I do believe my love affair with Facebook has come to an end. The latest news about the misuse of user data is among the final nails in the coffin of what was once a fun online community.
This week Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence over the news that Facebook user data was provided to Cambridge Analytica inappropriately, and it sounds like that data was then ultimately used to target undecided voters in some midwestern states in the US during the last presidential election to sway those same users to vote for Trump.
Put aside for a moment that so many people were gullible enough to be swayed to vote for him. I’m not one of them. He has proven himself to be exactly what I knew he was all along, an erratic buffoon, a bully, a fraud. A narcissistic, misogynistic racist. A chaotic coward backed into a corner and lashing out at everyone. The adjectives are endless. He is everything I despise in a human, and somehow he was elevated to leader of the free world. That says everything you need to know about the state of Earth these days.
But Facebook? I’m just so tired of it all.
Once upon a time, I got a huge kick out of the banter and posts that my friends, family, and acquaintances shared. I loved their pictures, even the ones of cats that I’m allergic too. I loved reconnecting with the friends I had made all across the country from my work travels and those who lived nearby but ultimately moved away. It was so nice to reconnect with people from all walks of my life. It was the place where I developed my love of writing and where I got a lot of encouragement from friends in doing so. For that I will be grateful.
Every once in a while someone jumped the shark with their posts or comments and you realized who to avoid, for so many reasons. Some were drama queens seeking endless attention. You had the Negative Nellys who complained about something – everything – with every single post. How on earth can people live their life that way? Do they hear themselves talk? Do they have any ability to self-reflect and self-correct? Oy.
There were the past acquaintances from my hometown whose language, humor, and outlook on life was just consistently crass and crude, and while I can be good-humored and accept people for exactly who they are, I am reminded that I have a choice about who I hang with, who I let influence my life, even if it is just words on a page. These people remind me why I moved away and don’t visit. Not to mention the people who are flat-out crazy. Maybe it took seeing their personality in full bloom online but you know you’ve met these same crazy people. Stay away.
Of course there were the ones who befriended you that you barely knew 20 years ago, and others who befriended you and then never interacted with you whatsoever. Ok, I suppose I’ve been guilty of the same thing. It happens. You live and learn.
For the longest time I kept my circle of friends online pretty tight. I was sharing pictures of my kids, after all. I’d go through cycles of expanding the friends list and then cutting back because I felt too exposed. Once we decided that we were staying put in our current community (I had seriously raised the possibility of moving back to my beloved Pittsburgh with my husband for a solid 10 years), I finally began to open up my circle to include the people I met in this town. But every now and then I felt the need to draw the wagons a little closer and unfriend people when my circle got too big and superficial.
Ok, maybe I waxed a little too long about the crazy people on Facebook. If I had to guess, there are people who include ME among those crazy people. That’s only fair.
I’ve been on Facebook for nine years already. Nine years! Other than being married, that’s the longest stretch I’ve done anything. What an evolution we’ve witnessed, those of us long-time users.
First it started with the short little posts about what was on your mind. Those early posts seem so quaint now. Then there were endless viral games delivered via apps that lured people to “discover your personality!” and then share the results. In reality, these were endless apps that collected data about Facebook users and their friends but it wasn’t obvious to people at the time.
Then Facebook further evolved to surface news articles but it didn’t feel like serious news. It felt like you had a direct link to the National Enquirer headlines. Eh. There’s only so much celebrity news I can handle, ya know?
Then came the ads for every store under the sun…shops I frequented and brands I had never heard of but felt lured to try. This is when I really started to get turned off. I missed the fun updates from my friends. Facebook became a giant ad book, and they implemented algorithms that chose whose posts you’d see routinely instead of you choosing whose posts you’d see. That was clearly a turning point for the worst. That’s when I started losing touch with people online.
I tried deactivating my account a couple of times. Once or twice I knew I was spending too much time online, and at least once I logged off temporarily because I could tell I was feeling bad about myself and my life relative to what everyone else was presenting online.
I couldn’t stick with it. Somewhere along the way, Facebook became a way to connect with the events and issues at my kids’ school district, and to learn what was happening in our community since I don’t get the local paper. It became integrated with my daily life….and very hard to break away.
This is particularly true for me because I have been an online geek forever in internet years: since 1996. I gravitated first toward AOL, then iVillage, then LinkedIn, and ultimately to Facebook. And sure, I have a Twitter and Instagram account but naturally those don’t have the same appeal to this writer.
As if the commercialization of Facebook was the end of it! Oh no….it kept evolving, and people figured out they could use Facebook to sell product: tote bags, health supplements, leggings, skincare. I was one of them for a hot minute last year even as much as I disliked seeing those sorts of posts from my friends. I wanted to hear what was going on in their LIFE, not be a target for a quick buck. On one hand, it’s been good to get exposure to products I would otherwise never discover but this wasn’t what I wanted from an online community.
I wanted friendship. Information. Laughs. Connection.
So you see, I already had this love/hate cha-cha going on with Facebook as it was these last few years. And then the last presidential election cycle heated up, and I was disturbed by the people who seemed to blindly support Trump. The rhetoric online was raw, ugly, vitriolic. I saw sides of people I never knew and was horrified to see.
It hasn’t improved. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten worse and I’ll admit that I’ve contributed to the tone because I cannot let people forget what a mistake I think they’ve made voting for that fool. And more friends have taken a break from being online because they just can’t take what Facebook has become as a result.
So this latest revelation that user data was misused is really no surprise whatsoever, and only serves to confirm that this online community was used by wholly bad actors to exploit people’s ignorance and vulnerability in the worst possible way. Kinda crazy that this social media platform had a hand in politics the way it has.
I’m completely frustrated by Facebook and its approach to privacy, accountability, and commerce. It no longer delivers what I came to that community to find. I’m sitting here wondering how now to streamline the news I want to hear about the people and organizations I’m interested in and nothing more. I suppose I’ll remain a user for a little while longer, but I am long past the point of wanting to share funny little snippets of my life or lobbing out prayer requests those rare times I did over the last almost decade. I feel like taking down my pictures, that’s for sure.
That place has SUCKED the good humor out of me, and I feel like it has spilled over into my writing. Zuckerberg can apologize and make amends all he wants, but the damage is pretty much done, isn’t it? It took even him a week to figure out what the hell happened right under their noses. What started out as a fun, college community app was left relatively unchecked with some real-life, world-wide consequences that the bad guys figured out how to exploit first.
Time to get my kicks and giggles from something else. I don’t really want to be part of that experiment, ya know?
Yep, a dull sense of real grief is washing over me, like it has for so many other events of the last few years, yet I can’t cry. I’m at an inflection point for sure, but I’m just numb to it all. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Vegas, and Pulse shootings. The massively disruptive weather events that are the new normal. The killer flu. The passing of the guard as so many boomers retire and die. The American self-mutilation at the hands of Trump….endless administrative chaos and resignations and increasingly serious talk of Russian meddling in our election with no recourse whatsoever. The war-talk with North Korea. The sad realization that so many of my fellow Americans cannot understand the chess game that is our economy and society. And now the loss of Facebook as a fun online community and past time. It became painfully obvious and real this week.
What’s an online geek to do?
PS – All that said, I’m pretty sure Facebook and I are like those Brokeback Mountain lovers when one said to the other: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”
Image by William Iven on unsplash.com