In July 2020, Louis Barclay published "Unfollow Everything," a clever Chrome extension that let you unfollow all your friends on Facebook.
Its function? To let you use Facebook without having to look at anything in the News Feed. "Unfollowing", as Barclay notes, isn't the same as unfriending: you're still connected to all your friends, and you can still visit their Facebook pages to see what they're up to. But if you don't follow anyone, your News Feed is empty.
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.
"Unfollow Everything" quickly took off, with thousands of users discovering it; researchers at the University of Neuchâtel even used it to A/B test whether having no News Feed made you happier.
Then a few months ago, Facebook sent Barclay a nastygram demanding he delete the app or face legal action.
When Barclay consulted lawyers, they told him Facebook's demands were flimsy. But he was understandably worried about Facebook dragging him into draw-out legal proceedings that he couldn't afford.
So he took the app down:
I am far from the only one to face this kind of scenario. Facebook is increasingly using its terms of service to crush not only research, but also tools that give users more control over their data and platform experience. Just last summer, Facebook went after Friendly, a web browser that allows users to switch between their social media accounts, more easily download or repost photos and videos, and filter their feeds by keyword.
Facebook's behavior isn't just anti-competitive; it's anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.
He's right on both counts. Go read the whole essay. it's fascinating, damning, and yet more evidence that Facebook's entrenched position creates just an uncountable number of problems for the world.
There are other active Chrome extensions, found without too much difficulty, that do the same thing as "Unfollow Everything". I was going to link to them here but decided not to, since I didn't want to draw easier-to-follow attention to them, since if they get popular Facebook will go after them too … which is just such a bleak and wretched chain of logic to follow, but here we are.
(CC-2.0-licensed photo via Stock Catalog's Flickr stream)