Dear Facebook: I am an addict.

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

I didn’t always know I had a problem. When my friend of seventeen years sent me a text message flagging, “Hey girl, your feed is starting to look like a telemarketer’s,” I started to think about our relationship. “Maybe I am being too much,” I thought to myself and wondered if I had become the very thing I was avoiding all of these years.

I first learned about you back in 2005 when I overheard the seniors at my high school rave about how cool you were. Since then, I have always prided myself as being a reserved social media user: I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone, I have under 250 Instagram posts taken over the course of four years, and I’ve never downloaded Snapchat. Yet, I was uncharacteristically posting much more on Facebook. How did I get here?

A few days later, I went cold turkey and removed you and some other apps completely from my phone (even Messenger) and cleared my web browsing history to avoid seeing you in my search history. Whenever I had an impulse to check in with you, I forced myself to write about: what triggered my impulse, what I was hoping to achieve and how I could find alternative ways to achieve the same effect. Through this, I uncovered that many of my impulses were triggered during times of boredom, and at times, when I felt down. I went deeper into my past and thought about some of my worst moments with you:

Do my friends actually want to see photos of my travels?

Why aren’t they liking my posts?

Every time x likes or comments on my post, it’s like starting over.

Do I have enough friends?

Am I enough?

When I ended by detox and signed back in, I was overwhelmed with everything I had missed: a brunch that was set up via Messenger, a chance to catch up with a friend from overseas visiting just for the weekend, friend requests from new people in my life and a reassuring number of likes and comments on my last post explaining my short hiatus.

I wasn’t alone.

Many of my friends had also gone or were about to shut you completely out of their lives. And we weren’t alone in feeling this way either. Google web searches for “social media addiction” have been steadily rising since 2012 and is currently at an all-time high. A search for “Facebook addiction” also yields an overwhelming 70+ million results. Parallel to this trend is the rise in searches for “anxiety,” which have also peaked.

Some of the search results I came across were research papers that inversely correlated life satisfaction and social media usage. In a study led by Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakis published on Harvard Business Review, results showed that “the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being.” Specific activities such as “both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.” Others such as Jean M. Twenge, extrapolated from this even further and declared that we are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades” due to our smartphone and social media use.

But were there others like me? To answer this, I dove into a few personal accounts of self imposed social media detoxes. Akshata Shanbhag coined the “shift in focus from what everyone else is doing to what you want to do” as the best part of being off of social media. At the end of Jason Zook’s thirty day detox, he contemplated, “I’m not going to completely quit using social media, but I’m going to take control of my use of social media.”

Jason’s moderate view resonated with me. While the majority of trending articles focused on how social media has hooked us into an addiction cycle, how it’s responsible for destroying our current generation, and how it’s often downright evil; I don’t think it’s that easy to point the finger. The truth is, even after reading all of this research, I do not envision a life completely without you.

So what is actually missing from our Zeitgeist:

  1. recognition that we have a shared problem that we have all contributed to
  2. recommendations on how we can sustain a healthy relationship with social media that does not involve zero tolerance

I am not the problem. Neither are you. Sometimes we are a problem together. If you’re part of the family now, how can we grow old together? How can we create a healthy relationship?

Meet Facebook Care

We’re here to help you reclaim your (social) life

Feeling overwhelmed, anxious or undervalued?

Our guided programs support your journey to find a sustainable social-life balance that will enhance your lifestyle and help you achieve your goals.

Choose from our 30, 60 and 90 day reclamation paths, tailored to address themes including FOMO, social stalking, cyberbullying, social anxiety and more.

All of our programs uphold the following principles of a healthy relationship:

  • We support your independence and growth. We’ll work together to learn what works well for you.
  • We’ll promote a sense of security by helping you concentrate on what is important to you through our dedication to deliver quality over quantity.
  • We help set and respect your boundaries. We’ll work together to moderate how much time you spend with us and when we engage with you.
  • We’re honest with our intentions. We will offer transparency into how we select content for your feed and empower you to customize key areas.

Users can create a custom a reclamation path to conquer their anxieties by choosing from the below:

  1. How many likes did I get?

Users will not see the likes their posts receive while in the program in order to control the effects of gamification on socialization.

2. You only have 4,999 friends?

Our users are more than just the number of friends they have. Users will not see the number of friends any user has so they can focus on creating meaningful connections.

3. FOMO (fear of missing out)

It can be stressful keeping up with the Joneses. We’ll work together to determine a healthy weekly budget of time to spend with us that works well with your schedule and goals.

4. I can’t believe that he believes XYZ!!!! Un-friend.

Sometimes it’s easy for us to get stuck in our own bubble, and while social media can make us more connected, with just a click we can also remove people and ideas from our lives. We’ll offer empathy building exercises to help expose you to different point of views and surface educational resources when dealing with conflict and different communication styles.

5. Why does she always creep on my videos and not comment or like them?

We will remove the read receipt feature from any messages you receive and disable the watched feature for your stories. This will allow you to direct your focus from the number of passive views to your content and users that actually engage with you.

6. Just a few more minutes and I’ll put it down.

It’s easy to become an information junkie with the easy accessibility of content.

  • We know that too much content can be overwhelming sometimes. We’ll limit your daily feed to a select number of posts curated for your path.
  • We’ll allow users to select “quiet” periods during which we won’t send notifications (this excludes direct messaging.) Users can enable these quiet periods during meetings which can be synced with their calendars and also set recurring periods (i.e. one hour before bed.)

How does Facebook Care fit into Facebook’s core values?

Facebook Care provides paths for users to reflect on the social value they create when engaging online. By opening up the dialogue on addiction, Facebook can boldly develop a rehabilitation path that starts with the source of the addiction and focuses on impacting the mental health of our society. This reclamation program moves fast and can be delivered quickly by leveraging existing features already available to users with just a few swipes.

Start a reclamation now on your social-life with Facebook Care.

When I moved across the country a few years ago to an unknown city, I stayed connected to my family and friends with your help. For 100 days, I shared a photo and a short haiku on Facebook via Instagram. The likes and comments I received created the support system I needed to feel connected.

Dear Facebook: We have a problem. What are we going to do about it?

Thank you Shane Leese for burning the midnight oil and acting as a sounding board.