A developer who created a browser extension designed to help Facebook users reduce their time spent on the platform says that the company responded by banning him and threatening to take legal action.
Louis Barclay says he created Unfollow Everything to help people enjoy Facebook more, not less. His extension, which no longer exists, allowed users to automatically unfollow everybody on their FB account, thus eliminating the newsfeed feature, one of the more addictive parts of the company’s product. The feed, which allows for an endless barrage of targeted advertising, is powered by follows, not friends, so even without it, users can still visit the profiles they want to and navigate the site like normal.
The purpose of bucking the feed, Barclay says, was to allow users to enjoy the platform in a more balanced, targeted fashion, rather than being blindly coerced into constant engagement by Facebook’s algorithms.
How did Facebook reward Barclay for trying to make its user experience less toxic? Well, first it booted him off of all of its platforms—locking him out of his Facebook and Instagram accounts. Then, it sent him a cease and desist letter, threatening legal action if he didn’t shut the browser extension down. Ultimately, Barclay said he was forced to do so, and Unfollow Everything no longer exists. He recently wrote about his experience in an op-ed for Slate, saying:
If someone built a tool that made Facebook less addictive—a tool that allowed users to benefit from Facebook’s positive features while limiting their exposure to its negative ones—how would Facebook respond?
I know the answer, because I built the tool, and Facebook squashed it.
Barclay implies that the trouble really began when he was contacted by researchers from the University of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland, who wanted to use his browser extension to help study Facebook users’ happiness levels as they related to the newsfeed feature. Barclay obliged, but not long afterward the company reached out to him with their legal threat, he says. Facebook accused him of breaching its terms of service and demanded that he “never again create a tool that interacts with Facebook or its many other services in any way,” as he put it.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment and we’ll update this post when they do.
News of Barclay’s ordeal comes as Facebook suffers through what is potentially its worst PR crisis yet. Beset by a recent whistleblower scandal that started as a series of Wall Street Journal articles and has now evolved into a full-blown Congressional brouhaha, the social media giant is having one hell of a tough time lately. To top things off, the company suffered a global outage earlier this week via some massive configuration fuckup—the likes of which now appear to be happening again, at least in certain parts of the world. The company probably could’ve banked some goodwill by letting Barclay off the hook but, sadly, their decision to purge him seems pretty par for the course.