Facebook Use & Responsibility

You’ve come across it and possibly agreed with it many times before: article after survey after listicle about the poor use of social media (this is my favorite one), i.e. the 12 types of worst Facebook friends, how not to be annoying online, what you should and shouldn’t post, netiquette, the worst online fails, and so on. There are tales of tweets and statuses getting people fired and imprisoned. The social media landscape is clearly not the liberating place it was when it was invented over a decade ago, and rightfully so; we need to watch what we post online now that we know and hear of how vulnerable data can render anyone, especially with cautionary tales that range from the Sony Hack to the Fappening.

Because I enjoy writing from a free-spirited, boundless more-to-myself-than-to-my-audience kind of way, I sometimes feel the vulnerability dripping through my liquid crystal display because it’s stifling. Stifling because while I take comfort in the false sense of anonymity the Internet brings, the danger of anything typed being stained and immortalized in permanent internet marker is now the real horror. And as a result, I believe that social media has now suppressed the sincerity of genuine human interaction online. Some might even reword, edit, and privatize their most innocent posts because decorum, transparency and reputation are threatened by views of multiple audiences in followers and friends lists. You’d like to think that you’ve vetted them all through privacy settings and filtered Facebook groups. You’d like to believe that you can control who sees what… but it’s not enough.

So if you do decide to bravely voice your thoughts online, from a political viewpoint to a fleeting brain-fart of an inanity, it’s not going to be the real you; it’s going to be the “Facebook you”, that is a safe version to suit the semi-formal identity you’ve manufactured for your online presence. It’s a semi-formal identity you disguise as casual, because after all, you want to look your best, but you want to look sincere. It’s the same reason some people take 50 selfies to capture the right one for posting. It’s the same reason I try to copy-edit my own article. Face it, we’re trying way too hard, and perceptive people can sense when it’s fake. And when all these fakers congregate to make the piece whole, it becomes a kind of… Fakebook.

We call it social media, social networking and social presence, but what these identifiers for Facebook are to me, are better labelled as social experiments, if we’re going to be honest here. One big social experiment, in actuality. Imagine being able to capture something as complex and nuanced as human interaction and personal expression into one platform; it’s a pretty impressive feat both in theory and in execution. And every development since Facebook was invented throws a monkey wrench into the test or tries to accommodate some social factor it didn’t anticipate or wants to explore. The biggest example? The invention of the ‘Like’ button in 2009.

I could write essays alone about how the like button has built and destroyed lives. From feeding insecurities to faming narcissistic egos, the like button has made the social experiment even more surreal and competitive than we’d care to admit because of its psychological and competitive implications, all while data-farming for the various tastes and interests of its end-user. It’s absolutely brilliant, in a “greatest trick the devil ever pulled” kind of way.

And when I first started typing this piece, I wanted to present the theory that reducing social interaction to likes, shares, and image-crafted versions of ourselves spells out how Facebook is a ticking time bomb to its own implosion. But then I realized that this social experiment can only get more interesting and addictive for its faults, maybe even in spite of them.

I think Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are incredible, revolutionary tools. But the curse to the blessing of this invention is in what it’s doing to people. It celebrates humanity by stripping us of it and filtering it through a megacorporation, the way businesses force formal versions of ourselves for their clientelle.

And then it encouraged stalking, by introducing the news ticker in 2011. This feature, essentially a mini-Facebook within your Facebook, allows you to see every fart that your friend likes or comments on as long its source material is a public post. This includes new friends and pages added. It even includes comments on statuses of friends of your friends that you do not know. It’s essentially a spy window of their activity that you can’t disable or deactivate, which is creepy and frightening, but that by 2015 would be completely acceptable socially.

And they weren’t done adding to the experimental nature of their business model. As if stalking your friends wasn’t enough of a development, the following year they introduced the “Seen” notification. Feel the heartbreak of your crush pretending to have missed your “Hello” or “Happy Valentine’s Day!”. Feel the blow-off of your buddy dismissing the line you dropped him because he can’t be bothered to respond to your annoying ass. Feel it! It’s not enough to be friendzoned, now you can be SEENzoned, tool.

There was a time very recently when ‘oversharing’ became a condemned thing and now, still is. When complaining on Facebook became taboo, and wedding and baby photos branded you an annoyer. These stigmas have now developed into something else entirely. It may be the friends I personally have or the feed I’ve scrolled through of late, but actual Facebook statuses have become taboo too, unless there’s a link, image or video associated with the post. This is because the quality of the post is measured by how informative and entertaining it is, and while that’s very productive, it’s not exactly real humanity, is it?

Real humanity is expressing yourself in abstractions and even hypocrises, which I’m starting to flow into here. Before I lose you, I’ll reiterate and follow with specific examples. You see, there’s no reason to shame people for expressing themselves online when they’re not hurting themselves or others, especially when no privacies are being intruded on. Friends on each other’s lists shouldn’t have any reason to be annoyed by the content on their feed. Yet it’s somewhat obvious that Facebook has become a shadow of what it was invented for now that we’re post-Snowden and living in a world where we’re even policing ourselves. Besides image-crafting, it seems social media’s only remaining purpose in this day and age is to advertise businesses through the very thin veil of fostering connections and relationships with one another.

And before you know it, real human interests and behaviours are as stigmatized as status updates. Some common ones:

1. Food.

“Stop instagramming your food” people will say, because it’s all going to turn to shit later, after all. Food porn is now as offensive as real porn, for the most part. Personally, I enjoy food, recipes, pictures of food, and learning about new restaurants. But there are a growing number of people rolling their eyes at images of dinner plates and homemade kitchen creations on the Internet. Go figure.

2. Travel.

Apparently, posting vacation pictures and international travel highlights online is lame and rude because it’s not a humble practice and is potentially depressing to others. But seeing other cities and nations should be a pick me up to make people happy because it’s a pleasure to see one’s peers getting wise and worldly from their new cultural experiences. It also lets you know that they’re (on their way to) doing well not just financially, but spiritually, if they can afford to see the world and are enjoying themselves. But no. Unless it’s an educational travel blog, your friends are not interested.

3. Wedding and engagement photos.

You don’t have to be down with the institution of marriage or monogamy to appreciate wedding pictures. These are there to enjoy because they are people you know and love, but more importantly, because they are shot and developed by professional photographers. Looking at these albums is like walking through the craftsmanship of an art gallery every time, in my opinion. But people are bitter with envy and find these things easy to hate on now that social presence and reputation has become as competitive as I’ve outlined.

4. Celebrated accomplishments.

On that note, did you know that there have been recent studies of a new social insecurity that consists of people who have a fear of coming across as narcissistic braggarts when it comes to announcing good news about their lives? That’s because there are judging, jealous people condemning others for being proud and excited about their achievements. This includes the seemingly small or insignificant ones, because everything is relative. On that note, I’m personally also not the least bit annoyed by people who are…

5. Lamenting failures.

Although social media culture will insist that complaining on the Internet makes you a stupid, negative, ungrateful, immature attention-whore, that shouldn’t necessarily be the case. But sound the least bit negative on Facebook, particularly with the smugness, sarcasm or cynicism of some of the passages of this very article, and congratulations… you’ve alienated yourself from everyone you know. Beyond the toxicity of negativity, the ‘face your problems don’t Facebook them’ rhetoric denies that a good rant to the world is sometimes what everyone needs from time to time to stay sane. Don’t forget the medicating psychology of a) cathartic self expression and b) the desperate cry for help. When people complain on Facebook you’d think, like real good natured, sincere aspects of human interaction, you’d see it as an invitation to assist them, not to shun them through their difficulties. But this does not work online because it takes off the rose coloured glasses even if just for a minute, which is too much. Take a look at how we treat the homeless for a similar perspective.

6. Motivational Pictures/Quotes

Whether its relationship quotes, life advice, fitness or office motivation, or just a feel-good saying from a celebrated figure, historian or philosopher, there’s no reason to be the least bit annoyed by how much space it takes up on a news feed. Yes, the people who post these things are ironically doing it more for themselves, but the intention of these positive ideologies usually comes to real fruition when it’s put out into the world and spread to others virally. When much needed moments of zen are frowned upon because it’s not newsworthy or entertaining, it says a lot about the dangerously unhealthy mind states of the masses. But as taboo as doing this has become, one must reflect on the fact that it’s still the “safest” way to express your thoughts, now that personal statuses are no longer appropriate. This is why women post cheesy Marilyn Monroe quotes and men might post empowering Al Pacino quotes. It’s okay if someone else said it and you’re just sharing, but it’s a little too weird if you’re posting it yourself.

I was considering also listing political and religious views, babies, pets, and selfies as unfortunate additions to the taboo table, but I have to be honest; as much as freedom of speech on a large platform like social media is ideal for all things, people, events, and circumstances, it’s often too polarizing in nature and too often abused by the person it’s coming from. In other words, these things have way too many variables. Politics are too sensitive, babies and pets are cutest to their guardians (and can’t choose how they’re ‘exploited’ online), and as far as selfies go, there are too many characters out there ruining it for those who have the ability to post them tastefully. That’s not to say that there aren’t amazingly good reasons to post these things as much and as often as you want if you’re so inclined, it’s just a little unbalanced on the etiquette front, so I’m reluctant to include them.

And while we’re talking about what’s polarizing in nature online, there’s another aspect about social media usage that’s difficult to control, and it’s our nature to become sheeple. Mobs manifest online just as well as they do away from the computer, and you do not want to be on the wrong side of a social consensus. Atheist or Agnostic? Stay silent. Don’t like cats? Keep your mouth shut. If for objectivity’s sake, you have a habit of playing devil’s advocate on any social issue, the Internet ain’t havin’ that. Your opinion has to be mindfully appropriate or your life will be in danger.

Because we move on to 2014 and 2015 where the appropriate use of Facebook is to be a social justice warrior. Have you noticed the trend to be a bleeding heart hashtag activist with consenting sentiments on issue-of-the-day? Yes, too many cops are trigger happy racist a-hole nincompoops. You want to raise awareness, but are you doing it for the cause or for your vanity? Oh, you’re a third wave feminazi now, eh? You are Charlie, are you? Bring back our girls? I’m sure it impresses all of your Internet friends. I say that with the condescension of the Willy Wonka meme.

Pardon my cynicism, let’s just get back to the nature of respectability and accountability online. Yes we should be mindful of what we say on the Internet to and about what or whom we’re opining. You want freedom of speech? Well, you’re going to have to live with its consequences. There are no drive-by rantings allowed in this world so don’t act brand new when your views inspire debate, challenge, backlash and resistance. You have nothing but your conscience, online assholery, and the ignorance you reveal of yourself to blame. Reap what you sow, lay in the bed you made, and so on.

Because this is how the world works in real life, you might say. No, it doesn’t. In real life, you’re allowed to debate without being descended upon by a mob of incensed strangers whether it’s a comments section, a troll, or just friends of friends who’ve intercepted your broadcast. In real life, you don’t hang out with your brother, pastor, teacher, wife, best friend and mistress at the same time or in the same space. You don’t have to filter and edit yourself ad-nauseum because you’re not living in an illusion of social comfort, you are actually experiencing it. People are becoming wise to this, and it’s the reason cats have their tongues in a vice.

I hope I’m not the only one who thinks that your offensive posts on social media should NOT be reported to employers or authorities (within obvious reason)? Yeah, the guy who works at Harvey’s is a racist prick online and can’t use twitter responsibly, but what does that have to do with his behaviour as an employee? He didn’t n-bomb me while he was grilling my burger because he respects his employment more than he respects his social media presence. He could even complain about his job for all I care, he is off the clock and his profile page, public as it may be, is still his personal space. If we’re going to include snitching on Internet idiots as responsible social activism, why stop there? Let’s eavesdrop on inappropriate jokes made on the bus among friends and take it back to the workplace for corporate wrath. Let’s go after the guy for his YouTube vlog or podcast! Isn’t that how snitches roll?

Imagine being one misinterpreted comment away from being unemployed- or branded sexist, prejudiced, stupid, immature, or annoying because you said what many others were already thinking, just not at the right time or in the right place. Since the Internet can sometimes stain unforgivingly much worse than a more private little faux-pas, it’s much more dangerous with social media. George Orwell wasn’t too far from the truth with his predictions in Nineteen Eighty Four, which saw a world of constant surveillance and punishable thought crime.

And you’ll counter: Be yourself, fuck em’! Only paranoid and insecure people need to have a ‘Facebook filter’. But you know deep down that this is not possible. You live in a society that demands specific behaviours lest you be shunned, ostracized and exiled from any future successes or relationships you pursue. You have to play the game, it’s mandatory. Hate to break it to ya.

Then get off the damn thing! It’s obviously driving you insane. I would, but I’m addicted to it just like you are, and have a ton of interesting people, blogs and fan pages that are supplying me with entertainment through here, do you mind? So no, I cannot get off. The longest I lasted was about a month.

And furthermore… wait, wow, you’re still reading? You actually made it this far? You have my many thanks and congratulations. Now let’s wrap this up with a few takeaways I’ve noticed and decided upon. There are five types of Facebook users:

1) Those who use it exclusively to promote their brand and business.

2) Those who use it exclusively to promote the brands and businesses they are interested in.

3) Those who overshare too much information about their day to day activity and personal lives.

4) Those who undershare or do not contribute at all, drive-by ‘liking’ and silently stalking the posts of others.

5) Those who do post regularly, but always make sure it’s something successfully cookie-cutter, clever, sarcastic, entertaining or witty every time, because that’s how the game is played.

Clearly I’ve given this a lot of thought, but I’ve also observed a few things about the people who are “good” at Facebook, and it’s as simple as the fact that they are competent out there in the world as normal social animals. They have confidence and charisma that translates to text, and they teach while spreading the positive parts of their personalities with uses 1, 2 and 5.

And after all of this philosophizing on how Facebook has developed and destroyed the world, I leave you with one social network that allows you to have witty, truthful, honest social interaction with real sincerity and emotional intelligence on the Internet. It’s called reddit. Peace, homies, I’ll see you there!

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