The Christmas gift you deserve: freedom from Facebook

If you want to get yourself a present for Christmas, then how about extra free time with a side-order of serenity? Follow Jaron Lanier’s advice and cut down on social media. I’d add, start with Facebook.

Facebook has unappealing aspects common to many tech companies, such as aggressively (and legally) avoiding taxes. But when it comes to disrupting politics, by allowing who knows who to target voters with ads saying (until recently) who knows what, it has no equal.

The company has become the main focus of the parliamentary enquiry into disinformation and fake news led by Damian Collins, whose multinational meeting of legislators last month pointedly left an empty chair for the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. The committee has since published internal emails showing Zuckerberg bargaining with access to users’ data.

And this is the biggest problem with Facebook: it is financially incentivised to manipulate its users’ emotions. Speaking at last month’s IF Oxford science festival, which I covered here, Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of modern media studies at the University of Virginia, said that to maximise income Facebook has to serve up things that generate strong emotions. “So baby pictures and puppy pictures, but also hate speech, calls to genocide, conspiracy theories,” he said.

Vaidhyanathan added that unlike most human institutions, which help to counteract our vengeful, lustful, shallow selves, Facebook exploits them.

If you are still using Facebook – and it is declining in use among those under 35, according to Ofcom research – why not try taking a week off (like the NAACP in the US, for reasons involving Russian racial targeting which should provide yet more justification for leaving)? And if you don’t miss it, why go back?

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