British Columbia

Victoria's mayor joins #deletefacebook campaign

'Facebook in particular is hampering rather than helping our ability to have a conversation about a lot of really difficult issues,' Lisa Helps says.

Facebook 'hampering rather than helping our ability' to discuss difficult issues, Lisa Helps says

Lisa Helps says she will delete her personal Facebook page because the platform has become an 'echo chamber' that can reinforce negative expression. (Facebook)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says she's signing off on Facebook for good. 

In a blog post shared on her personal Facebook page Thursday, Helps cited research to support her decision to delete her account by midnight Friday.

Helps' decision comes as a chorus of voices are calling for users to #deletefacebook. The campaign is in response to alleged efforts to influence results in U.K and U.S. votes based on profiles developed from Facebook data on tens of millions of people.

Victoria mayor Lisa Helps gave notice she is deleting her personal Facebook account March 23 because she said it is no longer possible to use it for constructive discussion. (Facebook)

'Shrivelling our brains'

"It's become a negative echo chamber where positivity is shunned in favour of fear and anger," Helps told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. 

Her other key reasons for abandoning Facebook  include research that points to its addictive effect, and evidence that digital distractions "are actually shrivelling our brains in the prefrontal cortex area."

"We need our brains for thinking and empathy," Helps said.

Helps' decision reflects a dramatic shift for a politician who employed Facebook enthusiastically during her successful 2014 campaign to become Victoria's mayor.

She also used the platform extensively to stimulate discussion of unconventional ideas, such as reducing homelessness by encouraging homeowners to open spare bedrooms to billeters.

Lisa Helps used Facebook to spark discussion on unconventional ideas such as reducing homelessness by encouraging homeowners to open their spare bedrooms to billeters. (Facebook)

Not anti-technology

Helps said she is not opposed to all social media platforms, though she doesn't use Twitter much. 

At one point, she said, it was possible to use Facebook constructively, but it has changed. 

"Facebook in particular is hampering rather than helping our ability to have a conversation about a lot of really difficult issues," she said.

However, she has not ruled out creating a Facebook page specifically for her upcoming campaign for re-election as mayor of Victoria.

Helps said plenty of options remain for contacting her outside of Facebook, including email, text, phoning city hall, attending community drop-in events and using Facebook's separate Messenger app. 

David Black, who lectures on online addiction as an associate professor of communication and culture at Royal Roads University, doubts the #deletefacebook movement will succeed. The company is too big to fail and users crave the dopamine dose that's delivered to the brain during social media activity.

Black does not use Facebook at all, he says. 

With files from CBC Radio's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.