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Ocasio-Cortez quits Facebook, calling social media a 'public health risk'

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., at a Capitol Hill ceremony in January, 2019.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By HAMZA SHABAN | The Washington Post | Published: April 15, 2019

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose mastery of social media has helped drive the national conversation and shed light on the inner workings of congressional power, has given up on the most popular social network in the world.

In an interview Sunday with the Yahoo News podcast "Skullduggery," the New York Democrat said she suspended her personal Facebook account and was scaling back on all social media, which she described as a "public health risk" because it can lead to "increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism."

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, who burst onto the national stage after defeating a high-ranking incumbent, said her departure from Facebook was a "big deal" because the platform was crucial to her campaign. She still has accounts on the site, she said, and according to the company's ad library, her Facebook account has dozens of active advertisements sponsored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress. Among the Facebook ads are calls to support her signature Green New Deal, and fundraising pleas to support progressive legislation and to counteract a super PAC aligned against her.

"The congresswoman's words speak for themselves," said Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez joins other prominent users who have given up on the social network, including WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, who sold his company to Facebook in 2014, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Both technologists parted ways with the social network amid a user boycott and as the company faced a congressional inquiry over the Cambridge Analytica controversy, when it was revealed that the political firm had improperly obtained personal information from millions of Facebook users.

Ocasio-Cortez's disengagement from Facebook also tracks broad trends in social media use among young people. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, Facebook's popularity among teens has plunged in recent years. Roughly half of the nation's teenagers say they use Facebook, compared with 71 percent in 2015.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have now overtaken Facebook as the most popular social media networks, the study found.

After a rolling series of scandals involving the misuse of personal data, hateful content and misinformation, many Facebook users have also changed the way they use the platform. A separate Pew Research survey found that 74 percent of U.S. adult Facebook users have done one of the following: changed their privacy settings, taken a break from the platform or deleted it.

During the interview, Ocasio-Cortez pointed to negative health consequences as a reason to scale back on social platforms.

"I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody," she said. "There are amplified impacts for young people, particularly children under the age of three with screen time. But I think it has a lot of effects on older people. I think it has effects on everybody. Increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism."

Ocasio-Cortez, who writes all of her own tweets and Instagram posts, said she's trying to limit her consumption of social media to the workweek. "Like every once in a while, you'll see me hop on Twitter on the weekends, but for the most part, I take consumption of content, when it comes to consumption and reading, I take the weekends off."
 

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