enjoy the platform at all.” She only keeps her account “to see any dog pictures my boyfriend tags me in and to check on birthdays I might have forgotten.” Others don’t want to cut community ties: A 2015 study from Pew Research Center showed that 28 percent of U.S. parents with grown children use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter to communicate with their families.
But with Facebook’s prioritization of profit over the health of its users pulsing through the nation over the past few weeks, users and politicians alike feel that something has to be done to combat the platform’s misuse of power. In September, the Wall Street Journal began publishing a series of bombshell reports called “The Facebook Files” based largely upon leaked internal Facebook documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen. Among the many revelations: Facebook refused to share internal studies showing that the social network is harmful to the health of young people. Haugen went on to testify in front of the Senate just days before the platform was shut down for nearly six hours when an update to Facebook’s routers that coordinate network traffic went awry, according to NPR. Since then, more documents, called the Facebook Papers, have been leaked. They show a continued disregard from Facebook for the health of the site’s users.
In late October, in a feeble attempt to create “a new company brand” that will encompass everything it does — from Instagram to Facebook to WhatsApp — Facebook rebranded as Meta. But a new name isn’t comforting activists.
“For too long, Black, brown and Muslim communities have been targeted and criminalized because of lies spread on their platforms,” Jessica Quiason, the deputy research director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, said in a statement. “Only together will we be able to stand up to Facebook and show them that our communities are worth more than their profits.”
The Action Center on Race and the Economy is part of a coalition of more than 40 national- and state-based organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Women’s March, United We Dream, and MoveOn, that are encouraging users to log off of Facebook and Instagram from November 10 through 13 to demonstrate support for the comprehensive policy change at Facebook needed to keep users safe. The hope is that this three-day strike will show Facebook how much it needs its users — and encourage the company to treat them better.
Juanita Monsalve, the senior marketing and creative director at United We Dream, said in a statement that for too long, social media platforms like Facebook have “prioritized profit over the safety of its users, especially Black, brown and immigrant communities.” While Facebook has done detrimental harm, Monsalve added, UWD’s Facebook page is still an important part of communicating to their members.
“We know all too well the importance of finding community online, which is why United We Dream is Logging Out,” Monsalve said. “We are taking collective action, and using our people power to demand safer and better online spaces for our communities.” The groups are encouraging users to log off to push Facebook to provide more effective content moderation, algorithm transparency, and direct accountability to users.
It’s hard to imagine deleting Facebook when you want to remember birthdays, log onto other apps like Spotify or Tinder, or if you have to use it for work. But you can put your friend’s birthdays on a calendar, create unique logins to your other apps, and find new ways to connect with old friends — try a pen pal! A world without Facebook isn’t impossible to imagine. We watched the downfall of MySpace; why wouldn’t Facebook be next? It would at the very least create space for another platform to come along — and, hopefully, not recreate all of Facebook’s mistakes.
According to research, the two main reasons people leave Facebook or any other social media site are due to social movements, like #DeleteFacebook, which makes quitting social media a popular trend, or avoiding the negative effects of social media, which is associated with symptoms of depression, addiction, and anxiety.
Billions of users jumping ship is pretty unrealistic, but starting with three days off of the platform seems at least reasonable. Facebook is already losing younger teens, and all of this bad publicity could encourage users to give another platform a try, or turn to apps like MeWe, which prioritizes privacy.
We’ve been imagining a world without Facebook for years — is this the time to give it a shot?