Facebook Wants To Overhaul Its News Feed - I Made Mine Empty Instead 

"We need to refocus the system," is how Mark Zuckerberg explained the dramatic changes he plans to make to Facebook's News Feed in an interview with The New York Times yesterday. "We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people."

All images: Facebook.com

It's as close to an admission as we're likely to get from Zuckerberg about the negative effects his company has had on humanity. Of course, refocusing on "meaningful interaction" (that is, high impact posts from close friends) can only come at the cost of massively reducing the reach of publishers. A small price to pay, perhaps. But I think my own overhaul of Facebook might have Mark's beat.

Since early December, I've been systematically clearing everyone and everything from my feed. Most days, nothing remains on the social network I joined 12 years ago except for this: "Welcome to Facebook. Get started by adding friends. You'll see their videos, photos and posts here." Occasionally, the site offers a more exhausted message: "There are no more posts to show right now."

It's blissful.

There are certainly more efficient methods to unfollow everyone on Facebook, but I opted to dismiss people and groups as they appeared on my feed to see how the platform would react to my rapid decoupling. Present coworkers were replaced by past ones, and close friends gave way to more distant ones I probably owed a call or an email to. I saw names that were familiar from high school next to faces that were now strange, then relatives of exes whose digital friendship merited neither the animosity of deletion nor the awkwardness of interaction. It was a slow, weeks-long journey to the outer reaches of my social circles, all the way out to people I had no recollection of, living in places I've never been.

As people disappeared from my timeline by the dozens, Facebook dutifully surfaced posts for me - although they were getting increasingly stale. Wishes of "happy birthday Tim!" directed at a musician I knew in university hung around for days after he'd turned, what, 29? Thirty years old? At its most desperate, Facebook shoved week-old posts into my withering feed, starved for anything that would keep my eyes trained on its infamous blue and grey walled garden.

Certain that I would at least want to see posts from a page I managed, my Facebook feed became a deluge of Gizmodo links - so I revoked my administrative privileges.

By day three, the feed began visibly panicking.

It would do this a few times before landing on the "no posts to show" message

And a day later it gave up. Just like that, all my digital friendships were tucked neatly away. Unfollowed but not unfriended, even passive interactions with my Facebook relations became optional when I logged on. (Some of these steps, I should note, had to be repeated for Facebook's mobile app, which seems, by design, to ignore your desire to receive fewer notifications.)

Keen to keep going, the next target on Facebook's remarkably cluttered front page was the "shortcuts" menu - something I've never used and possibly never even noticed before launching this crusade to vanquish Zuckerberg's UI for my own well-being. Like much of Facebook, these sidebar links appear to be automatically generated, and they can't be deleted. But they can be hidden, manually, one at a time. When none remain, the shortcuts menu disappears.

Facebook was a lot more excited for my birthday than I was...

The same holds true for the "stories" module - with no stories to fill it, it collapses into nothing. Only one person's story appeared on my feed, and I didn't recognise the name of the poster. Unfriended. Gone.

Trending topics can also be removed (one at a time) until there are none left, resulting in an eerie question mark, drifting too close to module's border. But the topics refill so quickly that it's hardly worth the effort. Functionally, nothing else on Facebook's main page is optional. With the core product absent, a cavalcade of utterly useless features are all that remain, exposing the company's ad hoc approach to harvesting time and data from users.

The question mark just sits there.

Similar to how I'll open the fridge to stare at the same leftovers when I'm more bored than hungry, I used to check Facebook dozens of times a day. Call it emotional lethargy. It's an unusual habit to break - one which hundreds of people a lot smarter than me worked very hard to make as difficult to quit as they could. Being greeted by nothing has provided powerful reinforcement.

Why not delete my account completely? I can justify Zuckerberg's algorithmic nightmare as an invaluable tool for reporting, but it's also undeniable that nothing holds more of my digital memories than Facebook. Many of them exist nowhere else. Photos of summer cookouts. Jokes between friends now passed away. Facebook lets people download their full user archive but, according to the company, "unfortunately, there's no way to individually select which data you would like to download when you download your Facebook info."

Not all of these memories need to remain stored on the servers of a company I (and much of the Western world) no longer trusts, but I'd like some of them to be saved. Preserving what's meaningful and deleting what isn't will be an arduous project for another day. In another 12 years I'd like to relive a few of them again, with or without Facebook's help.

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Comments

    I have also 'unfollowed but not unfriended' everyone on FB and I agree, it's wonderful.

      apart from facebook chat, i rarely actually interact with facebook short of scrolling the feed and watching a few videos....

      can i ask what you consider to be the point of even having facebook when there is clearly nothing on it that interests you anyway....

      why not just stop using it altogether?

        Two Reasons. I am in some different hobby groups, so only when I choose to visit a group do I see the relevant posts. And Facebook Chat. For years I tried getting friends and family to use the same messaging service, but everyone has Facebook, so I can chat to everyone in one place.

          yeh fair points i would struggle with losing facebook chat as thats literally how everyone i know keep in contact...but i can certainly do without the constant stream of rubbish every single 'like' puts on my page.

          i watch my gf like so many things when shes using fb...i know im likely to be forced to look at each and every one of those 'likes'.

          that being said im pretty liberal at unfollowing that which i do not want to see, so works both ways i guess.

    I certainly applaud the idea that the media should also be good for you. This false notion that media is benign and it no more harms a person than it is a way to educate us. Heaven forbid we have News Services that peform a a positive educational role.

    Ha, I signed on to crap book with a false name so I could play zinger poker with my son. I turned everything off, never friended anyone or follow anyone. All I get is notices of do you know these people or do you want to friend these people. I'm up to 86 notices on my email but I never open them. The only way to enjoy facecrook

    Last edited 14/01/18 6:11 pm

    I have no idea why reasonably sane people would join a "service" that appears to creep into their minds in a very unsettling way and causes them to constantly check out their page. I mentor little kids and I try without success to wean them off it, but even the ones copping abuse from so called friends seem incapable of closing it down. What a pathetic habit, when life looms large outside.

    Wow. By your description of your tumultuous fight to tame the monster facebook you must now be writhing in an orgasmic trance... Let me guess. You're a millennial that doesn't quite get it that you can simply delete your hatebook account and actually try talking to people face to face. Pretty simple but as all millennials you make a big deal out of nothing...

      this i wonder myself....

      theyve taken the time...over several months....to remove everyone from their feed to have the satisfaction of look at a feed with nothing on it....

      why not just delete the account or easier still, just stop using it altogether...

        You're response makes me believe you didn't read the article as that question is answered.

      You know some people have family and friends that do not live locally. I am not a fan of travelling 3000km for a face to face chat myself.
      If you look at the statists 25-34year olds (millenials) are only 10% higher on their usage that 35-44 year olds (gen x)
      I don't myself use generation terms much as it's usually used as a form of ageism.
      Though it is shown especially among males that as they get older and settle down they reduce the size of their social circles and among older males this can form emotions of detachment , loneliness, depression and outwardly displayed As, jealousy, confusion towards others in large social groups or just plain old hostility.

      The attacks towards a generation that was not mentioned and the author never gives their age, shows you have probably gone the route of all 3.

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