It is past time we fully examined the ever-expanding influence of Facebook on our lives

Using Facebook did not become New Zealand's second most popular leisure activity by accident.
TOM YOUNG/STUFF

Using Facebook did not become New Zealand's second most popular leisure activity by accident.

Today, Stuff launches a major series examining the role of Facebook in our lives. Stuff projects editor John Hartevelt explains 'The Takeover'.

A 32-year-old computer programmer/internet entrepreneur has a plan for "building the world we all want". It's pretty major. His app is at the centre of it.

Mark Zuckerberg's 5700-word Facebook manifesto is a long read with things like a "global safety infrastructure" and the "intrinsic goodness aggregated across our community" to digest.

It implies an ever-larger role for Facebook in our lives, covering things like terrorism, climate change and democracy.

The thing is, Facebook is already enormous. It's everywhere. It's so pervasive, it seemed natural for Zuckerberg to volunteer Facebook as the "social infrastructure" of the world's future.

Except it's not natural. Why should it be? It's past time we checked our relationship status with Facebook.

What does Facebook mean to you?

Share your stories, photos and videos.

Most of us have a Facebook account, and most of us use it every day.

For a while, there was a theory that teenagers would quit or ignore Facebook in favour of newer, cooler networks that their parents weren't on. As we'll show, that was wrong.

In fact, we calculate that using Facebook is now New Zealand's second favourite "leisure" activity.

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This is not an accident. Facebook works very hard to hold your attention and keep you coming back.

The structure of your news feed, the display of your friends tally, that "ding" you hear for a notification - they're all cleverly designed to keep you hooked.

There is increasing recognition about the dangers of spending too much time inside this artificially constructed universe.

When big chunks of the population exist inside an information bubble, it provides a serious challenge to our democracy.

Facebook itself this week started a service alerting users to news articles that have been proven false.

In 'The Takeover', we'll show you ways to take the power back for yourself. Small changes in the way you use Facebook can have a big affect on what you get out of it.

Of course, the most obvious thing anyone can do is use Facebook less or cut it out completely. Believe it or not, some people actually do this. We'll introduce you to some of these rare beings tomorrow, and later, we'll transport you in to a future world without Facebook.

But for many of us, quitting Facebook is either impractical, undesirable or both.

If you run a business, a Facebook account is free to set up and with even a little bit of attention, it's likely to be worthwhile.

If you have family or friends living overseas or even just in another town, you're likely to value the travel, work, family and relationship updates.

Or, if like me your professional life revolves around sharing and consuming information, withdrawing completely would be somewhat of a career-limiting choice.

As Facebook has become virtually indispensable, the need to examine and react to it has grown more urgent. It really is taking over without many people - in New Zealand, at least - seeming to care very much.

Users need to know how their relationship with Facebook is being managed and how to make practical changes if they wish.

Government needs to snap out of the stupor that has seen it give Facebook more money for advertising than it has got back in tax.

Facebook itself needs to be more transparent. For a business that plays such a huge part in New Zealanders' lives, Facebook is strangely secretive about its operations here. And then there are the issues with its tax arrangements, which former Prime Minister John Key rightly says "need to change".

'The Takeover' is a series that unashamedly aims to empower people to make change in the way they interact with Facebook.

This isn't because we think Facebook is evil. It's because at Stuff, we like to encourage meaningful debate about things that matter to our audience.

It's well-documented that Facebook presents one of the great challenges to the commercial viability of online news services such as Stuff.

But 'The Takeover' is not a declaration of war on Facebook by Stuff. It is a journalistic endeavour, conceived and executed by editorial staff in the public interest.

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 - Stuff

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