I’m deeply ambivalent about Facebook. Inevitably, in the wake of a controversial news event, my feed fills with a stream of indignant ranting. A day later I’ll see the “thoughtful” reflections, and a day after that, “thoughtful” reflections on the reflections.
I don’t want to seem holier than thou. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a mildly public person with a blog, podcast and books, I’d probably be participating in this social media shadow boxing and punch back with my own intemperate comments or “thoughtful” reflections. I know that those outbursts would come back to haunt me so I restrain myself. But, like watching a playground fight, I can’t resist reading those back and forth comments. Which is why, exhausted by the social media response to the Paris attacks, I decided to take a week off of Facebook and reflect on whether or not it is a useful tool.
Facebook is not all bad. It’s great for:
- Keeping in touch with friends and family that I might not see on a regular basis.
- Hearing about and helping promote interesting events.
- Getting advice and/or help on homesteading projects.
- Getting rid of stuff and finding free things for a project.
- Access to expert advice (the Garden Professors Facebook group is a good example of this).
- Hearing the opinions of folks I don’t agree with.
Facebook as acedia engine
If I’m avoiding an important project Facebook is there for me to offer distraction fueled by my own narcissism. Did anyone react to my post???? If I’m bored, lonely or depressed I can scan my feed for a quick dose of righteous indignation. The back and forth chatter serves to drive us all to distraction and keep us from doing the things that will actually make the world a better place.
The scapegoat complex
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor speaks eloquently of humanity’s innate need to find scapegoats. I’ve noticed that a large constellation of dodgy websites exist with the sole purpose of serving hastily written articles that point the finger at whatever group we don’t like. I don’t care if you’re on the left, the right, or none of the above, there’s a click bait website ready to make you comfortable about your ideological bubble. The solution to scapegoating lies in the realization, as Taylor notes, quoting one of one of the characters in Dostoyevsky’s The Demons that, “We are all to blame” and that the only way out is to accept our collective responsibility for a solution. Facebook profits from dissent rather than collective and productive action.
Working for free
The creepy business model of Facebook is to get us all to talk about ourselves and then harness that data to sell to marketers. Use Facebook and you’re signed up for an invasive and unpaid marketing focus group. I used to think that I could post quirky and random things in Facebook to throw off their algorithms, but I guarantee you that Facebook’s programmers are always one step ahead of us all. Who needs the NSA when we’re (myself included) willing to give up so much personal information?
Competition for eyeballs
At the risk of sounding bitter, Facebook takes eyeballs away from Root Simple. If I try to use Facebook to send people to Root Simple posts, Facebook’s algorithms punish me and shunt them to the bottom of my friend’s feeds. I have a Facebook page for Root Simple but Facebook wants me to pay to promote posts. So instead I mostly use my personal page to promote stuff with limited success. But, worst of all, Facebook has distracted me from responding to comments on this blog and, instead, focusing on comment threads on Facebook. It may be futile, but it’s time to fight back.
What I’ve resolved to do
I’m not going to give up on Facebook just yet. I can’t really. As authors we have to use it to promote our work and events. And I like keeping up with friends and family. But I’ve resolved to:
- Post only post positive things on Facebook. I do this already, but occasionally feel the pull of negativity. My favorite Facebook posts are by friends who post stuff that they are actually making or doing rather than linking to click bait articles.
- Curate my “friends.” I don’t mean that I’m going to unfollow everyone that I don’t agree with. One of the things I like about Facebook is hearing from people outside my own liberal, Los Angeles milieu. But I’m going to unfollow “friends” who only post finger pointing click bait rather than their own opinions.
- I will move some of the things I post from Facebook to Root Simple. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing you’ll have to come to this blog first. And I promise to do a better job responding to comments on this blog. Sorry Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t want to provide you with free content.
- Limit my time on Facebook and other social media to two short periods a day. I already do this with email and I’ve found that it’s boosted my productivity.
I’m really interested in hearing from Root Simple readers about how you use or don’t use Facebook. Let’s get a discussion going!