I was an early adopter of Facebook. Well, as early as I could be ~ for ages in the UK, it wasn’t open to everyone. But I did join asap and I was glad to because Rupert Murdoch had just bought MySpace. I even had a little strapline on my Last.fm page which said “I boycott MurdochSpace, I’m on Facebook!”
As bizarre as it may seem now, Facebook then was the underdog. I had to prod friends to join me on there, so denuded was it of actual social activity compared to MySpace (kind of like Google+ currently…). As far as I knew, I’d joined yet another social network that would flounder and then fail, initial engagement tailing off and then friends’ updates slowly becoming more sporadic before approaching zero. Another Friendster, Hi5, Everyone’s Connected or all the other social networks that existed pre-Facebook.
Wind forward many years to 2013. Facebook rules the planet. Its reach is enormous, so much so that new websites know they’ll garner more users if they offer Facebook login. Your Facebook identity has become the key to large swathes of the web.
Also in the interim, Facebook has gone from Good Guy Greg to Scumbag Steve. When I first joined, Facebook had easy, good privacy controls. For a start, you could decide not to let anyone add you at all ~ they got rid of that. And you could have it set that only people who were your friends could message you ~ they got rid of that. This was part of a volley of attacks on user privacy, all geared towards increasing clicks and thus increasing profits. Facebook has moved from comfortably cosy to chaotically paranoid. So many friends of mine have ended up inadvertently broadcasting the end of relationships or liking a dodgy page which then appears on everyone’s newsfeed. The reason this happens is not because they’re idiots, it’s because Facebook deliberately obfuscates user controls in order to make us as wide open and vulnerable as possible. Hey, every interaction, even a horrible one, is an advert served, right?
Around August of this year, I realised that I was going on Facebook in a reasonably happy, calm mood and then, after a few minutes trudging through the cesspool of my newsfeed, I was angry and depressed. Racism, disablism, sexism, homophobia, every kind of moronic prejudice possible for a human to hold was being proudly bleated out, often repeated verbatim from the pages of The Sun or Daily Mail.
I felt like I was being forced to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show on infinite repeat.
So I resolved to hide everyone that was annoying. That helped, somewhat but it didn’t stop the fuckers commenting on what I posted. Any time I posted up a feminist link, blokes would ooze out of the woodwork with the inevitable, “Yeah but women have it better than men now, don’t they??” When I presented them with concrete evidence why their beliefs were bullshit, they simply ignored it or moved on to bashing immigrants or asylum seekers. And I had wasted yet more time arguing with idiots on the internet. Argh.
Obviously, these weren’t close friends of mine. These were, at best, acquaintances. People I’d met out clubbing or DJing or gigging. They seemed okay, you know, not members of the Hitler Youth. But after adding them on Facebook their posts about Muslamic Rayguns, shiftless dole-fiddlers or Saint Margaret of Thatcher polluted my newsfeed immediately. They are the essence of the typical Tory: they unthinkingly and unquestioningly parrot what they’re fed by their lords and masters in the capitalist media. There is no filtering or critical appraisal whatsoever.
Sure, I could delete them all. I could do what every Facebook user now has to do periodically, since the website is so royally fucked: the Facebook cull. But I’d done that before, going from 500+ “friends” down to around 200. That works, for a while but the number of friends inevitably creeps back up again. There’s also the other factor: people are mortally offended when you delete them. Even if they have never, ever interacted with you. I’d do a cull and then be out clubbing and get evils off some girl I’d added and then deleted because I couldn’t cope with her Olympian-level Vaguebooking.
These random people who felt they had a right to lob their uninformed turds of comment at me, where did they get that sense of entitlement? From Facebook. I didn’t actually know them, they didn’t actually know me, we weren’t actually friends at all. I can tell you, I am far pickier with who I am friends with, not being a wanker being a basic requirement. Facebook’s online erosion of boundaries and it’s confusion of the parasocial with the social is steathily pernicious.
Also,the structure of Facebook conforms beautifully to Chomsky’s concision model of thought control in democratic societies. Any hard data or views that dissent majorly from the Facebook tabloid howl are ignored and become part of the gargantuan tl;dr of the scrolling newsfeed.
So, I left.
The only presence I have on Facebook now is my White Town band page, which I administer through a ghost account. I would love to delete that too and if Google+ takes off a bit more, maybe I will. (G+ reminds me of Facebook in the early days, it’s polite, informative and quite empty.) You see, I’m not against social networking per se, I’m against what Facebook has morphed into. It has turned itself into this monster of unwanted adds and base interactions. There is room for a new challenger to take its crown. If I could code, I’d whip it up myself but unfortunately, I’m only a humble sociologist and musican. I can see what needs to be done but I cannot script it.
Leaving Facebook is kind of like dying. Of course, with my real, actual friends, not a thing has changed. We meet, we coffee, we shop, we go clubbing. What’s missing now is that I’m out of the social loop most people are part of. Unless I check carefully, I’ll miss someone’s birthday night out or gig because all of that is organised on Facebook now and only on Facebook. People have become Facebook lazy. A promoter now is someone who posts to Facebook regularly and that’s it. So, missing out on stuff like that is a minus.
However, it’s outweighed by the humongous pluses. I no longer get angry reading uninformed codswallop. I no longer have to delete comments foaming with hatespeech. I was a bit sad that some people I used to interact with on Facebook lost touch with me when I left, even though I’m hardly the Unabomber: I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Whatsapp. The lesson I’ve drawn from that is this: it was my mistake. I mistook the parasocial for social, something that’s very easily done in today’s online world. I guess if those people aren’t my friends now, then they never actually were. That may sound like another minus but I see it as a plus: I have limited time and energy, I’d rather spend on people who genuinely value having me in their lives.
Since leaving, I have more time, I write and read more, I take more photos and make more music. I hadn’t actually realised how often I was checking my newsfeed or responding to comments until I went cold turkey. All those minutes can very quickly add up into hours wasted on pissing in the wind. I also enjoy the sense of disconnection from the tabloid priorities of the Facebook world. I’m perfectly capable of going to news sites that report actual news rather than scrolling through everyone’s outrage over Miley Cyrus’ skimpily-clad pudenda. This post-Facebook time has been calmer and more contemplative, a kind of techno-Buddhist elimination of useless, distracting chatter.
Every time I’m out, someone will come up to me and ask me why I’ve left Facebook or that they miss the science posts I used to do on there. I tell them I still post all those links on my Twitter or that they can chat to me on Kik. They then throw me this wary look, like they’re dealing with an escapee from a secure ward because I’ve chosen not to be on Facebook.
It kind of reminds me of how MySpace users looked at me when I left there.