A few months ago, I joined an experiment called 99 Days of Freedom. This online study came about as a response to the controversial mood experiment conducted by Facebook that involved 689,000 users who hadn’t consented to the experiment. Facebook filtered the content in users’ News Feeds to see what emotional impact positive versus negative content had on people and their activity.
I decided to try 99 Days of Freedom because it studies how life without Facebook impacts people’s happiness. Always up for a challenge, I signed up and logged out of Facebook, curious to see how it affected me.
For the first couple of weeks or so, it was easier to stay off Facebook than I thought. Spurred on by the challenge, I was determined to avoid the social media site and fill my time with other activities.
Consequently, I was dedicating more time to my writing projects, I was exercising regularly and I was spending more time with my family (even if that meant sitting in front of the TV with them, watching police dramas). Time seemed to expand for me, too, which meant that I had more opportunities to read books and brush up on my French. As a result, my urge to log into Facebook dwindled because I was seeing the benefits of spending time away from it.
At the outset, the challenge was very enlightening. I suddenly realized how much time I was spending on Facebook, even though it wasn’t the social media site I visited most frequently. Apart from zapping up precious time, I also realized that Facebook—although it can be fun—can also be quite negative.
On Facebook, I’ll often see people posting comments and other content that’s demeaning, controversial or extremely one-sided. Facebook isn’t just a social platform; it’s also become a political one.
I believe everyone should have freedom of expression, but online, a lot of people seem to lose their kindness and are less mindful about what they say or share, thinking there’ll be no repercussions. And that’s not a good environment for anyone—commenters and viewers alike. Even if I’m only viewing a thread of negative comments, it has an emotional effect on me.
The fear of missing out (FOMO)
Another side effect of using Facebook is FOMO, which stands for “the fear of missing out.” This occurs when you see something happening elsewhere, and you feel that you’re somehow missing out because you’re not there experiencing that event or moment with others.
Social media users are especially vulnerable to this feeling, because you see highlights of other people’s lives online and start to compare yourself to them. In fact, one study found that Facebook use can make you unhappy.
All of these reasons make me glad I took a social media detox.
The great part about the 99 Days of Freedom experiment is that the researchers send you surveys to fill out. These surveys are designed to gauge your happiness levels when you first start the experiment, when you’re still in the midst of it and after you’ve completed it.
These surveys are not only helpful to the researchers, but also to the participants, because they encourage self-evaluation and reflection. Even if you have a moment of weakness and log onto Facebook, the researchers still consider that result valuable.
Even though I lost determination near the end, I still consider my experience valuable. If nothing else, the experiment made me more aware of my Facebook use. Near the end, signing in became so automatic and I realized, with surprise, how pervasive Facebook was in my life. It’s amazing how habitual social media use can become, especially when we’ve been using it for years.
Online platforms can be positive
Despite my reservations about Facebook and other social media sites, I think these online platforms can also do a lot of good. For example, a non-profit or charity can garner support and inform people about their work or the issues of the day. And people can support each other online. A good example is the display of solidarity between Egyptian protesters and Ferguson protesters in response to the use of tear gas used in both Egyptian and American protests.
Your favourite brands and companies can seem friendlier, more personal. You can also find out about great events happening in your area.
By the end of the experiment, I became more ambivalent about Facebook than I was previously. I could see its faults, but also its benefits.
Facebook can be useful for keeping in touch with family and friends you don’t see often. It’s fun to share funny or cute videos and memes, and just have a laugh.
Overall, by the end of the experiment, I became more ambivalent about Facebook than I was previously. I could see its faults, but also its benefits. It felt like taking a vacation: I enjoyed the new scenery, but I also missed familiar terrain, a space I was used to; and eventually, I wanted to go back to it.
I feel that I have a healthier mindset when it comes to Facebook and other social media platforms now. When I feel that a social media space is becoming toxic or charged with tension, I step away from it for a while.
Like anything in life, social media is good in moderation. It only encompasses a small slice of life, a moment in time. But there are many more moments to be experienced outside of social media.
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