My Facebook experience started off as such an interesting novelty. After being harassed by my sister for months, I acquiesced and started a Facebook account. This was still back in the earlish days of Facebook (2006 or 2007 perhaps), when virtually trout-slapping or virtually throwing sheep at friends was still how the bulk of one’s time was spent on ‘social media’. I’m not sure the term ‘social media‘ was even a thing yet, as the only real other similar platforms were Myspace or AOL. Facebook was clean, simple, and mostly politics-free. Joining groups such as ‘I Turn My Pillow Over to Sleep on The Cold Side’ or ‘I Was a Foreign Exchange Student in High School’ were as divisive as it got. Mostly, it was fun to virtually run in to so many people I’d lost track of over the years. There were certainly a few surprises as some long-lost-friends resurfaced. There were lots of “hey-don’t-I-know-you”-‘s and even a few “I-had-the-biggest-crush”-‘s, but few true surprises in the long-lost-souls’ department.
In those early days, it was easy to log on occasionally, Trout-Slap or Super-Poke someone and then log off and get on with my day. My favorite thing about Facebook was the ease of letting someone know you were thinking of them. It was organic. A childhood memory would come to mind and voila! I logged on, popped over to their page and either poked them or jotted them a quick note telling them about the memory. It was an opportunity that had felt much more laborious before Facebook as a new mom of twins who has a legitimate phone phobia. It was like the isolation I’d been feeling was being lifted. While my lifelong friends were no longer just down the street, with Facebook, they were as close as my computer.
As Facebook looked for more ways to get us to spend more time on the platform, they introduced games that linked to your ‘friends’’ profiles so that you could play against one another. Oregon Trail, Words with Friends, Bejeweled Blitz and way too many casino games were everywhere on Facebook and linking to your profiles asking permission to raid your friends list. It quickly became a reason to unfriend people (seriously? You’re spamming me with game requests and you call yourself my “Friend”?). I would log on after the babes were finally asleep and my work was mostly done and settle into this world that was both imaginary and at the same time, very real. In it, I not only had plenty of friends who ‘liked’ me and my posts, but I also had a virtual apartment in YoVille with a virtual pet and even a virtual job. I’d log on and hang out with real friends. My apartment was always neat and tidy. I got to decorate it exactly how I wanted it without having to consider the tastes or safety of any of my real-world housemates. I could throw parties in it and not worry about anyone waking the twins. It made for a great escape and cemented my need for this outlet.
Over the years, as Facebook applied complex algorithms (and advertising) to try to make our experience using the platform more enjoyable [read: more profitable for those paying for all that advertising], news outlets started cropping up in the ‘news feed’. As the option became available, I unsubscribed from ALL of them. It’s not that I’m not interested in current events; it’s simply that that’s not why I logged on to Facebook. As the evolution continued, unsubscribing from news sources stopped mattering because no matter how many times I’d hit ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘see less’ or ‘unfollow’, any time a friend shared yet another news story, there it was…back in my face on my newsfeed. Through previous political seasons, I had seen the fervor building among friends on each side of the major political divide. This last political season aided by the prevalence of social media hit an all-time low with parties from both sides latching on to out-0f-context sound bites which turned to viral memes, ugly commentary and an utter lack of character displayed on both sides of the aisle. As the election came and went, the shouting got more one-sided but the ugliness from both sides didn’t quiet down. I got disheartened by how quickly I found myself questioning life-long friendships based on so many ugly comments, memes, outright attacks and baseless statements that were flooding my ‘newsfeed’. In all of the posts, I never saw any one from any of my “friends” that indicated even one of them had volunteered any non-Facebook time working for their candidate of choice. Did any of them actually volunteer to help their candidate get into office or are they all still blindly sharing and spewing hate (and seldom fact-checking before resharing) against anyone who doesn’t 100% feel as despondent as they do?
If these words, images and photos so many were sharing are really who they are at heart, then I’d rather not know them. If you’d put your passion towards volunteering at your local political campaign office, I’d be willing to listen to your informed position and have a conversation with you about it, but if not, I would appreciate it if you’d quit ruining what started as a great and light-hearted escape from actual life problems with your venom and hate-mongering. Be an activist. Inspire others to be activists too, but don’t pretend your Facebook poll, petition, Someecard or rant is inspiring anyone to activate in the real world.
I take that last part back. You inspired me to deactivate my account. In the past month of not being on my personal Facebook page, I have been accepted as a ‘handmade’ vendor on Amazon. I have re-photographed about half of my available artworks for the Amazon listings. I have gone hiking, bowling, swimming and exploring with my family. I have gotten several photos published (not just via Instagram). I have resumed writing the follow-up to my children’s book. I have resumed blogging (something that has been on pause for far too long). I have gotten my emotional balance back and I sleep well at night. I guess I should thank you.
I’m not saying that I won’t ever re-activate my personal Facebook account. There is much I like about being able to share personal photos with family and friends. It’s great to be able to check in on someone when I’ve been thinking of them without really interrupting either of our lives. It’s a too-easy way to acknowledge birthdays. There are certainly benefits. If the overly-political climate changes, I’ll likely reactivate it, but I don’t expect to spend nearly so much time or energy there ever again. If you need me, I’d love for you join me in the real world.
PS: Oregon Trail was a favorite game of my brothers’. You could choose your team from among your friends. They didn’t even have to agree to play with you, but they were along for the ride nonetheless. If one was stricken with disease and died on the trail, there was a virtual graveyard where you could leave a rose and a note for the dearly departed. I received a note from my brother one day along with a virtual rose.
The note read: You died. Turns out that we ate you. So sad.
After my brother died in real life, I looked for the game wanting to visit that virtual graveyard and re-read his note, but it had been discontinued from the platform. Around that time, Facebook started sending notifications randomly selecting names from your friends list and declaring “Your Friend Matt hasn’t heard from you in quite a while. Why not send him a message and see what he’s been up to?” Considering my “Friend” Matt (my brother) had died a few weeks earlier, the notification was pretty upsetting. I contacted Facebook to see how to get those notifications to stop. They asked for proof of death (link to obituary) and proof of relationship (again, link to obituary and citing that we had acknowledged that we were siblings on our Facebook profiles did the trick) and then offered to MEMORIALIZE his profile. This stopped his profile from sending out any new notifications. It also stopped it from processing any other friend requests. The main advantage of the MEMORIALIZE option is that it preserved his profile, photos and all. It is still nice, over 8 years later, to be able to visit his page, look at pictures and post notes once in a while.