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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quits Facebook, calls social media a ‘public health risk’

The New York Democrat says she stopped using her account personally, but her campaign still sponsors several active ads on Facebook.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointed to negative health consequences as a reason to scale back on social media platforms. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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 stopped using her 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 had been crucial to her campaign. She still has accounts on the site, she said, and according to the company’s ad library, her official Facebook account has dozens of active advertisements sponsored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress. Among the 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.

The hashtag #deletefacebook is trending on Twitter after Facebook's Cambridge Analytica controversy. Here's a guide on how to leave the social media site. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post, Photo: Kathleen Rudell-Brooks/The Washington Post)

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.

Despite Facebook’s troubles, the social network has recently gained daily active users in the U.S. and Canada, according to the company’s most recent earnings report. Prior to the last quarter of 2018, Facebook’s user numbers in its most important market had flatlined, with most of its growth coming from countries outside of North America and Europe. Facebook counted 1.52 billion daily users, on average, an increase of 9 percent from the end of 2017.

The figures suggest that some of the people who abandoned the platform have returned and that the company is still attracting new users.

Though the company continues to post strong returns, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg continues to find himself under scrutiny. Last year, he was called to testify before Congress, enduring 10 hours of questioning tied to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And it’s currently negotiating a multibillion-dollar fine with the Federal Trade Commission to settle the agency’s investigation into its privacy practices.

Meanwhile, European regulators have criticized Zuckerberg’s new plan to merge the company’s messaging platforms — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — citing antitrust concerns.

During her podcast 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 3 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.”