On Friday, June 12, 2020, we deleted Healthy Places by Design’s Facebook page. Our team made this decision after Facebook announced that it would take no action to address a recent post (originally issued as a tweet1) from President Trump, in which he threatened violence against people protesting racially-biased police brutality. So, we took action. We left the platform.
Although Facebook’s non-response is what ultimately convinced us to delete our page, it wasn’t the only reason. Over the years, we grew increasingly wary of the social media giant for many reasons. I’d like to share some of those reasons and offer insights from our team’s conversations about the relationship between social media and nonprofit work. I hope this helps your organization’s communications efforts in some way.
Healthy Places by Design’s mission is to ensure community health and wellbeing, and our core values guide us in that work. We could no longer participate on a platform that routinely violates those values.
We first considered deleting our Facebook page in 2016, when ProPublica uncovered how Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate against audiences based on their race.2 We considered deleting our Facebook page again in 2017, when investigations found that the platform enabled misinformation and foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election.3 We considered deleting our Facebook page again in 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook sold users’ private data without their consent.4
Throughout those years, Facebook gave a generous boost to organizations that post racist content and drive communities apart by amplifying extremism. According to a Facebook employee who resigned in early June of this year, “Facebook will keep moving the goalposts… finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric.”5 Recent coverage in The Atlantic notes that in 2016, Facebook’s own research team found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools” and that, if left unchecked, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform.”6
By participating on Facebook, we felt that we were implicitly communicating approval of the company’s practices and explicitly contributing to Facebook’s bottom line through every side-bar ad that our (amazing, kind, and committed!) followers see when they’re on our page. Enough is enough.
We know that social connections improve mental health and wellbeing, so on the surface, social media seems like a great tool to that end. However, ample evidence suggests that social media use actually harms mental health.7 Not only is social media use linked to disrupted sleep patterns, increased anxiety and depression, and decreased self-esteem, but it is also designed to manipulate users into addictive behavior. A 2019 study found that when people stop using Facebook in particular, they experience “More in-person time with friends and family… A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime.”8 Knowing this, we questioned whether it made sense for Healthy Places by Design to ask people to engage with us on a platform that could be harming their health.
Speaking as a communications professional, logging on to Facebook had also become a frustrating and sometimes infuriating experience. Why are notifications displayed in so many different places? Why are there eight options when writing a post, some of which have nothing to do with posts? Why are there as many as 30 shortcut tabs in the sidebar, including one for an Oculus virtual reality headset? Why is the color scheme still the same drab blue and gray that it was back in 2004? And why, why, why does someone keep anonymously suggesting an edit to our page that says we’re not a nonprofit? Enough is enough.
Once you’ve used something long enough, it’s easy to forget why you started in the first place. Facebook had been in our lives for over a decade. It was time to step back and ask ourselves, to what end? We joined Facebook hoping to share our work with others and create positive change in communities across the country. Facebook promised that organizations would be able to reach new audiences, and implied that it would help businesses and nonprofits thrive… especially if we paid to have our posts seen.
Fast forward to 2019, when we got tired of buying into Facebook’s bluff. I asked our team, “Did our Facebook posts ever lead to new projects or important relationships?” No. When we reviewed years of communications analytics, we found that our email newsletter outperformed Facebook when it came to sharing stories about our work with the people who most want to hear them. In fact, our analytics didn’t indicate that our years of effort on Facebook had amounted to any meaningful impact at all. Enough is enough.
Although we left Facebook, we still believe that social media networks can be an important tool for virtual connection, especially during a time when physical gatherings have been postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’d still like to connect with us on online, we’re hanging out on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Deleting Facebook may not be feasible for every organization. Some nonprofits rely on it for organizing events, convening groups, and seeking donations. However, there are other options to consider! If you’re thinking about leaving Facebook but aren’t sure how it might impact you or your organization’s communications, I would be happy to chat with you. You can find my contact information here.