Facebook ditched
Samuel Gibbs nearly missed a stag-do when his Facebook hiatus meant he didn’t see the invite Photograph: Adam Russell/flickr

My phone rings. “Where the hell are you?” someone screams at me.

Apparently I was meant to be somewhere, with my car stocked and ready to take a group of friends 70 miles out of London. I have no idea what he’s on about.

“But it was on Facebook! I sent you the invite and everything!”

The penny drops. My self-prescribed absence from Facebook has bitten me in the behind, because I’ve realised I wasn’t even aware of the stag do, let alone that I’d been nominated as a designated driver. They assumed I knew because everyone sees everything that happens on Facebook, right?

Unless you’ve turned off all Facebook alerts and emails…

A competition to see who has the best life

At one point I had around 300 friends on Facebook – considerably more than the average 130 for most Britons, according to social media site the Wall. Most seemed shallow connections, and the excuse for connecting was that random meetings, mutual friendships or past jobs inflated my friend count. It seemed more about networking or reminiscing with lapsed friendships.

In reality, after the initial flurry of conversation I realised I had little in common with them, which meant my network wasn’t related to my real world network at all – a couple of hundred people I never talked to properly, or didn’t even really know. Yet they knew when I’d been drunk at a party, or that my boss was a pig, or that my relationship was a bit “complicated”. I don’t think that’s normal.

Having hundreds of friends and a constant stream of conversation happening day and night looks extremely sociable. How could anyone be lonely with hundreds of Facebook friends?

In yet another academic study on Facebook from August 2013, researchers claimed that the more people used Facebook in their test group, the more unsatisfied they felt with their lives – regardless of how many friends they had amassed.

“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it,” concluded the study.

One explanation – which rings true for my own experience – is the bias towards presenting a perfect self-image. There’s an enormous pressure to appear fantastic at every occasion, and whether boasting about success at work, an amazing night out or uploading a photo, it can feel like a competition to see who had the best life.

Facebook is now the lowest common denominator for communication among my friends, largely replacing email and text with brief comments and likes.

More than anything, I started to feel that I was calling my friends less, seeing my friends less and that our friendships were being reduced to a trickle of pictures, comments and quips. I could no longer remember the last time I just called up a friend for a chat or had something genuinely new to say that someone hadn’t already seen on Facebook.


I had simply had enough. The volume of messages telling me I’d been tagged, mentioned, commented on – that someone I don’t even know said “totes amazeballs” on one of my posts – the pressure of being perfect, having to come up with witty one-liners and the utter disappointment when one of my posts didn’t get more than five likes.

So I switched every notification off, and swore not to touch Facebook for at least three months.

Unfortunately, that happened at about the same time as one of my friends was getting married. When his best man sent an invite on Facebook, he assumed that everyone had seen it and we ended up with that panic phone call, a sprint downstairs and a mad dash (all within legal speed limits, of course) down the M3.

He hadn’t even noticed my social media blockade. “Why would you want to do that?!” he said with horror when I explained.

The social penalty for being off-Facebook

Facebook’s pervasiveness means that it reaches most people’s lives, including mine. Leaving the service seems straightforward, but notice that your account is deactivated, rather than deleted, and they do keep your data.

However… there is a social penalty for being out of the Facebook loop – as I found out. Opt out, and you opt out of the phone book of our age. It might mean you miss out on casual but important invitations and news. There is a currency, however superficial, in the ambience of a Facebook friendship, the holiday photos, the baby photos, the shared interest in a news story. It’s not essential, but it keeps a trickle of communication open between someone you might otherwise not hear from.

Facebook is the identity key for thousands of sites

From your fitness tracker to your music service, Facebook Login is used to sign into thousands of sites and services, as well as those who require a login before you can comment.

Spotify is a good example, where sharing music with friends, seeing what people listen to and discovering new music through a shared listening experience is very much driven by Facebook. It is possible to follow people without connecting to Facebook, but it’s much harder and with nowhere near as many features.

Leaving Facebook, then, creates a whole new set of problems.

A friend cull

So my solution was a halfway house, a compromise that involved an enormous friend cull. I went through my 300-odd friend list and removed everyone I wasn’t actually friends with. I removed all my work colleagues and anyone who I hadn’t spoken to in three months, leaving just a 50 people that included all my actual friends and a few family members – I couldn’t quite bring myself to tell my Mum that she couldn’t be my friend any more.

That changed the way I used Facebook. It is no longer a competition to see who has the best life. It also meant that I wasn’t bombarded with notifications, because I had dialled down my notification settings so that I only received updates about the most important things form the most important people.

It means I use Facebook a lot less than I used to, but I still get the invites and the photos from the events that I do actually want to receive.

In fact, Facebook works quite well as a communication platform once you’ve ditched the chaff, so perhaps it wasn’t the site that was the problem but the people. Maybe it’s time to find some new friends.

Originally posted at The Guardian