Editor’s Note: This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she quit Facebook. Our reporters weighed in with their own experiences: Why I quit and Why I stayed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most prolific and powerful politicians on social media, with millions of followers who hang on her every post and tweet. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, though.
On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez, 29, told Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery that she had given up her personal account on the world’s largest social network (the Democratic representative still has a professional presence, with a verified profile and plenty of political ads running on Facebook). She called social media a “public health risk” that results in issues like increased isolation, depression, addiction, escapism and anxiety.
“I think it poses these issues to everyone,” the New York congresswoman said.
She said she’s started to impose “little rules” on herself in other social domains such as Twitter, which she tries to stay off on the weekends. She didn’t elaborate on why, precisely, she left Facebook (FB) specifically. But the website has come to embody many of the ills of social media.
I get it. Like Ocasio-Cortez, I, too, quit Facebook. And I’m not planning on going back.
I took the plunge in mid-December, right after two of the many scandals the social network has been facing. First, there was the announcement that Facebook exposed millions of users’ privately shared photos without permission. Just days later, a report by The New York Times revealed that Facebook shared more of its users’ data with companies like Microsoft and Amazon than it previously admitted.
Like a lot of Facebook users, I was already weary after the the social media company’s scandal-stuffed year. The latest news made it clear: I was giving the site more than it was giving me. I had to leave.
I had been on Facebook since 2004 — the same year I wrote one of the first articles about it, for Wired, back when the social network was still called Thefacebook and was only available for students and alums of a couple dozen US colleges.
For well over a decade it helped me connect (and in some cases, happily reconnect) with friends and family. After having my daughter in 2016, an active San Francisco parenting group on Facebook became a lifeline for me. I loved posting questions and getting so many responses from a supportive community, and offering others any nuggets of advice I could muster in my sleep-deprived state.
I gave so much of myself to Facebook for so long. Photos, videos, countless posts, likes, comments and even occasional clicks on ads that seemed to follow me around the internet like digital ghosts. I was never naive enough to think that I was somehow getting the better end of the deal; I understood from early on that the digital trail I left like snail slime all over Facebook could be used in all sorts of ways — some of which I liked, some of which I hated.
But at a certain point, I didn’t want to add to that mountain of data anymore. Throughout 2018 it felt increasingly icky to give Facebook more of myself, knowing how many times the service mucked up.
And, as Ocasio-Cortez mentioned, I felt a sense of addiction and anxiety while using Facebook regularly: I felt compelled to check the app or the website many times a day, for no particular reason other than the concern that I might be missing out on something. When drama erupted in my favorite parenting group, I obsessively pored over embarrassingly long threads of posts, picking at every detail. It wasn’t an addiction, per se, but it felt unhealthy.
So on December 19, I downloaded all of my Facebook activity and scheduled my account for deletion (it actually takes 30 days until an account is truly closed). By late January, it was gone. So far, I haven’t missed it. Thinking about not being on Facebook brings up the mental equivalent of the shrug emoji.
I do hope that Ocasio-Cortez’s departure from the social network was a little more calculated than mine was, so that she didn’t end up with tons of people wondering where she went. I didn’t leave any explanation behind on my Facebook profile to tell friends and family that I quit and how to best contact me off social media; one day I just wasn’t around anymore. That sparked at least one email from a childhood friend asking me what the heck had happened when she noticed she appeared to be blocked from viewing my photos. Whoops. I had to sheepishly apologize.
I also discovered how tricky it is to truly untangle oneself from Facebook’s grasp. I still use Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, to privately post photos to a relatively small network of family and friends. Ocasio-Cortez, too, continues to use a personal account on Instagram (she has a, uh, somewhat larger network than mine, with 3.2 million followers).
I don’t know about her, but my decision to keep using Instagram is rooted in feeling like it hasn’t hurt me the way Facebook did. Facebook wasn’t the first social network, but it was the most all-consuming. It gave me connections to people I care about, but it took much more — not just my data, but my trust, too — and misused it.
Quitting Facebook didn’t make my life measurably better. I am not spending new-found free time doing yoga or reading or even talking to other people. But it did give me a sense that I have a tiny bit more control over my digital destiny. Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez feels that, too.