If, like me, you were greeted by the above question when logging into Facebook recently, you’d be forgiven for feeling pretty conflicted about your answer. I can’t even remember what I selected, but I do remember that it gave me pause for thought. No doubt I probably went for the reliably non-committal ‘neither agree nor disagree’.
So what do I think about Facebook? Do I love it or hate it? Or, to rephrase: on balance, has it done me more harm than good? I decided to reflect on it further.
Staying in contact
This is always my first reflexive response when thinking about quitting Facebook. ‘But how will I keep in touch?!’. Admittedly there is a large portion of everyone’s friend lists made up of those who you know you will never see ‘IRL’ again. Many of these are people that you don’t even interact with on Facebook itself, despite knowing that their second child is teething, loves yoghurt and is, by all accounts, a bit of a prick.
But even still, there’s a genuine joy in being able to connect with people despite them living in a different city, country, or even timezone. And the few times where Facebook has facilitated meeting up with someone I haven’t seen in years have made it seem worthwhile.
I’ve only really ‘got’ Facebook groups in the last few years. I thought they were mainly for niche banter, such as an appreciation group for David Bowie’s bulge in The Labyrinth (true story). But, no, it turns out that they can be a genuine source of learning. I’ve learnt so much about intersectional feminism as a direct result of joining a feminist Facebook group. The same goes for veganism- I regularly find out about new products and restaurants from FB groups. I’ve also read think pieces and articles I would have been very unlikely to stumble across otherwise, which has expanded my worldview and introduced me to new and exciting ideas.
Networking and ‘opportunities’
Predominantly through groups, I have promoted my blog and connected with other people writing them (I bet you came here from Facebook, didn’t you?), found small businesses to support, secured trading space at a vegan market and been paid to pull a variety of expressions in front of a camera for an art project. Facebook can present a whole host of weird and wonderful opportunities if you want it to.
I have experienced real community spirit on Facebook groups between strangers who want to support one another- providing a listening ear, offering recommendations and advice, even sorting people out with emergency accommodation. It has shown me what social media can do at its best- connect like-minded people to share ideas, resources and maybe even collaborate on passion projects together.
The comments. Oh god, the comments
Not comments on my posts, phew, but on general posts- often news pages, brand pages or those run on behalf of public figures. The hate and ignorance is astounding. See a classic example from vegan-sausage-roll-gate here. From reading these comments, it would appear that 50% of the world’s problems are caused by ‘bloody immigrants’ and the other 50 by the ‘PC Brigade’ (card carrying member of the PC Brigade right here, FYI, which is lucky, since my name is P C Rodie. Wahey)
I have wasted many a sordid hour making myself feel deflated and depressed at the state of the world by reading arguments kicking off on Facebook. I’ve just about managed to avoid joining in on them myself, though I did come perilously close recently when I weighed in on whether it was unethical to start a book-gifting pyramid scheme. Yes, I know. Of all the arguments I could have chosen to concern myself with, the ethics of book-gifting pyramid schemes was the one I chose. I stand by my decision.
The only benefit to the hellish world of Facebook comments is that it gives me an opportunity to break through the echo chamber and realise that we have a mother of a political divide in this country at the moment. I don’t know what I can usefully do with that knowledge, but perhaps I won’t be as surprised next time we have a monumental referendum on our hands (no one mention the B-word!) and the vote doesn’t quite go according to plan…
Addictive as fuck, mate
I’m lucky to have a job where it’s fine to check my phone every so often. By my definition, ‘every so often’ means every time I’m frustrated/stuck/bored/stressed, which is approximately every 30 seconds. I dread to think how many times I open the Facebook app a day, only to browse for less than 2 minutes, then log off. I’ve talked about the lack of definitive research into Facebook having a causal link to poor mental health before, but there are findings that suggest that passive use of Facebook- i.e exactly the kind of mindless scrolling I’ve just talked about, is more likely to leave you feeling bad than if you actually engage with the platform by sharing and commenting. So I’m compelled to do something that doesn’t do me any good.
It’s also a massive drain on time. I like to think that I achieve a fair amount in my free time when I put my mind to it, but I also know that I waste a fuckload of time scrolling through various social media channels. WHAT IF I’M BASICALLY THE DICKENS OF THE MODERN AGE BUT I’LL NEVER ACHIEVE MY POTENTIAL BECAUSE I’M ALWAYS ON FUCKING FACEBOOK?! The struggle is real.
I know too much about people
As referenced earlier, sometimes it can feel pretty weird (or even downright creepy) that you’re reading updates about the life of someone with whom you have little to no contact.
A friend once told me that if someone’s birthday came up as a Facebook notification, and she couldn’t be bothered to write a birthday message on their wall, then she knew it was time to unfriend. I now have a test where I think about whether I would say hi to someone if I saw them walking towards me unexpectedly in the street. If the answer’s no, then I probably shouldn’t be reading about what you had for breakfast, should I?
So, what have I learnt from this? Nothing, probably. I’ll no doubt carry on in much the same way as before, but maybe try to be a little bit more aware of mindless scrolling versus active engagement. Perhaps I’ll unfriend someone if I think it’s weird that they’re popping up on my feed.
But mostly, what I’ve learnt is that I need you to LIKE MY FACEBOOK PAGE.
Yours in addiction,