It’s no secret that Facebook’s 1.2 billion users have a love-hate relationship with the site. A Google search for "quit Facebook" returns 346 million results; by comparison, "quit smoking" reels in a mere 16.3 million results. There have been Facebook strikes and boycotts, and the Web is flush with articles about how to wriggle free from the social networking behemoth's grip. How many times have you or a friend hung up the “gone fishin’” sign for a Facebook hiatus, only to return a few days – or hours – later?
The attraction and repulsion to Facebook is complicated, to be sure, but Facebook’s own recently (and secretly) conducted experiment might shed a little light. When the company tweaked the newsfeeds of 700,000 unwitting users with a positive or negative slant, they found that the mood was contagious and those users corresponded with more positive or negative status updates. Although we may think we are immune to the effects of Facebook, it's more insidious than meets the eye.
While Facebook's toying around with people’s emotions didn’t go over very well with the public, it has brought the topic of Facebook and happiness to the table again (this isn’t the first time Facebook has been linked to feeling blue).
When the members of a Dutch creative agency, Just, were discussing Facebook’s ethically questionable experiment, they had an epiphany. As Just's Art Director, Merijn Straathof, explains:
"Like a lot of Facebook users, many of us were bothered by reports of secret mood experiments. As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: To a person, everyone had at least a 'complicated' relationship with Facebook. Whether it was being tagged in unflattering photos, getting into arguments with other users or simply regretting time lost through excessive use, there was a surprising degree of negative sentiment. Then someone joked, 'I guess that the real question is, 'How do you feel when you don't use Facebook?' There was group laughter, followed by, 'Wait a second. That's a really good question!”
And thus, 99 Days of Freedom was launched.
The groups created a website (99DaysOfFreedom.com) that provides a few simple steps for how to join the challenge. Rather than doing it cold turkey on your own, the site provides support. There is an official “time-off” image to be employed as a profile picture and a personalized, 99-day countdown clock.
Structure for social media weaning. (Screenshot: 99daysoffreedom.com)
In addition, there are happiness surveys that are conducted at 33, 66, and 99 days; the results will be compiled at the end. And of course, there are message boards on which to kvetch or rejoice.
Although Straathof and his team are looking forward to the results, he points out that the initiative is not necessarily anti-Facebook
"Facebook is an incredible platform, we’re all fiercely loyal users and we believe that there's a lot to love about the service," he says. "But we also feel that there are obvious emotional benefits to moderation. Our prediction is that the experiment will yield a lot of positive personal experiences and, 99 days from now, we’ll know whether that theory has legs.”
Facebook says that its users spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site. Over the course of 99 says, that adds up to more than 28 hours. What would you do with an extra 28 hours over the next few months? Would you be willing to give it a try?
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