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Facebook: good and bad… really bad

I find I have a difficult relationship with Facebook. I think Facebook has a lot of potential value, but with so many people using it so differently, it ends up taking almost as much as it gives.

Facebook: Some of the Good

The good of Facebook comes in the connectivity. It not only gives me a neutral environment to interact with friends from my distant past – people from middle school whom I still remember fondly! – but it exposes me to a wide variety of outlooks and experiences I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

It’s given me a chance to see old friends’ lives – as their careers and their children mature. It’s given me a chance to vicariously participate in the things that matter to them – graduations, successes, failures. It gives me a chance to commiserate and congratulate, even though years and miles separate us.

I’ve had closure for things from years and years ago – conversations with people who had tried to bully me, whether ignorantly or not, for example. It’s given us a chance to see each other as people, actual adults, as opposed to the caricatures created by first impressions of strangers.

It’s given me a chance to meet new people with common interests – the YYNOT “band” (they’re not really a band, but they create videos of cover songs for Rush, even though the people involved are separated by thousands of miles in most cases.)

It’s given me a chance to see others’ agony and interests – and question my own reactions. In some small ways, it’s helped me define myself, in how I see the world, in the things I value, and in the things I could do better.

Facebook: Some of the Bad

At the same time, it’s frustrated me. Facebook is excellent at fostering light connections, but such connections do a poor job of representing actual people – including me. On Facebook, an offhand statement, meant mildly and in context, appears as a core belief, a statement I am willing to defend to the death… and because of the nature of first impressions, no amount of context changes that impression.

People on Facebook don’t get to know each other – they get to know caricatures.

It’s easy to look at oneself in the mirror, and say “I know myself, I know what I like and don’t like, I know who I am,” and maybe that’s even accurate. The problem Facebook propagates is that the impressions formed by things people post on Facebook are perceived as being just as accurate as that self-image – thus, you might see my (hopefully) carefully worded statement advocating caution in judgement, and it becomes an erroneous impression that I defend actions that are, in the end, indefensible.

Those impressions are not accurate. They’re one piece in a puzzle that has two thousand other pieces. Even if that piece is horrifying (“I’m voting for Donald Trump!”) it doesn’t actually say all that much about someone – it’s just one piece of data among thousands. During the Cold War, the Russians loved their children, just as we loved ours.

Plus, people don’t seem to expect growth and self-examination on Facebook. I am not who I was ten years ago – some would argue that I’m barely who I was ten minutes ago. I have no problem saying “This is what I believe,” and learning from that point on. For example, I’m a libertarian – but people, including many libertarians, associate libertarianism with an advocacy of anarchy! So when I participate in a conversation, I see it as a conversation in a continuum, where I start from one position and may change over time, refining, rejecting, accepting points as they arise. But Facebook readers tend to not recognize that continuum and its potential for growth and refinement.

I also find that I tend to de-emphasize conflict where I can. When someone says “This sucks!,” my modus operandi tends to be to try to identify with the author (the one saying “this sucks”) and the objectified target. For example, when news first came out of a controversial family advocate’s hypocrisy, my stance was caution – we didn’t know what the terms used meant to the people involved.

For example, “Personicus Frankus had an affair!” might mean that Mssr. Frankus looked at a woman not his wife in a way that he would say was improper a la Jimmy Carter’s “adultery”, or it might mean that he had conducted actual relations with her… you know, the traditional meaning of “had an affair,” which Bill Clinton might have described as “not having sexual relations.” But to the people accusing Mr. Frankus, there was far more outrage at the potential hypocrisy – even though the actions he was accused of undertaking wouldn’t have offended any of them had he not publicly stood against them.

I understand both points of view; the hypocrisy bothers me, too. (A lot.) But at the same time, in America we advocate innocence until guilt is proven – and Facebook ignores the potential innocence.

It encourages clickbait, snap judgements, and purely emotional decision-making.

(I also find it humorous that someone who rushes to judgement in one post might then suggest empathy and understanding in the next post – “Those evil Republicrats are all going to Hell because they want to take away a label on fat content of cofferdams!”, and then “Can’t we all just get along? Look at these cute cats. I love everyone.” One can only presume that “everyone” doesn’t include those who disagree about labeling fat content of cofferdams.)

I’m tempted to filter Facebook quite a bit – spend a few days looking at who posts most often on my feed, and what they post. If their posts lack nuance or empathy, then I might remove them from the feed… but this strikes me as a really sad action to take, largely because the action itself lacks empathy.

I don’t want to protect myself from those around me. I want to be open and strong. I want to challenge myself to grow, and I can’t do that with a chorus of voices agreeing with me in unison. (With that, I only exacerbate my flaws. I don’t like my flaws. I want to get rid of them. I want to discover my weaknesses, and address them, not hide them.)

But at the same time, I find my agony, inspired by the travails and protests so easily lodged in public, is hardly endurable. I want to encourage collaboration and healing, maturation and empathy… and I feel like I’m one voice, whispering in a crowd of screamers. What frustrates me is that I have no choice; screaming for moderation is… uh… a flawed action. And refusing to stand up for moderation is irresponsible.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • RLa June 1, 2016, 3:36 am

    It’s possible to use the good parts only. Some people do not get it how to behave online and there is Unfollow button to deal with them 🙂

    • jottinge June 1, 2016, 6:39 am

      Of course. But like I said, part of the “good parts” of Facebook is the mix of behaviors – unfollowing means that I miss out on some of that. It’s certainly an option, as is unfriending… but then again, the whole reason I have the people on Facebook in my network in the first place is that I consider them my friends.

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