Dependence on Social Media for News is bad

A conversation today with a friend over lunch gave me an inspiration to write this.

The conversation began when I told him about the fan event for the Marvel’s Infinity War hosted at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore tomorrow. Then he asked, “You don’t have Facebook anymore, how you know about this news?”

For context, the news article that started the whole thing was this: Benedict Cumberbatch drops by Singapore Heritage Festival

So you see, I get my news from traditional news outlet. The intentional act of searching for, deciding and choosing what to read is both liberating and empowering. There is simply no need for the army of bots or AI or moderators used by social media to tell me what I should be reading, or hide news/articles that I won’t be interested in just because I clicked ‘like’ on some articles or pages and ignore some other stuff.

I curate the type of content I like to read myself. This is also inline with my minimalistic lifestyle—that intentionality behind everything I do.

What most people don’t realize when they choose to read news from Facebook or Twitter is, they have just outsourced their critical thinking or research skills to an external system be it human or machine. They don’t really stop to think if what they are seeing is fact or fake and don’t bother asking questions because they ‘trust’ the platform to give them exactly what they want to see or hear.

They also stop realizing that they can get information through other means like forums, actual news sites or even reddit. Like in my friend’s case. He even asked me who else still read the news or even newspaper when I replied him.

That’s just one of the many issues plaguing our modern societies.

Another would be when these people see something else out there that disagree with their world view, they get all upset and call those things ‘fake news’. No one is willing to talk to anyone anymore because they don’t want to deal with that discomfort. At least that’s how I view it.

So my question is, if nobody is talking to each other, how are we going to solve problems or how are we going to progress as a society?

You need to understand one thing. Social media sites like Facebook are good at delivering what you like to read or see because they target your emotion centers through the use of algorithms to show you news or articles with titles that trigger something inside of you. As far as I know, they have experts behind the scene guiding how those alogrithm should be developed to maximize the delivery of content to the audience. Those news or articles delivered aren’t necessarily fact-checked or from a credible source.

These sites also make a person even lazier. And humans in general are quite lazy. I mean look at the amount of technology we have develop just to make our life easy and simple. As an example, I have had friends who skimmed through articles presented to them by Facebook, never checking the source, and then make stupid comments, causing unnecessary arguments or unhappiness. I’ll admit that I was guilty of that when I had Facebook too.

This form of lazy masked by the need for the next new thing will spread to other areas of one’s life too if left unchecked. Soon, people will stop thinking if they want to get red wine or white wine to drink or which car they should get, etc. They will just let algorithm decides for them.

At the end of it, they have just made themselves look stupid and their brains smaller. I for one don’t need that in my life. I like having a bigger brain.

Saying goodbye to Facebook for good

In the beginning…

I signed up for an Facebook account in May 2010 after finally giving in to peer pressure. Back then, I also thought why not make myself more “sociable” by joining a social media. I for one has never like being part of any social media. Thus I missed out on the MySpace and Friendster era. What I had was a blog on Blogger and was a member on some forums.

Over the seven or so years of having a Facebook account, I posted countless status updates, uploaded hundreds of photos and have linked my WordPress, YouTube and Twitter to Facebook. I saw Facebook as a platform for me to show more of myself to my friends.

Houston, we got a problem

The last two years, I started feeling I’m oversharing and was concerned with flooding my friends’ news feeds. So the status update slowed down and sometimes there were no post for more than three days. Then there was a period of time when I stop posting for nearly three months before getting back to it.

As of late, I finally realized how much Facebook and my addiction to it has ruined my ability to write long form content to share my thoughts. I stopped being able to articulate my thoughts in writing if I need to go on for more than two paragraphs. I also stop being able to focus deeply into my work.

Privacy started being another main concern as I got older. It all started when I found myself victim of data breaches across some of the sites I used. So fake information about myself started to replace my real personal information on social media sites. Alias email addresses started replacing my personal email address instead on many sites. The incident with Cambridge Analytica was the final straw that pushed me over the edge.

I finally could say I’m done with Facebook.

Acts of deletion and my privacy

As of 25 March 2018 1830 hours, I did it. I triggered the deletion request and my Facebook account has been deactivated as part of it being deleted. Now it’s all about waiting out the 14 days for the actual deletion to start.

The weeks leading to that deletion saw me spending countless hours ruining my own Facebook account by manually removing pictures, comments, likes and posts. Due to the sheer volume, I couldn’t finish them all without automated process. However, I didn’t go with automated option because I wanted to review individually what I have posted in the past.

You’d probably ask why I didn’t download an archive instead to review during my free time. The reason is very simple.

Since I have gotten more concerned with my own privacy, I didn’t want my Facebook archive to end up somewhere. There is just so many possible scenario where the Facebook archive you stored on your hard drive could end up in somebody’s else hands if you are not careful. Facebook having backup copies and logs of your account is bad enough and there is no guarantee that this deletion is a 100% thing. So it’s all about reducing your chance of being exposed.

What’s next

Now, having hit that delete button never felt so good. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I could go about my life more freely. I’m proud of myself for finally taking back control.

Even before hitting that delete button, I did feel freer. It all started ever since I started ruining my Facebook account. Without Facebook, I found myself thinking more and deeper. I have also spent longer than usual amount of time reading articles and digesting them rather than skimming through and move on to the next.

Without Facebook also made me happier because I no longer get to see my friends’ curated “good” life. As the saying goes, ignorance is blissful. It also meant that I could use actual meet ups or text messages to find out more about my friends and how they are doing. This I hope allows for better and stronger friendship. It also forces me to focus more on listening to my friends when we are chatting and not look at my phone. Conversations become deeper and more meaningful.

However, it doesn’t mean that your friends will do the same. Some of my friends don’t. The moment there is a lull in any conversation, they pull out their phone and start scrolling. I suspect it got to do with the lack of trust between friends and that prevented them from wanting to share their deepest and darkest thought.

So it’s time to encourage friends to stop using their phones, focus more on the now and building up the relationship instead of escaping into the digital world.

Living life without social media

Social media is one of the greatest inventions of the modern society after computers. It helped change the modus operandi of companies in how they do business with each other and with end customer. It has also shrink the world into a smaller place where communities are formed and people get together.

However, it’s not without its cons.

Articles like this, this, and this showed that social media led to decrease productivity in workplaces, increase anxiety and stress, increase depression rates, and decrease attention span. It has also led to situation where people in the same room don’t talk to each other anymore. They prefer to be looking at their screens scrolling through the feeds. They will see what their friends are doing, look at cat pictures (I do that because who doesn’t like cats…), and post curated content like images of themselves and their lives.

And you know what? Those articles aren’t wrong at all.

Auditing the time spent on social media

I decided to audit my life two days ago.

I realized I could spend up to four hours a day scrolling through Facebook news feed instead of doing anything productive. I would do it when I’m at work. I would do it while I’m on the train. I would do it while I am waiting for food to arrive. And I would even do it while my friends are around me chatting away.

I was addicted and afraid of talking to people.

And, it also took away precious time that I could use to read and write.

Excising the tumor called Facebook

I made the decision to quit social media. Unsurprisingly, the first to go was Facebook. I logged out from and uninstalled the main and messenger app from my phone and iPad.

Now, I didn’t exactly delete my account because someone once advised that keeping it around is necessary to ensure no one else attempts to masquerade as you. So what I did was to delete every single post I have ever made over the last two years and 95% of the photos on it. I removed my profile picture and cover picture. I put in a fake birthday and clear all the profile fields. There are still more posts to be deleted but it didn’t matter. The damage is done. My Facebook profile is ruined. When something is ruined, chances are you won’t go back and use it again. It would take too much effort to rebuild. Then I hit the logged out button and that was it.

What’s it like?

Although it’s only been three days, the effects were obvious. It’s especially so for me as a writer.

At first, you would feel weird like your limbs have been chopped off. There would be this void or itch that you can’t seem to scratch. When you are outside and feel like checking Facebook, you will find yourself feeling sad because the app is no longer on your phone. To make matter worse, you can’t even remember the password because it’s too long and managed by a password manager.

Then come the second day, you don’t even feel it. Well, at least in my case. I no longer have the desire to check Facebook anymore. You would find yourself feeling lighter and happier. When you are at work, you no longer stop what you were doing just to check the news feed. You can focus on your work more. And when you are traveling, you don’t check your phone as often. In my case, I brought a book along to read. You start to notice the nuances in your surroundings.

By the third day, you would actually use the freed up time to write. Again, I’m assuming you are a writer. The same could said if you like to bake or cook or play musical instruments. Now, even though you are on your computer with the password manager, you don’t even bother to open the password manager, access Facebook, and log in. The effort is just too much. You no longer feel depressed because you are not looking at other people’s well-curated life, all the nice photos of their families and friends, all the status updates of what they are doing, etc. You become more focus in what you want to do.

Don’t listen to those who claim social media is useful

Instead, I would counter that quitting social media is more useful. It will greatly improve your life, improve your productivity, your attention span, and the ability to think deeper.

And that’s how I am able to churn out this article in thirty minutes…

As Dr. Cal Newport put it during his ted talk, social media will actively prevent you from doing deep work. The ability to do deep work is ever so important in this and future economy. When you can do deep work, you are able to learn more in less time.

In that talk, you would hear him counter-argue three points people make when it comes to quitting social media. One of those point being “missing out” and the other was “my job requires it”.

Here are some other articles written by people who quit social media for a fix period of time and permanently.

Emma Fierberg wrote about how she quit social media for a month and how it was the best choice she have ever made.

John Gorman, who’s a writer, also wrote about why he quit social media and what were the benefits.

Call to action

I hope you take the chance to audit your life and determine if you should also quit social media so that you can build a better life for yourself and improve relationships that you have.