Facebook Ads are Stealing Your Money and Attention

There’s no doubt that technology, especially our smartphones, rule our world and the way we live. We use our phones as our alarm clock, our “home assistant” tells us the morning news, our phone navigation warns of traffic patterns on our way to work and our smart watch measures our heartbeat during our lunchtime jog. The companies behind these tools, though, are gathering our information and selling them to advertisers.

Have you ever talked about a product you liked with a friend and then an advertisement for that same product showed up on your Facebook timeline? That’s not a coincidence. In this blog, I’m going to discuss Facebook statistics, supply information about the economy behind them and offer advice on how to go minimalist.

Facebook has over 2 billion users and is the 5th most valuable company in the U.S.1 In addition to being the largest and most successful social media company, Facebook also owns the social media companies WhatsApp and Instagram. The average adult user spends 38 minutes a day on Facebook2, most likely accessing from their smartphone. In 2018, Facebook earned 92% of their revenue just from mobile ads3.

Share of Facebook’s mobile advertising revenue from 2012 to 2018

There’s actually a business sector that makes money from gathering your attention and information and selling it to advertisers. In his book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport describes this business sector as the attention economy4. This sector led companies, like Facebook, to figure out how to trick users into spending more time on them. These companies feed off the habitual checking of your phone. Newport says, “Checking ten different sites ten times a day makes them money, even if it doesn’t leave you more informed than checking one good site once a day”5. Now imagine if Facebook charged by the minute. How would you change your time spent using this service? What would your goals and intentions be to buy into using it?

Facebook has presented itself as a foundational technology, meaning it’s something that everyone should use and it’s weird if you don’t6. This particular claim lures people to use Facebook without having to ”sell the benefits” of their social platform. The vagueness of the platform, other than “finding old friends”, allows people to sign in and use it without any particular reason. This makes it easier for the engineers behind the ads to target and grab your attention.

Smartphone versions of these social media services are much more adept at hijacking one’s attention than web browsers. This is because if someone is using a computer, they are usually going to a specific website to seek information. People are more likely to mindlessly scroll and gain attention on an advertisement while on their phones. When people have to wait a few minutes in line or they need a break from work, they check their phones. They check the weather, their social media feeds, news, etc. Many don’t realize exactly how many times they do this a day because it’s become a conditioned habit. Since we are constantly on our smart phones, providing our location, preferences and latest online purchases we are inherently allowing these companies to deliver relevant advertisements to us at all points during our day.

By removing your ability to access social media at any moment, you reduce its ability to become a crutch deployed to distract you from bigger voids

Cal Newport

How can you stop these Facebook from sucking your attention and making money off of it? It all comes down to how you are using your phone. The answer is digital minimalism. This doesn’t mean you have to delete Facebook, it just means you should probably delete it from your phone. Newport explains, “By removing your ability to access social media at any moment, you reduce its ability to become a crutch deployed to distract you from bigger voids”.7 Accessing Facebook through a web browser preserves the specific reasons that you use it for, like staying in contact with old friends. At first it will be tough to not have the app on your phone but you’ll notice that it isn’t providing any more value than a convenient distraction. After a while you will feel empowered to invest your time into things that matter more to you.


Sources:

1 “Join the Attention Resistance.” Digital Minimalism: on Living Better with Less Technology, by Cal Newport, Portfolio Penguin, 2019, p. 216.
2 Matev, Denis. “How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media in 2020?” Review42, 4 July 2020, review42.com/how-much-time-do-people-spend-on-social-media/.
3 Clement, J. “Facebook: Mobile Ad Revenue Share 2018.” Statista, 3 Feb. 2020, http://www.statista.com/statistics/462370/share-of-mobile-facebook-ad-revenue/.
4 “Join the Attention Resistance.” Digital Minimalism: on Living Better with Less Technology, by Cal Newport, Portfolio Penguin, 2019, p. 215.
5 “Join the Attention Resistance.” Digital Minimalism: on Living Better with Less Technology, by Cal Newport, Portfolio Penguin, 2019, pp. 238, 239.
6 “Join the Attention Resistance.” Digital Minimalism: on Living Better with Less Technology, by Cal Newport, Portfolio Penguin, 2019, p. 218.
7 “Join the Attention Resistance.” Digital Minimalism: on Living Better with Less Technology, by Cal Newport, Portfolio Penguin, 2019, p. 223.
Cover photo from: https://blog.contus.com/chat-app-monetization/