Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When Social Media Stopped Being Social

I left Facebook on November 10, 2016, and I am at peace.

I haven't been a fan of Facebook for a while. I joined to stay in touch with my family, and it's true: I could tell where everyone was and what they were doing by their posts. As the family crier (at least for my husband David), I found it helpful. When the grandchildren came along, I reveled in those photos and updates.

However, I never trusted Facebook's algorithms: millions of posts are created and distributed every moment, but I saw only a limited number of individuals' posts in my feed. In return, many of my posts were displayed to fewer than a dozen of my 100+ friends. Why?

You have to be shared to be shared on Facebook.

Yes, I wrote that correctly: if your friends and family don't "like" or "share" your posts, they see fewer of them, until your posts are not even a faint memory in their feeds.

I realized I saw only a fraction of what I had signed up to see, and it narrowed precipitously every time I used the site. I occasionally scoured my "likes" to reset my feed. I created lists of family, close friends and local folks — and promptly saw only a fraction of them on each list.

Facebook also deleted "likes" by the hundreds on non-individual accounts in 2015. (Facebook claims to be looking into this phenomenon, but no word to its customers.) Facebook users who "liked" Oreos and the New York tourism office may have lost that connection.

Facebook evolved from "the biggest time-suck of the century disguised as leisure activity" to unpaid labor to get what I wanted. It remained, however, a huge moneymaker for the owner.

The aggression by Facebook users against Facebook users was the sprinkles on the sundae. Last year, I witnessed an increase in users looking to start arguments, or at least telling the other user s/he is terribly, terribly wrong. I posted a video and was scolded because the video offended a "friend." And it didn't stop there. As a result, I have deleted posts and comments, and hid or unfriended more than one Facebook compatriot trying to save me from my wicked ways.

I am sure I was not blameless. I debunked a lot of fake news before it became a thing (and continued to do so). However, once I realized that arguing on social media is a very aggressive act, I stopped. Instead, I ignored or hid posts. I may have asked my Facebook buddies a question from time to time, but even that stopped. Of course, plenty of people still tried to straighten me out, but at least I attempted to not add to the problem.

In response, I started posting only cat pictures and sharing jokes or photos of friends and family. Even that wasn't safe: I was (gently) scolded for sharing a photo with a caption that was "too personal" to share. Never mind that users set the audience, that the post was shared with hundreds of people aside from me — and that my shares, likes and posts were seen by fewer than a dozen individuals.

Along comes Facebook Messenger, a special app for communicating via Facebook. The work of Facebook increased, and grew more perilous. My brother mistook Facebook for Messenger and— well, let's just say it revived one of my greatest nightmares about electronic communication. Let's not mention the amount of data gleaned by Facebook from those "private" messages. Everything is for sale on the Internet, and nothing is free.

Then came the main event of the Facebook Fight: the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Never did people fling animosity at each other with more gusto than during the nearly two years of that campaign cycle.

The din was unimaginable. I would scroll for a few minutes, see lots of people screaming the same thing, and pass by more than my share of stories about tortured animals. (That was Facebook's analysis of my use, I kid you not.). It became impossible to find photos of cute cats and children. I "unfriended" a few people who wouldn't stop trying to change my mind, and began checking in less often. I use Twitter, I read the news, I have Weather Kitty on my phone; I didn't need Facebook.

Days after the election, I left.

In the ensuing weeks, I have found myself shocked and pleased at the amount of time I have to spend on everything else. I miss the photos, but I view Instagram, which is where most of them originate. My husband shows me videos and images that amuse him, which is fun.  I miss the chit-chat, but I do not miss the animosity.

I haven't decided if I will return. If I do, I will purge the heck out of my "friends" and "liked" list (if Facebook hasn't already done that for me). I will not be the robust user of yore, spending much less time feeding the business that is Facebook (and its dependents).

I've learned my lesson: Facebook is not the coffee klatch it presented itself to be in the early days. Now, using Facebook is like wearing a t-shirt on which people feel entitled to write graffiti. And you know what? I like my t-shirt just the way it is.

No comments: