mourning the death of my Facebook
and reckoning with how social media has shaped our generation
I am damn done with Facebook.
When it gets to a point where you type “fb.com” as soon as you open your browser, it’s a problem. Checking social media all day, every day is a problem. I joined Facebook around 2008, and I began writing about Facebook’s negative and positive traits on my personal blog back in 2011. Our Facebook and social media use is not just a habit or regular part of our days, it’s an addiction that too few of us talk about.
My quick and dirty literature review on “social media addiction” showed that much of the data is outdated. Often, data from five years ago would be sufficient, given the time academic research takes. But Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, and the forever growing list of platforms change monthly, if not daily.
A cute infographic from December 2014 just won’t cut it, considering all that social media has become in the last two years. That being said, learning that Americans spent about 1/4 of our work days browsing social media for non-work related activities is both unsurprising and disappointing. Knowing that 18% of social media users couldn’t go a few hours without checking Facebook is again: unsurprising and disappointing.
We have to think about how many of us “millennials” were raised without personal computers until our mid-to-late teens. Yet, those of us privileged enough to have access to the internet got sucked in. Dial-up modems and “a/s/l” on AOL sometimes led to things some of us might rather forget. We would save up money for items on eBay, write about all of our feels on LiveJournal, customize everything for our Neopets, attack pink smile creatures in Ragnarok Online, trying not to get looted in Diablo II, making new friends in World of Warcraft, and finally caving in to the pressures of Farmville and other “social gaming” scams.
Induction into this new form of interaction and creating community online often bred very addictive behaviors with technology. We were constantly engaged, although many of us grew out of it. Some continued on with gaming (in moderation or in excess). And many of us had social media habits that were formed during pubescence and merely shifted targets as we aged.
I can personally see a direct throughline from my awkward, closeted, queer 14-year old self who spent all day with chosen family online and my openly queer 27-year old self who spends much of my free time online with my chosen family. I often ostracized myself when I was 14 years old because I didn’t feel like I fit in with my family of origin (blood family). Instead, I opted to build an online family (chosen family). Shit has changed, but ain’t shit changed.
The social stranglehold
“It is as if facebook has this stranglehold on me and many of my friends, but why do I really go on it? I’m not that close to the majority of my friends there, but many are people I would like to keep in contact with. Facebook works to keep in friends who don’t live near me and even friends that do live near me. But I think the main draw is the communal aspect that you get from seeing people discuss current events, sharing videos, and other activities.”
In 2011, as reflected in the above quote from my personal blog, I referred to what I call the “social stranglehold;” the desire, need, and societal pressure to constantly check social media. This was back before we had all of the platforms we have today, so Facebook really was The One.
Facebook launched in 2004, but didn’t became the giant “necessity” it is today for personal and professional life until recent years. For comparison, I was born in 1989 and the now-defunct Myspace was still in heavy rotation at the time I joined. I was a late adopter to Facebook, primarily because I didn’t like it and I was deterred by the gatekeeper of a college email address, but I did eventually join. This was also back before dating apps like OkCupid and queer dating apps I affectionately termed #TheApps were socially acceptable to discuss.
While many people were hiding their Black Planet, DowneLink, and OKCupid profiles, Facebook gained in popularity and became increasingly normalized. Some folks never got into Facebook, with many staying only peripherally engaged, but there was a whole slew of us whose Facebook usage steadily increased. With a new social network came new social norms and etiquette, which usually went undiscussed (as it usually goes). And over time, things like “Facebook stalking” — scrounging through someone’s Facebook profile before you meet or after you’ve briefly met or heard about them— went from an undiscussed activity to an almost expected practice among many folks. You were just expected to know certain things, such as:
- Don’t “add” someone too quickly , or else you’ll seem desperate.
- Make sure not to “like” anything years deep on someone’s timeline.
- Upload the most flattering pictures, even if you don’t look like that.
And the most important unwritten rule? Be happy; keep it light; keep it cute; don’t post too much of your lows, focus on the highs.
Multiple studies have shown the correlation between “too much” social media consumption and decreased wellbeing. However, we do not need studies to substantiate how the personal experience of The Never Ending Scroll™ often makes us just feel worse. Many of us did post our lows and many of us did use Facebook as a consciousness raising tool, but for more of us? Pet videos, blurry memes, some news articles, problematic friends and family (including ourselves), and pretending everything was alright reigned supreme.
It’s not you, Facebook, it’s me
“While Facebook has a lot of issues itself, the largest issue is my personal use; I was aware of that and still am. And by deleting Facebook I was taking responsibility in my actions by completely ridding myself of the addiction. I may still eventually do this, but giiiiiirl, I gotta wean myself off of it first. So I’ll start by using it on my terms instead of allowing it to use me and by deactivating it when I feel like I’ve gotten out of hand.”
I wrote the above quote in 2014 and it is still true. We often forget that social media is fairly new, and as such, we are still learning how to wield it responsibly. I have written extensively about Facebook’s racism, sexism, misogyny, and surveillance. In fact, I still remember not receiving an explanation for why I couldn’t share an article — from a reputable source — about the abuse of Black Israelis.
We’ve known that Facebook manipulated our feeds to see how we would react (no, really) and banned activists, banned organizers, and harassed drag queens and trans folks over “real names.” And yet we still use it because it has not affected us personally, the utility overrides the toxicity, or we’re unaware of the fuckshit of Facebook and their complicity in white supremacy. Facebook is a powerful tool, but it’s one I am choosing not to wield anymore.
“What’s the point of Community Standards when they only protect white folks?” — Dear Facebook: You’re Racist
But I also acknowledge — and want more of us to acknowledge — that despite Facebook’s manipulative tactics to get us to stay, some of it is on us: the users. As I wrote, “only a cult or a codependent spouse stops you from leaving by guilting you into staying,” yet Facebook does it by showing photos of your friends accompanied by the text, ‘your friends will miss you’.
We still stay. We know that they sell our information, use our information to advertise what we were just googling, track our location, and that our information is liable to be used against us at any time. Yet, for some reason, we stay. I do not write this to make anyone using the “free” service feel bad, but merely to get us to think a little bit more about how and why we utilize the tool that is Facebook.
The first time I remember taking a “break” from Facebook was in 2011, following the lead of my partner at the time. He wanted to focus for finals, so he had me change his password and I had him change mine until our finals were over. We knew that Facebook was one of the easiest ways to procrastinate, so we were taking time off from aimlessly, yet religiously participating in The Never Ending Scroll™.
For context, The Never Ending Scroll™ is that activity you do when you log in — or just never log out — and scroll. And then scroll s’more. Not really looking at what’s posted, sometimes complaining about what’s on your feed, and then closing the tab…only to do it all over again every 30 minutes, every hour, or every few hours. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, trust and believe that it is familiar to someone important in your life.
No, wait, maybe it is you
“A few days ago I had around 1330 friends, then I cut it down to 1074. Now it’s at 423. I unfriended folks of all genders, all races. There’s no way for this not to sound dramatic, so let me just embrace it.”
I kept trying to modify the way I used Facebook. My political, educational, and sometimes inflammatory posts made me a perpetual target of surveillance from inside and outside my communities. I kept thinking: this must be me, right? I let this happen. Maybe if I just shut up or if I was nicer, we’d be good. Considering that we agree to community standards when we join Facebook, my issue was not rooted in having posts removed for violating the standards. The issue was unfair targeting and vagueness within these standards. Facebook allowed — and arguably encouraged — white supremacist capitalism. In prioritizing profits and centering white feelings, Facebook made it clear where they stood and where they still stand.
After being stalked and harassed without actual assistance or compassion from the humans or corporation that form Facebook, I decided to do what I could on my end. I was tired of posting “appropriate” photos of my family and getting reported for censorship. I was tired of witnessing anti-Blackness from white folks and non-Black people of color slide, yet being banned from posting for days without just cause. I got tired of the double standard, so I protected myself.
I had “friended” almost 1,400 people over the years I was on Facebook. These contacts were reporting my posts, but Facebook moderators also appeared to be combing through my posts from several weeks prior. So I decided to delete both new acquaintances and folks I had known since middle school. With daily trolls on my Twitter and in my life, I created the closest thing I could to a “virtual safe space” for myself online.
I let folks go I felt that anyone was not willing to be accountable for their anti-Blackness, queerantagonism, transphobia, or straight up bigotry. I had to make hard decisions, sometimes based off of years of knowing folks and witnessing one too many off-kilter jokes. I also posted a Facebook status explaining why and crossposted it to my personal blog. Needless to say, pissed off a lot of people in the process and learn how many folks tie a connection on social media to a real-life connection.
The experience was reminiscent of when I intended to delete my Facebook in 2014, eventually failing. I had been met with anger from acquaintances (classmates, coworkers, casual friends) and more serious friends who would much rather have 24/7 access to me than actually ask how I was doing. These were folks who were often thrown off balance by how I expressed my growing militancy in my Black queerness and my struggles with mental health.
Folks preferred to like my statuses than to check-in through email, text, or in person. This often feels easier, and better, than putting in the work to connect offline. And ultimately, people wanted my commentary, opinions, and curated news articles without putting in effort to actually be a friend. I was in over 1,000 one sided relationships and it did not feel very good. I have to admit, though, I used people in a similar way before this whole experience. And I only recently recognized that I’m often a poor friend because I have my needs met through social media, meaning I don’t check in — with friends or family — as often as I should.
Girl, what’s wrong?
I stayed on Facebook for too long due to the utility of the platform until 2014, but I have since stayed on for an entirely different reason. I was afraid, honestly.
What about sharing my writing? What about me being there for folks who need to message me if they’re feeling down? What do I do when I need to talk to almost all of my folks at once?
I had also just graduated in mid 2016 and just finished applying to multiple graduate schools a few days ago. Translation? I need(ed) some financial assistance.
I do a lot of unpaid and unreciprocated labor for friends without any expectation of compensation. I don’t think that will ever change. But what has changed recently is that I now expect compensation when I do not know folks. So when I asked for assistance from folks who had the means to help, people really came through. One friend whom I’ve known for three years donated $100, another $10, another $15, another $25, ultimately subsidizing a large portion of my graduate school application costs. I received some money by asking on twitter, too, but the majority came from folks I know in person. I had never asked for money for myself before, and folks really, truly came through.
I use this as an example to illustrate the power and beauty of a literal, not figurative, social network. My task now is to (re)build that social network, one by one. The importance of that social network is love, support, and mutual respect. It’s not about getting friends to donate money to me or to any of the organizations I work for, but about really being present for folks in a way that I just wasn’t haven’t (ever?) been.
And maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m still scared.
I’m used to checking either Facebook (gone now) or Twitter (still here) every hour, if not more. Almost every occupation we hold now includes some social media aspect. I also like to be a present for folks who I know personally because many of them deal with depression or anxiety, but sometimes only reach out through message. If I keep writing, I’ll keep trying to convince myself that I should stay.
It’s scary to end a relationship, even if it’s just with Facebook, but I’m doing it.