- - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I have unfriended Facebook.

Since I joined the social networking site nearly six years ago, I have been continually bombarded with disdain and sarcasm from many so-called “frenemies” when I posted some of my views. One former ABC News colleague described me as “dumb as a boulder.” I was unfriended by a longtime associate because I supported an individual’s right to bear arms. I’d known the guy for more than 30 years.

But the latest series of attacks from my Facebook “friends” came when I posted a somewhat critical assessment of the work of a longtime ABC News reporter, when she announced her retirement after more than 40 years at the White House.

I posted to a Facebook group for former ABC News staffers that she was a nice person but a relative lightweight when compared to former White House reporters such as Sam Donaldson and Brit Hume.

The hammer came down. All of my posts were deleted from a group that had continually criticized David Muir, the new anchor of ABC’s evening news program, for being a lightweight. I tended to agree with the observation, but few posts about him were challenged. None were removed. More important, it seemed amazing to me that a group of former journalists would censor any serious viewpoint.

Here is the problem with Facebook and many other social networking sites: You cannot have a discussion about much of anything. Furthermore, even though Facebook has become a significant outlet for people to get news, entertainment ranks as the top category, a recent study found.

A typical Facebook user spends an estimated 21 minutes a day on his or her page, but many people stay much longer. The company reportedly earns an estimated $7 a year from advertisers for each person on its network, which tops 1.2 billion. That’s more than $8 billion for simply hosting pictures and posts.

I am not alone in my decision to leave Facebook. The Huffington Post and Forbes recently outlined a variety of reasons users are giving to delete accounts, from easing anxiety to making it easier to end a relationship.

Kevin Williamson, a writer for National Review, used to post repeatedly on Facebook to promote his stories. He told me he decided his postings simply were not worth the effort for the number of people who actually read what he wrote. He recently dropped out, too.

A former Kansas teacher and writer captured the problem quite well:

“When I scroll through my news feed, half of what I see is casual comments on the weather, political talk or silly memes. All of this is just a waste of my time; I could be reading one of the hundred books I have lying around, developing curriculum or talking with my mom on the phone.”

An actual term exists for leaving social networking sites: “virtual suicide.” A group of Austrian researchers found in a study last year that nearly 50 percent of those who quit Facebook did so because of concerns over privacy. Fourteen percent just didn’t like Facebook anymore. Thirteen percent — me among them — got tired of obnoxious people online.

I do intend to continue posting on Twitter and LinkedIn, so I guess I have only inflicted a virtual wound rather than committed virtual suicide. Nevertheless, I will monitor the benefits of these sites.

I am glad I signed off Facebook for a variety of reasons. Twenty-one minutes may not sound like much, but I wasted a lot more than that every day on Facebook. Is Facebook really worth it? I don’t think so.

Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at [email protected] and on Twitter @charper51.

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