During its latest financial results report, Facebook revealed that for the first time the number of daily active users (DAUs) in North America dropped from 185 million in Q3 2017 to 184 million DAUs in Q4 2017. The reasons for this drop cannot be clearly explained but they come at a time when Facebook has faced a backlash from users in North America for not doing enough to curb the scourge of fake news that eventually influenced the presidential elections in the USA in 2016.
The meddling in the US elections even led to actor Jim Carrey tweeting that he is dumping his Facebook stock and "deleting my page because Facebook profited from Russian interference in our elections and they’re still not doing enough to stop it." One other possible reason for people leaving Facebook could be attributed to more studies revealing how addictive Facebook and other social media platforms can become and how unhealthy this is.
One such person who has not only quit Facebook but all social media platforms is Angelino Desmet. Desmet started Facebroek.com to raise awareness about the dangers of continued social media usage and collect research that people can read around the subject. I caught up with Desmet to learn more about Facebroek and why he believes we should all quit social media.
iAfrikan: Before we get into what Facebroek is all about, tell us a bit about yourself.
Angelino Desmet: [I was] born and living in Belgium since 1990. I'm a jack of all trades, but I'm getting closer to my twelve year old self — a time when I didn't ask the question about who I was or who I'm supposed to be, yet knew the answer. Back then science, technology and adventure deeply fascinated me. Especially airplanes because the thought of flying always brought about of euphoria.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool." —Richard Feynman
Fortunately I've been able to fly in my dreams, or get a resembling feeling through paper airplanes, a quadcopter, or going fast and high on my skateboard. As for my involvement in tech, I can do a bit of programming, 3D modeling, level design, build and fix computers, and so on. I closely follow up on Tesla and SpaceX, and my latest interest involves Bitcoin. The potential of the latter is on par with the Internet in the nineties. However, I'd rather work for the former two companies.
Why did you start facebroek.com?
This wasn't the first time I quit social media.
About three years ago I deleted [all] my accounts as well, but without a well-grounded reason. It was more of a 'facebook sucks' kind of attitude. When I joined again I thought: "This time I'll just be myself, not care, and not use it too much." At first that idea worked fine, but gradually and unconsciously my mood was being affected by the amount of likes on my posts. The more time I put into a post or comment, the more disproportionate the emotional impact of the likes—or lack of. A lot of likes made me feel good, briefly. And less than expected likes made me think everyone disliked me.
A feeling that lingered until the next normal social interaction, or the next post with many likes. Surprisingly something less obvious made me pull the trigger. Whenever I opened my browser or a new tab I unthinkingly typed 'face' and pressed enter. When I came across a Reddit user who mentioned the same behavior, it dawned on me that my relationship with social media was addictive and harmful. I tried to lessen my usage, but to no avail, I had to quit. The name facebroek was floating in my head for a while, but it wasn't until I was learning web development that I thought to make a website out of it. A simple parody website which would go well with my last goodbye post on facebook; explaining why I quit, and why others should too.
Given you are from Belgium, is it correct to assume the "broek" is dutch for pants?
Yes. I sometimes imagine a fad (like planking) where everyone changes their profile picture to one with pants on their head. Just for fun or as a lighthearted protest against facebook; it doesn't matter, it makes me laugh either way. I just realized broek means broek in Afrikaans as well; another part of the world that can understand the joke [😊].
When did it occur to you that social media is bad for you?
I initially thought I was bad with social media, or social media was bad for only a small fraction of the population. Only after I actively started searching for sources I realized that I underestimated the scale of the problem. Not only is it a place for superficial pictures of food, a tool to falsely glamorize your life, or to compare yourself with 'friends', it's much more devious. The fact that social media exploit our psychological weaknesses convinced me to label them as bad, harmful, and sometimes, evil.
Would you say there are varying degrees of addiction depending on the different types of social media platforms?
Definitely. Not only are there differences between platforms, there are differences between people. For example, I once read that besides circumstances, also certain genes can make a person more likely to become addicted to alcohol. I wouldn't be surprised if the same goes for the Internet or social media. In fact, I think people can become addicted to anything. That does not mean we should be anti-everything because not everything is inherently designed to be addictive. Social media, however, is —for now. I compare these companies to bullies; picking a fight they know they will win. An attitude caused by stupidity, cowardice, or evil — and we all know Silicon Valley isn't stupid.
Anyway, to come back to the question, some platforms are better at exploiting our minds than others. If I had to pick my poison, it would be Twitter. Although Twitter's notification delay is explicitly timed for maximum gratification and therefore maximum addiction, the content focuses more on ideas than things or people, and that's what I prefer.
“Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”Henry Thomas Buckle
Is quitting social media the only option? What about reducing usage?
Probably not. It depends on what kind of person you are I guess. As I explained above, some people might be more susceptible to certain addictions than others. Be honest with yourself. If you feel something makes your life worse more often than it improves your life, quit. If you can easily distance yourself, not get emotionally attached, and not spend too much time on it, stay. Just be aware that it's not because you don't experience negative effects—or think you don't—that it doesn't harm others. To each his own...kryptonite.
Apart from considering social media platforms like Facebook 'evil', Desmet also believes the practice of expiring data bundles is evil.
" In fact, the first source on facebroek.com is about that! I also find it ridiculous that paid for data disappears after one month. This practice is akin to planned obsolescence, to stimulate consumption. A form of marketing that I consider evil," concluded Desmet.