There's no such thing as a bad time to quit Facebook, a website that takes 40 minutes per day of its average user's productive time in exchange for access to other people's badly composed baby photos and half-baked political opinions.

But there are particularly good times to quit, and now is one of them. The arguments for deleting your account as your 2017 New Year's resolution are strong indeed, as Jake Swearingen points out in Select/All: Facebook was the chief venue for the spread of misleading fake news and pro-Russian propaganda that confused voters and may have helped tip the presidential election to Donald Trump. After this fact became painfully clear, CEO Mark Zuckerberg's response was to deny responsibility and resist action until he couldn't anymore.

Facebook also tried to avoid taking a stance on one of Trump's signature proposals, his plan to create a registry of Muslims; the company only came out against that after inadvertently admitting its desire to avoid controversy by stonewalling. Facebook has bestowed vast fortunes on Oculus creator Palmer Luckey, who used it to bankroll extremist internet trolling, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who used it to fund a secret campaign to sue a news publisher out of existence. Both continue to be employed by Facebook. And that's just headlines from the past few months.

The difficulty with quitting Facebook has never been the why, but rather the how. The well-paid Stanford and MIT grads whose job it is to make their product addictive are very, very good at what they do. Even people who live in their News Feeds tend to have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. One of my most prolific Facebook-posting friends has deactivated his account at least three times, always with an elaborate "Why I'm really leaving this time" farewell post, only to come slinking back.

Most willpower experts will tell you my friend is actually doing it right. Announcing your goals publicly is a tried-and-true way of dissuading yourself from weaseling out of them; one study found people who talked about their weight loss efforts on Twitter fared better than those who didn't.

When it comes to Facebook, however, it's not enough. If you're serious about quitting, you need to address the force that got you to sign up in the first place: the network effect. A network effect exists when a network becomes more valuable to each of its users with every user it adds. The strength of Facebook's network effect is what has allowed it to grow as fast as it has, encompassing about 1.7 billion people now, for as long as it has. How many of those 1.7 billion resisted joining until it felt like everyone they knew was on Facebook?

Less appreciated is the role the network effect plays in keeping people on Facebook. It's the mechanism behind the oft-cited Facebook FOMO, or fear of missing out. In essence, Facebook is like a noisy party at your neighbor's apartment across the hall. You can try to leave and go to bed early, but every time you hear a raised voice or the tinkle of a glass breaking, you're going to think it must mean the party got exciting after you left--even though it's more likely what you're actually hearing are the sounds of an obnoxious drunk who's annoying everyone there.

That's why the secret to quitting Facebook is to embrace the network effect and bend it to your purpose. Share a post on your timeline announcing your intention to quit--or at least to take a monthlong break, à la Drynuary--and then invite anyone who sees it to quit with you. Explain that by quitting together at once, you're eliminating FOMO, because all you really want to see on Facebook is your real friends' posts, not the random crap that makes up most of your News Feed. (Or just share this story and let me do the explaining for you.)

In effect, you'll all be leaving the party together. Whatever you hear after that from across the hall will sound like what it is: just a bunch of strangers making noise. Maybe even nominate a few key people to quit with you, à la the Ice Bucket Challenge. Commit to alternative venues for sharing things that actually matter with people who actually care--a blog, a shared photo stream, a group email thread.

Then, quit. And make sure to meet up with your real friends IRL to talk about how great it feels to be done with Facebook, for real this time.

Published on: Jan 3, 2017