What Happens When You Unfollow Everybody on Facebook

Big surprise: Facebook doesn’t make it easy.

Maybe I’m getting old.

(Okay, there’s no “maybe” about it — time marches inexorably forward for all of us, none of us get out of this thing alive, and yes, sure, you could say I’m recently on the “wrong side” of 30. But my chips are nowhere in the vicinity of “cashed in” just yet.)

I only posit that theory — that between hangovers I morphed into a cranky old man — because of the unabashed Get-Off-My-Lawn-ness of the following statement:

I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing on Facebook anymore.

“You darn kids and your computer-machines!”

And sure, this is my own weird hang-up—it’s not you, Facebook, it’s me. Like, the very idea that there’s something I should be doing on Facebook, Plato’s form of how to use Facebook. It’s just a feeling I get, and I’m not exactly sure where it comes from.

It could be…

…my arrested development;

I have no photos of babies to post, no honeymoons in Ibiza to be thankful for, no Kickstarted start-up ventures to share updates about.

…the election.

Since Facebook automatically shows the “top comments” under a post in the newsfeed, I can’t see a headline about Bernie Sanders without a comment lamenting this lack of fair coverage, a video of Hillary Clinton without somebody chiming in about “war crimes” or “corporate puppets,” or a story about Ted Cruz that doesn’t invoke both the Christ and the Anti-Christ.

Duty Calls” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

…the social anxiety

that I’ve always struggled with here in the “real world,” finally rearing its head in the digital space, in a mix of self-consciousness and FOMO and embarrassment and depression and generalized anxiety, glaringly obvious in every event I say I’m “Not Going” to, or in every like I don’t get.

…the continued commodification of users,

with every sponsored post and dynamic ad and “Find out Your Finest Hours Fisherman Name by Giving Us Access to Your Entire Profile” algorithm ever-more-obviously sucking my precious data and meta-data and preferences to profile me as a user, a target, a potential consumer.

…a lot of things.

but what it comes down to is this: I open Facebook and look at my News Feed, and I already feel tired.

So why not just get off of Facebook completely, you giant man baby?

Well, hold on there – I’m not a luddite. I do like a lot of things about Facebook. I can keep in touch with people who live far away. I can see what my friends are working on. I can make a joke people seem to like (occasionally) and convince myself I might even be a little funny. I can learn everything about somebody I just met at a party, which is, you know, kind of creepy, but also kind of cool.

And Facebook Messenger, how I love thee. I have message threads with my best friends that go back for years, with in-jokes and project outlines and more gifs than you can shake a pickle in front of a rainbow in front of a mountain at.

Thank you, shakingfoodgifs.tumblr.com!
So you hate Facebook and you muah-muah-kissy-face loooove Facebook — why are you babbling on about it for like three or four friggin’ scrolls now?

I’m getting to that.

So, yeah, I had to ask myself: what’s the problem? If it’s not Facebook, what is it?

I considered this, and I think the problem is how I use Facebook—and, specifically, I think it’s how I interact with the News Feed.

Gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you of a bygone time before The Social Network gobbled up Oscars and Golden Globes, before the ubiquitous “f” logo appeared on every advertisement and website, when you could still get to the same site by typing “www.thefacebook.com” into your address bar.

Psst, 2006 Mark Zuckerberg is into Fall Out Boy and domination, pass it on.

This was Facebook before the News Feed.

You could post status updates, photos, links, all kinds of stuff — but nobody would ever see them unless they came to your page. It was kind of like shouting into the void, but somebody could come over to the void, lean over the edge, and say, “huh, so that’s what he’s shouting about.”

That changed with the News Feed, when Facebook networked all these voids into a front page collecting updates from all your friends. You were no longer shouting into a void; now, you were shouting at everybody you knew.

BARK BARK BARK HERE’S WHAT I THINK ABOUT DOG FOOD BARK BARK BARK

Great, right? Because my friend Jim from grade school might be up to something really cool, but I haven’t thought about Jim from grade school since I made up his name just now, so why would I be checking up on his profile every day?

Over the years since the News Feed was introduced, it’s become more and more refined in how it delivers content. Posts aren’t delivered chronologically, they’re chosen for you by the News Feed. You don’t just see posts from your friends, you see posts from organizations you follow. You see posts from organizations you don’t follow, who pay money to be put in front of you. You see posts your friends like, by people who you aren’t friends with but might want to be friends with if you’re into that sort of thing.

It used to be,

When you thought about Facebook, you were thinking about people’s profiles.

Now,

When you think about Facebook, you’re thinking about the News Feed.

That’s the Facebook experience. The News Feed is Facebook. And there’s no way to turn off the News Feed.

Or is there?

How to Unfollow Everyone and Everything on Facebook

i.e., what you really came here for. finally. sorry.

Once I realized it was really the News Feed — the constant shouting, the in-your-face top comments, the algorithmically curated sponsored content—that was bothering me about Facebook, I started wondering what it would be like to turn it off. To go back to the days of thefacebook.com, when I could be more involved in what I choose to spend my time looking at.

But how?

Since the News Feed is Facebook, it didn’t surprise me that there’s no way to opt out in one go. But Facebook does offer an option to change your “News Feed Preferences” in the settings menu. It brings up this screen:

Oooh Facebook, I love it when you tell me to “take control.”

Look how easy this is! “Take control,” “customize!” Look at that happy crab! Why is he friends with a seagull? Or is that a picture he posted of a seagull? Is there some kind of anti-seagull, look-out-for-seagulls page that he and his crab friends all follow? How do they type with those claws? Where can I get these physical versions of posts that he’s holding up? Everything is wonderful!

When you click “Unfollow people to hide their posts,” it expands to this:

NOTE: NOT ACTUALLY BLURRY

No “Unfollow All” option, but simple enough. Just get ready to do a lot of clicking.

1000 friends? Clickapalooza 2016.

500 pages? Clicktown USA, population you.

Click Robot” by Chris Onstad (Achewood)

Click click click, click click click. But hey, it beats workin’.

Eventually, you’ll stop getting the option to show more profiles, and you’ll have to click done—even though you still have friends left (you man-or-woman-about-town, you). Then you can go back to the News Feed Preferences, open “Unfollow people…” and repeat the process.

UNTIL, ALL OF A SUDDEN…!

Facebook hits you with this error page:

Hmm. That kitten in the top right isn’t a tiger, but clearly WISHES he were a tiger. How do I proceed here?

Remember at the top, when I implied that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to use Facebook? Well, apparently I was wrong.

My anti-social rash of unfollowings caught the Facebook robots’ attention, and they served me up one of the stranger CAPTCHA tests I’ve ever seen: a put-the-round-pegs-in-the-round-holes, which-of-these-is-not-like-the-other mind game that rivaled certain categories in Celebrity Jeopardy.

It was actually kind of fun, not least because it included a picture of a kitten. Being an internet person and non-heartless human being, I love pictures of kittens.

How little can I even? Let me can’t the ways.

I submitted my answer, proving once and for all I’m not a robot (take that, ex-girlfriend!), and tried to continue. But as soon as I clicked another profile to unfollow, I got the Security Check again. Repeated the process, not a robot, clicked a profile… and got it again. Once more — seriously guys come on i’m not a robot i swear i just like daft punk—and another click, and there it was, bam, “Please select all the photos which show a waterfall.”

It hit me that Facebook really doesn’t want you to unfollow everybody.

No “Unfollow All” option, and a slap on the wrist if you try to do things manually. Which makes sense. The News Feed is an easy place to interact with people and pages, and interactions mean data, and data mean $$$money$$$.

To Facebook, trying to unfollow everybody and get rid of the news feed is like, I don’t know, playing Grand Theft Auto as a pacifist. Or reading Playboy for the articles. You can do it, but you’re kind of missing out on the point of the whole experience.

Also: $$$money$$$.

But, not one to be deterred from my Noble Cause,

(aka, my Weird Experiment), I kept chipping away at it—unfollowing people and pages in the News Feed itself, waiting an hour and going back to the News Feed Preferences, whatever it took. And after a while, something happened. The News Feed started to get… confused.

INSERT TARDIS SOUND HERE

I got this flashing “insert post here” post, kind of like a loading screen, as the feed was searching for the “Top Stories” to serve up. The robots were desperately trying to find something to show me that I wanted to see, something that I wasn’t going to unfollow.

And they couldn’t do it.

I’d passed their MAX_MISANTHROPE threshold. How do you serve up a social network to somebody who doesn’t want to be social with anybody?

Finally, I was able to unfollow everybody, and when I got back to the News Feed, I saw this:

Hey, I have friends! Quit making fun of me!

News Feed Zero.

No pages, no posts, no links, no status updates.

No baby photos, no petitions, no sponsored content.

Nothing curated. Nothing served up to me.

I was the master of my own Facebook destiny.

So, uh, what’s that like?

Imagine a big, open field, filled with flowers. There’s a slight breeze — just enough to raise the hairs on your arms, not enough to make you cold. The sun is so bright and warm and substantial on your face that you feel like you could scoop it out of the air and keep it in a jar.

The scent from the flowers fills your nose, the fresh air fills your lungs. The only sound is the sunflowers wiggling in the breeze, brushing against each other, waving to you. There’s no one around for miles. It’s just you, and your thoughts, and the flowers, and the sunshine.

Colors are brighter than usual, scents sharper. Running your hand lightly over the petals feels like brushing the hair from the eyes of a long-lost love.

Breathe. Relax.

You feel at peace. You feel free.

Just kidding!

It’s fine. It’s fine!

I’m not here to tell you that you’ll somehow change your life by changing your Facebook News Feed Preferences. In fact, all that I can guarantee you’re changing is your Facebook News Feed Preferences.

For me, it doesn’t feel that different, which maybe has more to say with how I use Facebook personally than the wide-reaching effects the whims of the News Feed have on our lives. I’ve only had an Empty News Feed for a couple of days, and they were kinda low-internet days for me anyway.

Gnarly hat dude!

Who knows. Maybe next week the skies will open up, a hand will reach down for a fist bump, and an ethereal, deific voice will say, “Good on you, bro, you lifted that veil for reals.”

Or maybe a friend will come up to me on the street, crying, and ask why I didn’t give them support in their time of need when they posted about it on Facebook. Ouch.

I have noticed a few differences right away, though.

Differences like…

…it feels less like I’m being shouted at all the time.

I mentioned the election above. I happened to start this little unfollow experiment just before one of the debates, which is usually when my Facebook experience becomes people telling me their candidate is the Messiah and the other candidate is the trying to replace the Constitution with the Necronomicon. To find quotes, analysis, recaps, etc., I actually had to go to external sites and find coverage. That I trusted. From actual journalists. Without reading the comments. I can’t tell you how nice that was.

The internet comment in its natural habitat.

…I need to be more engaged with my friends

if I really care about what’s going on with them. I care about what they think — about what’s going on in the news, about the cool things they’ve discovered, about the things were all going through as part of this big human endeavor called “life.” Now that I’m not automatically getting everything from everyone, I have to choose whose opinion I seek out — which actually makes me feel more engaged.

…Facebook is way less addictive without the News Feed.

Of course, this must be one of the reasons why Facebook makes it so hard to hide the News Feed. It’s really masterfully done — content curated just for you (by algorithms, sure, but still), refreshed every single time you load the page. With the News Feed, there’s always something new on Facebook to look at. Without it, there’s just a blank page.

This new pantone app works great on Android AND iOS! …I think. Is it on?

…I was spending too much time on Facebook.

According to a study released by Needham last year, people around the world spend “an average of 20+ minutes every day on Facebook” — which may not sound like a lot, until they note that this “accounts for nearly 20% of all time online.” I’m not sure where I fall in the spectrum, since a lot of Facebookery is clicking over to the feed, scrolling through for a few seconds, then moving on to another tab — but I know I’ve used it way less in the last few days, without the fresh posts to keep me hooked.

…I feel kind of left out

now that I’m not seeing everything everybody is doing all the time. Which is antithetical to the whole experiment, but it makes sense. I remember after a particularly bad break-up, years ago, I hid my ex-girlfriend from my feed—but, in a real “It hurts when I poke it” / “So why don’t you stop poking it?” way, I could not stop myself from going to her profile until I unfriended her completely. Hiding everybody is the ultimate “Don’t think of an elephant” challenge. But, like a break-up, I assume it will get better. Or we’ll just get back together (LUV U, BABY!).

Now that I’ve made the plunge, you might be asking,

“Are you going to keep your News Feed empty?”

I’m not sure yet.

Probably not, at least not entirely. There’s part of me that really likes the low-impact, hands-off way that Facebook keeps me informed of what my friends are up to. I have found pages, organizations, and people who I like through sponsored content, and posts by virtual strangers. And putting in the effort to find all that stuff myself, when there’s a system that makes it so easy, sounds kind of hard.

I’ll probably follow a few friends and pages I want to stay up to date on. And a few more. And then a few more. And then I’ll start feeling overwhelmed again, and I’ll have another mass culling. Which will be great, because I’ll get to see more cute cat pictures when Facebook accuses me of being a robot!

OMFG LOOK AT HIS WIDDLE FACE

More than anything, this is

a fresh starting place.

Which we could all use once in a while.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing on Facebook, didn’t like how it was making me feel, and I decided to try and figure out why so I could do something about it. That’s something we should all consider from time to time, instead of letting a platform or a network or a piece of technology say,

this is how you have to use me, and this is how you have to feel about it, and you don’t have any choice in the matter.

…or maybe I’m just getting old.