Those of you who know me will know that I have recently, as a pre-New Year’s resolution, deactivated my Facebook account. I’m not sure how long this will last. There are things I will miss about Facebook, some of which I miss already. Keeping up with the lives of friends who live in other cities, provinces, countries. Keeping up with family, who I don’t see often enough. But there are things I will not miss, and which made staying seem like a losing proposition.
The things I will not miss can be divided largely into two classes: platform ‘features’ that have annoyed me, and more serious, societal issues not limited to the platform, but facilitated by it.
Annoying as they were, the platform features would not on their own have made me give up on Facebook. These include
- Filtering out of some friends from my news feed, without asking me whether I wanted them filtered out or not;
- Defaulting to “Top Stories” rather than “Most Recent,” as if Facebook knows better than me what I’ll be interested in (they don’t);
- Repeatedly suggesting pages they think I’ll be interested in, and people they want me to be friends with (seriously, I was never going to “friend” my boss);
- Constantly asking me to “like” Mark Zuckerberg (don’t you have enough friends?)
As I said, on their own these things would not have been enough to make me abandon the platform altogether. They were annoying, but nothing more.
More insidious is the memefication of thought, the denigration of fact, and the substitution of innuendo instead of argument. This isn’t unique to Facebook. It is arguably worse in some other spheres, like Twitter. But I see it as being more pernicious on Facebook, perhaps because I care more about what my friends think than the 140 character nonsense from strangers.
This problem has been going on for some time on Facebook. I think David Wolfe, Britain First and others, who use empty platitudes and cheap emotional appeals to build their brands and influence were among the first signs I saw. Everything could be reduced to a meme, lacking in substance, but ostensibly supporting preconceptions, such as “natural is good” or “our veterans should be honoured.”
The problem became more pronounced, with highly spun “news” stories began to be shared and liked faster than they could be read. Many of them, upon close examination, were nonsense. And yet, they would be vigorously defended, largely on the grounds that they came from an alternative media organization whose perspective aligned with that of their defender. The “mainstream media,” after all, cannot be trusted. They are inherently biased, generally toward whatever you oppose. If you are conservative, the MSM are liberal; if you are a progressive, they are right wing; and so on. Whereas alternative media, so long as it aligns with my prejudices, must be true. Facts are suspect, if they do not support my ideology. We saw the effect of this during the recent U.S. election.
It has become impossible for me to see much of this and not comment. Those comments always bring rebuttal, not based on fact, but on perceived orthodoxy. One must believe the right things. Arguing against orthodoxy is almost always a losing battle. And recently, I began to think of Nietzsche’s aphorisms about the “flies of the marketplace,” from Zarathustra. Specifically, I thought of the line: “It is not your destiny to be a fly swat.” Yes, I thought, that is true.
And so I’m saying goodbye to Facebook after nearly 10 years. I have better (or at least more enjoyable) things to do with my time.