Why Can’t We Be (Facebook) Friends?

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Not long ago I seriously considered leaving the social network completely. I was fed up with its incessant nosiness. I was concerned about its vulnerability to being abused. Facebook allegedly came into being after Mark Zuckerberg’s adolescent tech savant misuse of Harvard’s network to compare the hotness of collegiate coeds (to take his mind off being dumped by one, if The Social Network is to be believed). Facebook has become a money machine because it is addictive and it contains tons of data about zillions of people. The potential for abuse is staggering.

I was spending more time and enjoying it less, wondering if anything positive was coming out of it. I was hooked and miserable.

I backed up my data. And instead of just deactivating my account, I set about deleting my individual posts. Thousands of them. Status updates, pictures, links. And I actually re-read a lot of that stuff. Some of it was good, like “Wow, did I actually write that?” Some of it was bad. A lot of it was redundant and tiresome.

And I learned a few things. One of them is that repeating something over and over in a variety of ways is not necessarily persuasive. Another is that hammering the negative aspects of various candidates might be effective campaigning — I’m not actually convinced that it is — but it’s certainly not something that inspires me to go out and vote for something.

Something else I learned is that links have a finite but unknown shelf life in our digital age. A lot of links were dead. Oftentimes an article’s headline (and sometimes an image) might be embedded, but the article itself had vanished. Even the White House website is not maintained from one administration to the next, but rather the old site is archived and frozen in time. A lot of media sites have simply gone out of business, such as the late, beloved Rocky Mountain News.

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned is that my frustration with Facebook had a lot to do with me and how I was using it. I had clicked “like” on too many pages. I had joined too many groups. I had shared too much information. I was following, liking and commenting on too much negative crap in my news feed, especially relating to the current administration and its supporters.

It’s not just Facebook, but how my friends and I were using it.

After cleaning out almost all of my old profile content and changing some important security settings, I decided that I was going to lead by example in one very specific way. On Presidents Day I declared my Facebook page as a Trump free zone (TFZ). I wasn’t going to give any more virtual ink to that individual. And to encourage others to do likewise, I stopped responding to many things that I wouldn’t post myself, starting with anything that would violate the TFZ.

I’ve never been one to accumulate Facebook friends like some folks I know, famous and otherwise. For a few years my friend list has hovered somewhere around 600. Some folks have been friends, then got unfriended. Some have been re-friended. Some refused a new friend request (fair enough). And believe it or not, some have been unfriended for a second time.

Facebook friendship is a strange thing. It’s possible to become friends with people you’ve never met, including people who live thousands of miles away, based on some common interest or contact. This is one of the actual benefits of social media, in my view. However, as we’ve learned from disclosures about foreign efforts to agitate American society and manipulate American politics, it’s also possible to become friends with people who have hidden agendas or might not be real people at all.

What’s definitely not possible, for me anyway, is to be friends with everybody. If friendship, even online friendship, means anything, it means that not everybody is your friend. It’s enough for me to have a bunch of people I find interesting. It’s nice when something I share resonates with someone and that individual shares my work with their friends. It’s especially gratifying when somebody I admire shares my stuff.

It would be great to create something that is well liked and widely shared. Whether it’s on Facebook or this blog or some other medium is not the point. The point is creating something worth sharing.

Changing my own behavior on Facebook is half of the battle. The other half is dealing with what my “friends” are throwing at me. At some point this becomes a question of whether we should be online friends at all.

So, why can’t we be Facebook friends? Here are some definite turnoffs for me:

  • Saturation bombing. Sharing 20 or 30 links and memes a day, with hardly any comment or original content. Does any of that stuff mean anything to you?
  • Repetition. Saying or re-sharing the same item again and again.
  • Self importance, such as quoting yourself like you’re the most interesting person you’ve ever met. Who are we kidding?
  • Dogmatism. Example: one former friend keeps saying that organized religion is a cancer. No, there are good religious organizations / teachings / people and bad ones. There are no good cancers. Don’t blame organized religion for everything wrong with the world because you’re an atheist or a closet anarchist. That’s just intolerance of a different type.
  • Relentless negativity. Ditto for outrage, hopelessness, drama, sarcasm and snark.
  • Incivility. Example: name calling and personal attacks.
  • Shock and awe campaigning — posting horrible stuff for its shock value. Just stop. Good intentions don’t justify this.
  • Fanaticism, extreme bias, bigotry and intolerance.
  • Propagandism — spreading fake news and misinformation. Not cool. Do a little fact checking, a little critical thinking. If some else identifies something you’ve posted as likely false, do something (like apologize and delete the propaganda).
  • Vaguebooking — intentionally vague statements intended to get attention.
  • Hidden agenda or malice. Do you actually view us as enemies? If so, please, unfriend me now.
  • Arrogance. You act as if the rest of us are too stupid to live. Who do you think you are, me?

A lot of this stuff is uncool on social media or anywhere else. For some reason, though, a lot of us seem to forget that there are real people looking at what we post online. The only way to change that, I think, is to stop doing it and stop rewarding it.

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