Millennials know Facebook is impossible to escape – so they’re bending the rules

Because deleting your account is easier said than done.

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Last week, after the Cambridge Analytica revelations, the co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, called for a boycott of Facebook, the company that bought his messaging platform for a cool $19bn in 2014. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, and another Facebook critic, followed suit and deleted his Facebook page. Yet with more than two billion monthly users worldwide, for many of us, deleting Facebook is easier said than done.

On the other hand, feeling suspicious of social media is no longer the sole domain of the crazy guy with the tin hat – these scandals have made the concept mainstream. And the backlash has been led by the young and tech-savvy.

This year, Facebook users spent, on average, 5 per cent less time on the platform. This, according to Mark Zuckerberg, is by design. Following the fake news debacle last year, Facebook changed the algorithm for its newsfeed in order to prioritise more meaningful content from real people, rather than viral videos and untrustworthy news sources. Zuckerberg has talked about wanting Facebook users to feel as if their time spent on the platform is “time well spent”.

However, rather than letting a social media company decide how they should spend their time, many are taking a DIY approach towards the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Here's some advice from early twenties millennials on how they've altered their Facebook usage in the last year:

1. Turn others’ birthdays into a gift to yourself

Colette Allen, 21, uses Facebook’s birthday reminders as a way of deleting people whose faces she doesn’t remember. So if you find you lose a few Facebook friends on your birthday, it may be a sign that you are not only older, but actually quite forgettable. A realisation none of us needed. 

2. Unfollow literally everyone

Sam Cousins, 20, tells me the problem with Facebook nowadays is the “endless tagging of people in low-effort memes or lists appearing in my newsfeed. Which is tedious”. 

It was so tedious that, for a few months, every time someone posted something on Facebook, he would unfollow them. He said the task took a couple of months, but tells me unfollowing 500 of his Facebook friends was ultimately worth it. On his own account at least, Cousins has killed the timeline that first made Facebook such a success – and made it a way of messaging everyone in his social circle, and keeping up to date with party invitations. He has, essentially, refashioned his Facebook into a glorified events planner. 

As that sage ancient proverb goes – you cannot be in a social media bubble, if you delete the bubble. 

3. Rip Facebook up and start again

Kyra Watt, 21, deleted her original account and made a new one, featuring only her closest friends. Of her old account, she says there were “too many people on there who I haven’t spoken to in years or weren’t my real friends and I don’t want them to know my business. But also I liked weird pages from 2008 and it was very cluttered”. 

4. Mute all Group Chats

One friend who wishes not to be named tells me she mutes all group chats she’s in, even ones that she has no intention of ever engaging with as it’s “too awkward to leave as Facebook announces to everyone when you do this”. Much like the unfollow button, the ability to mute, gives you all the control of your social life, without any of the conflict. This is most likely what The Spectator calls the “problem with millenials”. 

5. Teach yourself discipline (or download it)

Alex Saunders*, 24, admits that when Facebook started pushing videos, and making them auto-play, he’d spend hours watching Vine clips he had no interest in. He has now downloaded the app Freedom, which blocks any apps he wants for certain time periods. Alex can now only go on social media after 5:30pm. While this may seem drastic, at least Alex has the self-awareness to understand that will power is not enough to reduce one's Facebook use. 

6.  Hang out in Wi-Fi coldspots

When the stress gets too much, the easiest thing to do is unplug from the internet. When I tried this, I learnt it is also an easy way of receiving very concerned texts from your very kind friends (I admit it, I loved the attention). Nevertheless, the digital detox is becoming an increasingly common health trend. A whole new retreat industry is being set up around the concept, with one satisfied punter explaining they “felt cleansed” after a now annual three-day retreat in Somerset.

Millennials know that Facebook is here to stay, but we are also more clued up as to the tricks that keep us coming back. Rather than boycotting them altogether, users are realising they have to take responsibility for the amount they rely on such social media sites. Whether this is done by deleting apps or turning off notifications, we appear to finally understand that Silicon Valley doesn't necessarily have our best interests at heart. 

*Not his real surname, as even he knows this seeming lack of self-control may seem weird to future employers.

Jason Murugesu is a postgraduate student in science communication at Imperial College London, and a former Wellcome Scholar at the New Statesman.