As a self-proclaimed extrovert, it seems like Facebook should totally be my jam: friends, photos,
stalking keeping tabs on acquaintances, the ability to “like” just about anything. It’s a social media butterfly’s dreams to have all that information right at my fingertips, from the safety of my sweatpants on a Tuesday night!
But here’s the thing: I honestly have a hard time loving Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is a complicated matrix. Trying to sum up the reasons why it makes me feel worthless isn’t easy. The best I can do is lay out my personal history with Facebook and share my thought process as this social media giant evolves, since I was a fairly early user (early 2007) in their target demographic (pre-college when it opened to public users in fall of 2006).
I first heard about Facebook as a senior in high school, when it was released to the masses instead of only users with a “.edu” email address. I liked the real world (and I still do), and didn’t understand why I needed a computer to interact with the best friends I saw every day, so I refrained from getting an account.
At college orientation the summer before my freshman year, many of the kids I met said, “Find me on Facebook!” or “I’ll send you a friend request.” I’d never been to college—and was sort of frightened-excited about it—but maybe not having a Facebook account was social suicide in college. Blame the power of the crowd, but I signed up the week I came home from orientation.
At first, Facebook was great. I learned about my future roommates online before meeting them in person. I uploaded pictures from my vacations and photography projects, and there was a built-in audience to like and comment on my work. When I missed my high school friends, I could send them a quick message or see what they were doing. Sometimes it felt like I was still hanging out with them, but sometimes it made me sad because it reminded me that they were far away from me and made me miss them more.
Then all of a sudden, in my junior year of college, I felt nauseous every time I logged onto Facebook. Facebook always made me feel slimy, but one day I recognized it was changing who I was as a person. I was creating art because I knew it would be viewed, not as a creative outlet. My worth felt measured by how many likes or comments I accrued after posting something. I knew I had a problem, yet I couldn’t stop myself from getting sucked into its infinite abyss. I also took a class about crowdsourcing and public domains that same year and online privacy became my ultimate concern—more so than FB friends, likes, and comments. I went cold-turkey and deleted my account, never regretting it for a moment.
And something amazing happened when I deleted my Facebook account: I started living my life again. I experienced things without crafting a witty status update in my mind. If someone took a picture of me at a party and I knew it would end up on Facebook, I didn’t care. I no longer compared myself to my peers and fully embraced who I was as an individual, not tweaking my online persona for public consumption. For all I knew Facebook’s realm existed on an entirely different planet; I was too busy experiencing what Earth had to offer.
Then something else amazing happened: I graduated college and got a job in Marketing, and I was forced to get a Facebook account so I could be an admin on the company’s page. I created a “strictly business” account under Kermit DeFrog and only managed the company’s page. I had no friends and didn’t look at other profiles. When I left the company, I deleted the account. I went to another company after that did the same thing: opened a business account and deleted it when I left.
So when I landed a gig as the Assistant Marketing Director at my current job, I knew the drill and got an account so I could admin the page. But this time, I was curious. It had been five years since I last had a real FB account, and now that I knew its devilish soul-sucking power, I could resist. Right?
In the short time (maybe 9 months?) that I had a personal account, I agreed to be a page admin for volunteer groups and boards I participate in. Facebook still makes sense to me from a marketing perspective, and I embrace its power to reach audiences. More so, as a creator, I enjoyed producing content on behalf of these organizations and growing their followers.
But the personal side was what hurt me. Quietly, I leaked out requests to the people I was closest to, safely guarding my privacy settings and being selective in my “friend” choices. I started sharing events, liking photos, and growing more lenient in the friend requests I accepted. Then one day this past month, I recognized I was impulsively checking Facebook at work just because I was bored…and I knew I had to pull the plug again. So I did.
Some may interpret this anti-Facebook rant as my general aversion to social media, but that’s not true. I’m obsessed with the versatility of Snapchat. Instagram is great for people who enjoy building creative visual content. LinkedIn has served me well in my career. I’ve had a Twitter account since 2008 but only recently re-recognized its social importance as a go-to news source. A guy friend of mine let me monitor his Tinder account recently and I found the experience to be a bizarre, self-inflicted invasion of privacy, but not unenjoyable. My problem is definitely with Facebook, not social media as a whole.
On all social media platforms I struggle with the balance of online vs. offline and what it means to truly be present as an individual in the world. I want to think globally and show compassion for large-scale societal issues, but I also want a close-knit community of people living near me so I can create change on a smaller, more impactful scale. Idealistically, Facebook plays into both these visions of myself. Yet it also makes me feel like I’m ripping out my heart and putting it on a silver platter for Mark Zuckerberg’s profit. (And, what’s more, I really respect Zuckerberg, so it just adds to my confusion.)
If I have to pinpoint my biggest issue with Facebook, it’s that the whole mechanism is about bolstering ego. Yes, all social media involves some level of portraying our image to the world: we want people to come to our show or see that we have fun on Saturday nights. In my experience, more than any other form of social media, Facebook is shameless self-promotion with a positive reinforcement cycle built into its infrastructure, and that’s what makes it dangerous.
Other social media feeds—Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat—are essentially chronological. Facebook’s algorithms are smart enough to know what I like and why I like it, regardless if something was posted three seconds ago or three days ago; Facebook also ensures that sure my posts are equally admired so I continue fueling the fire of comments and likes. I don’t hesitate putting something on Facebook because I know it will be seen; if I need an eg0-boost, Facebook will not disappoint. It’s so successful because it doesn’t disappoint. By now, people understand exactly what they get when they put something on Facebook: they get attention and validation from their peers.
If I put something on Twitter or Instagram, it’s a crapshoot if someone will see it or not; it’s based on timing posts, proper hashtagging, and selective mentions. It takes a lot of work to have content seen on those platforms (and people make money selling services that get posts seen). But FB removes all the legwork on the consumer’s side and makes sure content is put in front of the relevant audience. It’s worthwhile as a consumer and a producer.
I can’t hate Facebook for doing what it does so well because, honestly, it’s genius. The whole sphere of Facebook is incredible, and I will not denounce its ingenuity, attentiveness to its users, or success. But what I can dislike about Facebook is how it makes me feel as a person, because most of the time it makes me feel awful.
As someone with an addictive personality, I rely on the fortification that things I share on Facebook are interesting, cool, or worthwhile. The system makes me hungry for more likes, more comments, always trying to get bigger and better. When I fall short I why something I did wasn’t cool or compelling enough to get interest from my peers. Thus starts the whole self-worth sequence that makes me work harder for that vindication, and one day I wake up and don’t know how I transformed into someone so different than who I really am.
Look. This post is ridiculously long; I didn’t mean for that to happen. All I’m saying is, it’s very complicated and perhaps it’s my fault. But because of how I feel when I use Facebook, I can’t allow myself to use it. I’m much happier when I’m away from FB, and once I’m clean of its filth I remember how great my life is without it. If you find yourself experiencing what I did time and time again, take a break from Facebook for a week and see how you feel. It may be what you need to get back to your old self again.
Think I’m crazy? Let me know in the comments.