Facebook Banned a Developer Who Helped People Use the Site Less

(Photo: Souvik Banerjee/Unsplash)Yet another problem for Facebook’s PR team has come to light, this time in the form of an interaction with a single user. Louis Barclay, a developer who created a browser extension called “Unfollow Everything,” has reportedly been banned from using the social network going forward.

According to a piece written by Barclay for Slate, Unfollow Everything was designed to unfollow every Facebook friend, group, and page, resulting in a completely blank News Feed. Though the concept sounds a little backwards at first, Barclay says he realized a few years back that the News Feed wasn’t necessary to utilize and enjoy Facebook—in fact, it mostly served to keep users on the app longer, thus eating into their free time and negatively impacting their overall well-being. Without the News Feed, users could still look up individual profiles and pages they wished to check out, while easily maintaining control over the amount of time spent on the app. 

Barclay describes his experience unfollowing everything as “near-miraculous,” saying he was “no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content,” and was finally able to manage his Facebook addiction overnight.

Plenty of other Facebook users loved the extension too, with thousands getting rid of their News Feeds and opting for a minimalist, more controlled browsing experience. However, Unfollow Everything’s popularity became its downfall. Mid-2021, Facebook sent Barclay a cease-and-desist letter stating he was “interfering with or impairing the intended operation of” the site. Facebook demanded that Barclay pull the plug on his extension within 48 hours and informed him that his account had been deactivated. 

Facebooks’ extermination of the Unfollow Everything extension isn’t the first off-putting thing they’ve done as of late . . . or the second, or the third. (Photo: Greg Bulla/Unsplash)

The cease-and-desist notification is both unsurprising and particularly insidious in light of recent whistleblower complaints. It’s become crystal clear that Facebook is desperate to keep users on the app and maintain its reputation for investors, as well as that of its platform (and its sister platform, Instagram) despite revelations that these platforms put some users’ mental health at risk. To put it simply, of course Facebook would crush any attempt by users to neuter its prime money-maker, even at the expense of those users’ well-being. 

Barclay points out that Unfollow Everything’s defeat signals a loss for the 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,” Barclay says. Even though individual users were making the choice to get rid of their News Feeds with Unfollow Everything, the extension was deemed a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Use in and of itself. Users can still manually go through and unfollow every friend and page they’re associated with, but when we’re talking about reclaiming one’s time … well, it just isn’t the same.

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