SAN FRANCISCO — Some members of Facebook Nation are taking time off from the social network, or leaving it outright, after a contentious election that has left nerves frayed and tempers short.
“I need a breather for my personal sanity,” says Beth Swinson, 40, a stay-at-home mom of four in Charlotte, N.C., who voted for conservative third-party candidate Evan McMullin. Scathing comments from both sides and wide-scale misinformation left her "angry and frustrated." She plans to take a month off from the social network.
“None of it is positive. It’s exhausting, and the election seemed to last forever,” says Donald Trump supporter Lydia Fielder, 49, who manages a social-media platform for paper crafting in Austin. She’s unfollowed all but 50 of her 2,033 Facebook friends.
Ben Galbraith, a Google executive who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., has vowed to skip Facebook until 2017.
"I'm seeing lots of posts that fill me with anger and require several moments of conscious relaxation to prevent me from writing something that I’ll regret. I’m tired of expending so much mental and emotional energy," he says.
In interviews, Facebook users cited frustration and fatigue over vitriolic political comments from friends and acquaintances, compounded by fake news, news slants and conspiracy theories, as various reasons to take a break.
Scott Clark, 45, a financial adviser in Brewer, Maine, who voted for Trump, says the rancorous discourse left him disappointed with Facebook. “My wife has taken it off her phone and I’ve taken a break,” he says. “Rather than engage in aggressive, heated conversations, I’d rather not use it.”
Any hiatus by a cluster of politics-weary U.S. Facebook users isn't likely to do much to dent Facebook's massive and rapidly growing user base. Of the 1.79 billion users, 88% come from outside the U.S. A year ago, Facebook had 1.55 billion members and 1.35 billion two years ago.
But the anecdotes reflect how Facebook had become synonymous with the election, and how big a role social media played in determining its winners. President-elect Trump has credited his use of Facebook and Twitter with helping him win races where his Democratic rival heavily outspent him. President Obama, a day before the election, blamed social media for deepening political divisions.
The abrupt decision to turn off the social media spigot of news — 62% of U.S. adults get their news from it, says the Pew Research Center — as well other media that covered the polarizing election resembles reactions people have after a car crash or assault.
“It’s almost like a trauma response,” says Dr. Suzanne Wallach, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “This election has prompted a level of denial in people. They feel traumatized and ostracized.”