A developer who created a tool that allows people to automatically unsubscribe from their friends and groups on Facebook said he was banned from the social networking site for good.
Louis Barclay was the creator of “Unfair Everything,” a browser extension that allowed Facebook users to essentially delete their news feed by unaddressing all of their connections at once. Facebook allows users to individually unsubscribe from friends, groups, and pages, which removes their content from the News Feed, the algorithmically controlled heart of Facebook. Barclay’s tool automated this process, instantly wiping out users’ news feed.
As Barclay wrote about his experience using the tool in a recent article for Slate:
I still remember the feeling of not following everything for the first time. It was almost miraculous. I hadn’t lost anything, since I could still see my favorite friends and bands by going straight to them. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll through an endless stream of content. The time I have spent on Facebook has dramatically decreased. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.
In response, Facebook sent Barclay a cease and desist letter earlier this year, claiming it violated the site’s terms of service by creating software that automates user interactions. Barclay said the company then “permanently disabled my Facebook and Instagram accounts” and “demanded that I never again create any tools that interact with Facebook or its other services.” Barclay notes that in addition to helping users, its “Unfollow Everything” tool was used by researchers at the Swiss University of Neuchâtel to study the effects of News Feed on people’s happiness. He says he couldn’t risk getting tangled up in court with a trillion dollar company like Facebook and therefore simply deleted the tool.
Barclay’s story came at an inauspicious time for Facebook (but when is it a Well time for the perpetually besieged enterprise?). Whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared before Congress this week to testify to Facebook’s insatiable demand for growth, which Haugen says too often comes at the expense of user well-being. “He pays his profits with our security,” she said in an episode of 60 minutes. The documents leaked by Haugen include internal research conducted by Facebook that shows how using Instagram worsens bodily issues and mental health issues for some teens. Facebook’s main response to Haugen’s testimony was to smear her.
Compared to Haugen’s exposure on Facebook, Barclay’s story is relatively mundane. After all, Facebook’s terms of service are very clear about what kind of tools users can create, and the Unsubscribe Everything has clearly violated that agreement.
But the episode still perfectly illustrates Facebook’s approach to its user base and how it often wants to give people a sense of control without letting them completely escape its grip. The company is happy to allow users to no longer follow people individually, but automating the process would make it too easy to turn off the news feed, which is essential for users to come back and line Facebook’s pockets with. advertising revenue. So, of course, tools like Barclay’s – even if they have limited adoption – are banned.
We have contacted Facebook about this story and will update if we have any news.
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