No Facebook for 99 days? Campaign urges users to take a break.

In response to news that Facebook manipulated users' emotions for an academic study, a Dutch nonprofit is urging users to test themselves by staying off of the social network for 99 consecutive days. 

Regis Divignau
The log-on screen for Facebook is displayed.

How long could you stay off Facebook? A week? Two? Maybe a month? How about 99 days? 

That's the question being posed by Dutch ad agency Just with an initiative called "99 Days of Freedom." The nonprofit initiative challenges users to stop using Facebook for a period of 99 consecutive days and then report on their experiences.  

The campaign is one of many responses to the news that Facebook deliberately manipulated the emotions expressed in users' feeds for purposes of an academic study. 

While the initiative began as a joke, it has quickly gathered steam. 

"Like a lot of Facebook users, many of us were bothered by reports of secret mood experiments," says Just's art director, Merijn Straathof, in a release. "As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: To a person, everyone had at least a 'complicated' relationship with Facebook. Whether it was being tagged in unflattering photos, getting into arguments with other users or simply regretting time lost through excessive use, there was a surprising degree of negative sentiment. Then someone joked, 'I guess that the real question is, 'How do you feel when you don't use Facebook?' There was group laughter, followed by, 'Wait a second. That's a really good question!' ”

Many Facebook users were irked when news broke that the social-networking giant had studied the potential effects of emotional manipulation for purposes of an academic study.  

Now, we're seeing a reaction. Albeit, a rather small one. Thus far, there are more than 17,000 users out of the more than 1 billion Facebook users in the world are engaging in the challenge, according to the campaign's site. But participation does seem to be growing. 

The way users are urged to begin the 99-day hiatus is simple: First, download an image of the campaign's logo, a blue box with the words "99 Days of Freedom" written inside of it. Then, share your final post. The last step, for many, could be the hardest – don't use Facebook for 99 days. 

To gauge results, the campaign is asking participants to fill out so-called "happiness surveys" at the 33, 66, and 99-day marks. These results will then be posted to the campaign's website. Participants will also share messages on their progress on the group's website through an anonymous message board, which will function as a kind of "support group," notes Mr. Straathof. 

Straathof says this experiment is not trying to turn users against Facebook. Rather, it's more to show people the upside of living a disconnected lifestyle. 

"Facebook is an incredible platform, we’re all fiercely loyal users and we believe that there's a lot to love about the service," says Straathof in the release. "But we also feel that there are obvious emotional benefits to moderation."

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