I took a long break from Facebook, here’s why I’m coming back now

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Mark Zuckerberg (L) and Chris Hughes (R) of ‘Facebook’ photographed at Eliot House at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. on May 14, 2004.
On February 4th, Facebook celebrates 14 years of coming online. For me, I’ll celebrate 11 years on the network, and take stock of my love-hate relationship with the platform that’s now going through a sea-change.

I remember when Facebook’s attraction was that it had a better interface than Orkut (remember that?), and allowed users to easily chat with friends, “poke” them, and even have fun side conversations privately.

It’s come a long way since then.

Six months ago I took a break from all forms of social media, because it’d made me an entirely asocial, fake virtual-person who’d lost connection with her own self. It’s tough when you’ve been left feeling inadequate by the “perfect” lives, emotions, and pictures paraded on Facebook and its sister platform, Instagram.

Cutting off felt great. I breathed deeply again, identified emotions as I felt them, sat with my uncomfortable anxieties instead of distracting myself, wrote in actual books with actual pens versus virtual walls, heard people’s stories in their own voice (and not a garbled bunch of text in a box), noticed my communities’ ugly moments, and heard my neighbors’ pleas for a patient ear. I felt liberated.

And then I came back — just in time for the debate around Facebook’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, in publishing “fake” news, and possibly being a mental health risk.

Here’s why I’m giving the platform another chance.

A lot of it is due to Adam Mosseri’s — Facebook News Feed Head — thoughtful responses in a recent interview with Wired. It’s the first time a Facebook product head has spoken about changes being undertaken since Mark Zuckerberg emphasized Facebook’s move back to its roots — “connecting people” — during its third-quarter earnings call.

Since then, we’ve had a flurry of posts from Facebook explaining how the company will de-prioritize news in favor of content more relevant to a person’s social circle — that might include news shared by my friend who leads a biotech company that does cool and awesome things.

What coming back feels like

Returning to Facebook feels like reuniting with a former flame – a barrage of emotions in real time. For about a week I only passively consumed news and updates through my newsfeed, occasionally clicking “like,” then graduating to “share,” other people’s achievements. I stayed away from writing anything for nearly a month, after which I bravely wrote updates — and even asked for help.

At first it felt good, but also got me wary of that constant need to check how many likes/comments my post got. That’s where the Facebook detox helped me — I could identify the urge in real-time.

Mindful awareness gave me control, making me less fearful of engaging with my community. No more passive consumption for me — it’s the surest way to misery. So I go to Facebook just like I go to Amazon, when I want something – either an update, to chat, to share or to ask.

I haven’t yet graduated to sharing pictures of myself or my trips or food because I’m still trying to figure out what sharing pictures and videos does for me. My time’s precious to me, so I’d best understand what I’m getting in return for it.

So, here are a few suggestions for Mosseri and his team to consider as they consider their new task of both connecting communities, opinions and views, while also challenging community beliefs and biases.

  • Hub & Spoke Model: Make Facebook the “hub” of content from my friends and family, and leave the “spoking” to me. In other words, let me independently seek out content based on what my network has inspired me to go seek, instead of Facebook offering me content it think I may enjoy.
  • Realign incentives: As long as ads drive Facebook’s engineers and product heads, content, the community and the platform will keep butting heads. How about advertisers start paying Facebook for just engaged users, versus simple eyeballs? (Example: Pepsi pays more to reach a Facebook user who spends on average 8 minutes a day on Facebook versus another user who spends only 3 minutes.) That would free Facebook to deliver on its core promise of driving “meaningful interactions” for its community while leaving the commerce to the advertiser.
  • Define the news feed: Trying to be too many things to too many people is the news feed’s biggest flaw. Re-imagining the interface to simply focus on content from the users’ immediate network will help keep it clean and resolve many editorial conflicts. Separating out related news articles and other public content would go a long way in tackling editorial conflicts as well.
  • Separate news from my feed: Follow the example of Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat strategy, and separate the Facebook community feed from the news-based feed — or separate the platform’s social part from its media part.