Zuckerberg is Too Thirsty

The first step is admitting you have a problem. It’s got a blue logo and it likes to beep at you so you’ll spend more time with it.

I’ve tried to tame the beast. I disabled notifications on my phone after they kept making red dots for no reason at all. I kicked it off my phone entirely after I realized how often I was opening it on autopilot while I drank coffee in the mornings or waited for a train.

And then there’s the recklessness. I wrote a year ago that Facebook had inherited editorial responsibilities whether they wanted them or not. Their efforts to fix this have been underwhelming or a sham.

So I decided to try a brief hiatus. I expected to take a week off, not really miss it, and come back to a big pile of notifications slightly more cognizant of the time I spent scrolling.

Then a funny thing happened.

Facebook started nudging me.

Lock me out

I didn’t need to delete my account. The night of November 2, I deleted my password out of my password manager and logged out, meaning I wouldn’t be able to get back in without running through the whole forgot your password process.

Two days later I broke the hiatus to upload some concert photos, then logged back out.

Enticement

On November 5, the emails started.

Dogspotting is an excellent group. I’ve never gotten alerts from it before.

On November 7, five days in, it got more aggressive.

Did you see? What is it? You can find out, just log into Facebook. Deep down, you know you want to.

And then this. I’d never seen a “your friend updated his status” message before. This start happening explicitly because I was logged out.

That open button was a direct login link. You don’t even need a password, just click. Click right now.

Brian, it turned out, had posted encouraging friends to vote in a Virginia election, as one does. Facebook emailed me about this at 8:15pm. The polls closed at 7pm.

I assume the algorithm doesn’t know what the content was, just that it had many likes and the probability I would click to see what he posted was higher than the alternative trending posts at that time. None of that matters to me as a user, of course.

I logged in long enough to see this and post more concert photos. There were half a dozen notifications, mostly likes on the previous photos.  I scrolled for a bit, got bored, and logged back out.

On the other hand

To be fair, I normally get Facebook notifications by email (rather than mobile). Until I locked myself out, they were always been tied to an action: a message, an event invitation, a comment on one of the many aforementioned concert photos.

Those are fine. I have an account so I can see those things, and there’s nothing wrong with making a product that people use every day because they like it.

But this was getting a little weird.

Escalation

On November 8, Six days in, I got this, unprompted: 

Alas, Mr. Facebook, I’m having trouble staying off.

Where to begin… for starters, I already have tickets to Tegan and Sara. But does this actually feel compelling to anyone?

I wrapped up the experiment November 9, at least for now. In practice, I hadn’t quit completely so much as reduced my usage to a bare minimum. Concert photos don’t post themselves, after all.1

Conclusion

Mostly, I’m surprised just how shamelessly aggressive the anti-hiatus responses are.

I hadn’t been planning to delete my account. But this whining and grasping for attention after even a few days of less than total disconnection is unflattering.

It’s as if it’s designed to be hard to use in moderation, and that’s never a good thing.


  1. This is not a feature request.