There was a historic shockwave in the stock price of Facebook's parent company yesterday, as it reported its first-ever drop in daily user numbers. A 26.4% plummet worth $230bn amid concerns about its future, as younger audiences turn to rivals like TikTok. But is that the whole story? Or could this reveal a growing trend of people leaving social media for good?
I certainly hope so. Last November, I made some pretty drastic changes to my digital life. I deleted my personal Instagram. I unfollowed everyone on Twitter to instead follow lists (no hassle, no ads, and no negativity). I now only have LinkedIn and Facebook with zero connections, only to manage business pages for my platform Creative Boom. I even removed myself from apps like Strava. And have taken steps elsewhere to switch off from being online.
The change has been astounding. I'm happier, calmer, and have more time. I might not be in touch with as many people as before, but my relationships are more meaningful. I make more effort to reach out to the people I care about. Hold the front page: social media doesn't enrich our lives. It's actually bad for our mental health.
However, Meta is facing other concerns, as Apple has made some significant privacy changes that Facebook says will cost them billions. Privacy. Now there's a word I keep banging on about. It was the main reason why I made so many changes last year, even de-Googling myself before Christmas after reviewing Gmail and other such services. Like they always say, nothing comes for free.
Ok, ok. I hear you. For someone who built a publishing platform and community on the back of social networks, you could say I'm a hypocrite for criticising them. However, Facebook and Twitter were different beasts back then, with fewer or no shareholders to please. Our data has since become the currency for using these "free" platforms. And it's a price I was no longer happy to pay.
Yet most people haven't seemed bothered about all the supposed tracking and information they have on us. No. What appears to be a significant driver for people leaving Facebook or Instagram is realising that they make us utterly miserable. That being constantly online is not doing us any favours.
Some young people are even ditching smartphones. It gives me so much hope for the future. The point is social media will only disappear when we, the people, decide we've had enough or a suitable healthier alternative gains momentum and becomes the new way we communicate. We have to vote with our feet.
But when I ask others about why they still have Facebook, the answer is usually, "Oh, I only use it to see photographs from my family and close friends and keep up with everyone." "But they track and follow you everywhere, they know more about you and where you go than your own parents," I reply, which is often met with a shrug. People don't seem to care. Or they're perhaps addicted and have a heavy dose of FOMO thrown in.
Here's the thing. Zuckerberg is pumping a colossal amount of money into the Metaverse. He knows Facebook is facing big challenges. He's gambling on a future where we shift our addiction to wearing headsets or smartglasses, moving our realistic avatars through incredible digital worlds. Perhaps much like the people who love online worlds courtesy of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead do now.
So Mark could be right. VR could be huge. Perhaps not Meta-led. Perhaps with something else. But personally, I'll be taking the advice from the legend Jaron Lanier – who gave us virtual reality in the first place – by remembering to double down on being human and re-evaluate our ties with the digital universe.