Unfollow Everything.

Louis Barclay: Facebook Banned Me for Life Because I Help People Use It Less

If someone built a tool that made Facebook less addictive -- a tool that allowed users to benefit from Facebook's positive features while limiting their exposure to its negative ones -- how would Facebook respond?

I know the answer, because I built the tool, and Facebook squashed it. This summer, Facebook sent me a cease-and-desist letter threatening legal action. It permanently disabled my Facebook and Instagram accounts. And it demanded that I agree to never again create tools that interact with Facebook or its other services. [...]

I had the idea for Unfollow Everything a few years ago, when I realized you don't actually need to have a News Feed. If you unfollow everything -- all of your friends, groups, and pages -- your News Feed ends up empty.

This isn't the same as unfriending. If you unfollow your friends and groups, you're still connected to them, and you can look up their profiles if you want. But by unfollowing everything, you eliminate your News Feed. This leaves you free to use Facebook without the feed, or to more actively curate it by refollowing only those friends and groups whose posts you really want to see.

I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable. [...]

Then, a few months ago, Facebook sent me a cease-and-desist letter. The company demanded that I take down the tool. It also told me that it had permanently disabled my Facebook account -- an account that I'd had for more than 15 years, and that was my primary way of staying in touch with family and friends around the world. Pointing to a provision in its terms of service that purports to bind even former users of Facebook, Facebook also demanded that I never again create a tool that interacts with Facebook or its many other services in any way.

These demands seemed outrageous to me. They also seemed outrageous to lawyers I consulted from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and in the U.K. But my options were limited. I'm a U.K. resident, so a lawsuit against Facebook would probably have played out in a U.K. court, where I would have been personally on the hook for Facebook's litigation costs if I lost. Facebook is a trillion-dollar company. I couldn't afford that risk, so Unfollow Everything no longer exists. This is bad for its users, and also for the University of Neuchâtel, which will no longer be able to use it to study the News Feed.

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11 Responses:

  1. k3ninho says:

    I think this needs a succinct tag for "if you ain't paying for it, you're the product, not the consumer."

    K3n.

  2. Chris says:

    This week everybody has been saying "Oh Facebook has had such a bad week" but how bad was it really? Their stock is unmoved, obviously no rules will change, and unfortunately their sites are back up. We can't know the answer yet, but did anyone look at this weeks' news and say "I'm not spending money on ads after reading that" ?

    Next week all will be forgotten. We'll still say "Facebook sucks" as every single person interacts with it the same way they did 2 months ago, whether it's buying ads, updating pages, or flicking through page after page of garbage.

    • グレェ「grey」 says:

      I read a theory from at least one individual, who is perhaps more cynical than I (which is saying something), that perhaps the FB/IG/WA outages were PR spin "damage control" to get news headlines to focus on the loss of service, instead of the Congressional hearings trotting out evidence against their interests.

      Seems plausible. When you follow the threads that the outages were supposedly due to FB's home grown BGP implementation (because heaven forbid they use Quagga, or OpenBGP or some other extant alternative) it.sh-ing the bed, seemed more plausible. When IG went down again, days later, really, started to feel as if they tried to give Mark Sucks-They're-Borg a button so he could trigger ./outage-to-scroll-news-feeds-so-they-focus-on-how-much-people-miss-us-when-we-are-gone.sh at whim, I wonder if the icon is in cornflower blue?

      Wait, isn't the FB logo, already cornflower blue? o.O

  3. Pronoiac says:

    On Metafilter, someone linked a Javascript snippet in a github gist that's become a group effort to keep running.

  4. saxmaniac says:

    I did this about 10 years ago - I encourage you to do this manually.

    Start at the top of your feed. Unfollow the first thing. Repeat. The most fascinating yet infuriating thing was watching the Feed deconstruct itself post by post.

    It became immediately apparent that it was hiding things I really wanted to see - like the once-yearly post from a favorite uncle about some family event. What was it showing in place of that? A friend of my wife who, on her first pregnancy, contracted diarrhea of the mouth and posted ever fleeting thought for years.

    Eventually, I got to The End. And then it just freaked the fuck out, begging me to follow things, add friends, inventing new friends out of the blew, making fake friend requests, fake messages, fake notifications… seeing the divide-by-zero cases of thousand algorithms turn into some sort of Dadaist slurry of incoherent non-thought.

    It felt like when Dave kills HAL in 2000 and he starts singing “Daisy”… except I only wish it were dead.

    For extra fun unlike all pages and comments, in time reverse order. Takes a bit but do a little each day.

    Not long after I deactivated entirely. That’s an entirely different story.

    • margaret says:

      i went through this exact sequence. i had originally signed up when you had to have a '.edu' and it seemed that as i unfollowed everything it brought the algorithms back to those early days where you only saw stuff your friends posted. i was saddened that so much of the mundane stuff i really would have been interested in seeing had been, for years, displaced with crap meant to provoke outrage. t☣xic garbage.

    • Dude says:

      The latter is a story I know well. It's funny how when you hit "Deactivate" FB suddenly becomes 1 - a combination of a drug dealer prodding you about how you'll never get your fix again, and 2 - a nagging ex who doesn't want you to leave because "we had so many good times together".

      By the by, how did reclaiming all your stuff go for you? When I killed my FB in 2018, I was expecting the promised "get all your stuff in one .zip file" that they promised. I got all my photos, videos, and Notes, but they also said they'd give you and off-line version of every post you've ever made on the site. I got maybe .0005% of that (mentally calculating based on the nine-or-so years I was on FB).

      In a way, not getting all my posts made killing the account easier: I realised there was nothing on the site worth taking with me (save for the photos, videos, and birthdates/contact info for friends). I killed my Twitter shortly after... which did the exact same thing.

  5. Sparge says:

    I think if you unfollow everything your feed will consist only of ads. Since FBP is currently unable to block ads, that doesn't seem like a great strategy.

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