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Disclaimer: Tech is the number one industry in Victoria with amazing, innovative and entrepreneurial people working in that space. This post is not a rant against technology; it’s about putting social media in its place. 

I’m quitting Facebook. Before the cry begins about how will the mayor be in touch with her constituents, let me count the ways: email me mayor@victoria.ca, call or text me at 250-661-2708, send me a note on Messenger, follow my blog, call my office 250-361-0200, call CFAX any Friday between 3pm and 4pm where I’m on air taking your questions, attend a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall, or come to a Community Drop In .

It’s this last venue, the Community Drop In, that’s my favourite. I hold it in my office every two weeks. We put the kettle on, get great coffee from 2% Jazz and the community drops in to share ideas, concerns, and solutions. There’s always a diversity of people that show up. And it’s a place where we listen to each other, hear about amazing events and programs being led by citizens, and we solve problems together. Sometimes it’s hard and people come in really angry. And through conversation and connection that anger fades to understanding.

And this points directly to the first reason I’m quitting Facebook. When I became mayor, Facebook was still a civil place. It was a place where I could share ideas and get good feedback, where dialogue happened. I remember getting off Facebook and saying to a friend, “That was a really good conversation.” But all of this has changed.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Lewis interviews former Facebook, Twitter and Google workers. Lewis writes that according to James Williams, an ex-Google strategist, social media manipulation “is not only distorting the way we view politics but, over time, may be changing the way we think, making us less rational and more impulsive.” As Williams says, “We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage.” The site Time Well Spent, founded by Williams and others and focused on how to make tech more humane, puts it this way: “Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.”

Facebook peddles in outrage. According to Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, “Algorithms that maximize attention give an advantage to negative messages. People tend to react more to inputs that land low on the brainstem. Fear and anger produce a lot more engagement and sharing than joy.” 

I have felt this evolution online over the past four years. Facebook has become a toxic, echo chamber where people who have anything positive to say are often in defense mode against negativity and anger. And, as McNamee notes, “The use of algorithms … leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed … the result is that everyone sees a different version of the internet tailored to create the illusion that everyone else agrees with them. Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts.”

I think we need to take this really seriously as a community. And I’m quitting Facebook so I stop contributing in any way to this cycle of psychological violence where fear and anger get more air time than joy, where opinions become hardened in the absence of facts or dialogue and where division rather than much-needed connection is the norm.

What is worse is that the effects and impacts don’t seem to be remaining on the screen. We are experiencing a Facebookization of public discourse in community meetings, in engagement processes. People sometimes show up angry and outraged before they’ve even received any information. The community is unnecessarily divided. Facebook is of course, not entirely to blame. But I wonder what would happen if we did a grand social experiment where people put down their phones, or at least took a Facebook break for a month, and engaged in more face to face conversations.

Except that we can’t put down our phones. And this is the second big reason I’m quitting Facebook. I’m worried about our individual (read my!) and collective ability to focus. And focus is exactly what is needed to fix the big issues that face us in 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

Dscout, a web-based research platform, did a study where they put an app on the phones of a diverse sample of 100,000 people and tracked their every interaction for five days, 24 hours per day. By every interaction, they mean “every tap, type, swipe and click.” They called them “touches”. The authors reported that what they discovered was “simultaneously expected and astonishing – and a little bit sad.” The average user touched their phone 2617 times per day. As noted by Justin Rosenstein, inventor of the Facebook “Like” button, “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

It’s not a question of us a humans being ‘weak’ or something being ‘wrong with us’. Social media is designed to suck us in, to keep us distracted. It’s called the “attention economy”. Social media companies are competing for scarce minutes turned hours of our time. This is contributing to fragmenting our attention spans so that we no longer have the ability to focus individually or collectively on the big issues that desperately need our attention. This isn’t good for the state of our democracy in Victoria where what we need is to be able to talk with each other and listen to each other about the challenges we face as a community.

Finally, though and most worrying, and my third reason for quitting Facebook, is that social media use and cell-phone distraction is actually shriveling our brains.

According to Dr. Paul Mohapel at Royal Roads University, citing a study from Sussex, device-driven multitasking can shrivel the prefrontal cortex specifically the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain used in executive function, cognitive processes, emotional regulation and evaluative processes.  Our brains are shriveling in the place we need them most – to reason, to have empathy and most importantly to have the emotional intelligence to connect with others.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been weaning myself off Facebook slowly, just like when I quit coffee. I first deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Then from my iPad. And finally, I changed my web browser home page. The final step is to close down my Facebook account … It makes me nervous just typing this.

I wonder how quitting Facebook will impact my relationship with my phone? My time? My sense of self worth? I look forward to more face to face conversations, less distractions, and keeping my noodle intact.

 

 

 

 

 

40 comments

  1. getting rid of facebook will not fix the wrong direction this city is going. bigger is not better. i expect to be ignored and blocked no matter. what. more poor. more poverty. more high rises. more pollution. more lies. victoria is already a place i dont go even though i was raised in the city. victoria is lost to over development and lack of vision. and its not facebooks fault.

  2. i support you Lisa. . its brave and the right thing to do to quit the haters .. Facebook is so different from face to face and encourages anger and bad feeling …. you are the best Mayor we ever had and we don’t even know it .. .

  3. Thank you Mayor Helps for your very thoughtful reflection on this vital issue impacting civil society. You have inspired me to follow suit.

  4. I think this Mayor has a vision. I don’t always expect to agree with anyone’s vision but the fact that Lisa has one and makes decision based on her vision and not just telling us what we want to hear to get re-elected is refreshing.
    This observation of FB is something I do agree with. I am not ready to let go of it, maybe never will but she makes me think….that alone is a good thing.

  5. These are well thought out reasons for leaving Facebook. While I cannot fault you for your decision, I’m still saddened, because, like any public forum, the quality diminishes when intelligent people committed to rational discourse leave the stage to the ravening mob.

    I work in the field of content creation and social media. I’d like your permission to reprint your article – in part or in whole – on some of my digital platforms, with full citation of course.

  6. Thank you Lisa for your leadership on this and many other civic initiatives. I look forward to seeing what new forms of engagement our creative community can conjure up, as folks take a deep breath and spend a bit less time online. Let’s see more projects like the community message board that was proposed for participatory budgeting, placespeak, and creation of public space that nudges people to interact.

  7. Thank you for so articulately explaining why so many of us were so unhappy with Facebook. I quit quite a while ago and I haven’t missed it one bit.

  8. This is such a ‘real’ article and I find it a brave move. I would like to do the same but so connected with overseas family. Some of the comments that have been addressed to you and others are absolutely disgusting. My sense is that it is cowards that hide behind these. Whether we agree with all of your ideas is not the point but basic manners should come first. Thank you for the many other ways to connect. I wish you well.

  9. Fully support you in your decision, but I will miss your insightful posts and thoughts. For me you will be seen and heard less, even though I signed up for this blog, I am sad to see less of you in my news intake.

  10. As the host city to Canada’s largest social media conference, which I co-produce, I have to say I was a little surprised, but also not.

    In fact, we’ve made the theme for this year’s event “Restoring Social’s Promise”. I’d be very interested in discuss this decision with you more within that context, Lisa.

    Details of the theme are at socialmediacamp.ca/theme … here’s what it says …

    Social Media has brought us all closer, and made our world a whole lot smaller. This has been a tremendous win for marketers, and Social Media Camp always has a lot of content for marketers!

    It came with so much promise – opening channels of communication, building trust and understanding, tearing down walls, and building each other up. We can find thousands of examples of this happening – people meeting, sharing and doing great things with this incredible technology. But there is a darker side to social media, too. People have been able to build silos around themselves, there is information overload leading to stress, addiction, and worse. In 2018, you don’t have to look far to find adults being disrespectful online, threatening and toxic toward each other using the same technology that held so much promise.

    Is this the inevitable future of social media, or can we do better?

    This year, we’d like to examine the promise of social media, and how we can make this amazing technology work better for everyone. Let’s find and build on the original promise, discuss and discover ways to restore balance in people’s lives, and use this incredible technology to help build a better world.

    Social Media Camp examines the larger societal implications of social media, tackling areas such as ethics, behaviour, politics, religion, relationships, and more. This year we’ve made this element the underlying theme.

    Is it too late for Social Media, or can we recognize it’s failings in this area as a stumbling block on a road to a better experience for a connected humanity?

    Respectfully, Paul.

    1. Thank you for exploring this important topic! Happy as always to discuss. Check out the link to Time Well Spent in my blog. They’re onto something that aligns with your theme. Thanks for all you do!

    2. You’ve done a lot of excellent work in the social media realm, Paul. You’re presentations started me on the journey of assisting clients with their social media presence.

  11. Leaving Facebook/Social Media will potentially disconnect you from the most important demographic with regards to Victoria’s future: our Youth.

    Unfortunately, social media is here to stay. You can protest by quitting it, but you will be at a disadvantage with regards to connecting with the future generations. Young people don’t listen to CFAX, Mayor Helps 🙂

    Humans are learning about appropriate online behaviour slowly, and positive changes are taking place – Facebook is a very new experience for humans – there will be some growing pains. Social media can be used for positive results (see: Obama election 2008/2014).

    Hope you reconsider! – Ben, on Pender.

    1. As a young person I can attest that Facebook is pretty passé for young people. It’s kind of seen as something your parents would use and doesn’t hold much appeal anymore.

      1. Thanks Laura. Any advice about the best way for a Mayor to connect with young people online or off?

  12. Hi Lisa! I think this is very forward thinking. I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing, and this post may have confirmed the end of Facebook for me as well. I hope that you will recognize me on the streets. ❤️

    1. Great to hear Neil. Let me know how it goes! And do say hi when we bump into each other on the street; I’ll enjoy that.

  13. This post pushed me over the edge, I deactivated FB this morning but left my Messenger app up that is my sole communication with some.

    I noticed that I’ve been so hooked on FB, but ultimately wind up finding it lonely and unfulfilling. That was my reason more so than their privacy woes.

    I’m hoping I have the discipline to stay off, and I’m excited about what might change with any newfound mental energy I have freed up for myself.

    1. Thanks for sharing Matt! I’m keeping Messenger too. It feels like email to me. A private one on one conversation.

  14. Great blog Lisa. If voters have something to share, they know how to reach you. This line rings true in many communities: “People sometimes show up angry and outraged before they’ve even received any information. The community is unnecessarily divided.”

    1. The link is in the blog post to the video by Dr. Mopahel from Royal Roads University. He cites a number of studies in his talk. I’ve reached out to him to get more details and will post here when I do!

    1. From the study notes: “But neuroscientists Kep Kee Loh and Dr Ryota Kanai point out that their study reveals a link rather than causality and that a long-term study needs to be carried out to understand whether high concurrent media usage leads to changes in the brain structure, or whether those with less-dense grey matter are more attracted to media multitasking.” Causation, or correlation?

      You have to be careful not to make a quick judgement from media spun science studies. The media almost always sensationalizes, and almost always muddy the waters.

  15. Thanks Mayor Lisa for this timely info!

    Your compelling reasons to delete Facebook is a wake-up call. Most people assumed Facebook was a secure “Safety Deposit Box” to entrust their treasures. It has turned into a “Pandora’s Box”.

    I read somewhere, “If we can “make” things, we can “unmake” things.”

  16. News Stories this week regarding PRIVACY beyond just Facebook:

    NATIONAL POST NEWS: Can Facebook be listening through your Smartphone Microphone?

    http://nationalpost.com/news/world/facebook-could-be-listening-through-your-smartphone-microphone-whistleblower-says

    GLOBAL NEWS: Are Landlords asking for too much Information?

    https://globalnews.ca/video/4100866/privacy-commissioner-warns-some-landlords-asking-for-too-much-information

    BLOOMBERG NEWS: Possible Hearing for Facebook/Google/Twitter CEOs?

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-19/grassley-considers-hearing-with-facebook-google-twitter-ceos

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