A Revised Approach to Facebook
Several years ago, there was a push by many people to use social media as a “platform,” a place to “increase your brand,” or your public presence. At the time, I thought this seemed like a good and noble idea, and even went so far as to buy a book on the topic. My basic approach to Facebook was, “If I know you, I’ll friend you.” Perhaps that sounds like a familiar approach to you.
And then a few things happened.
Political, Religious, and Social Divides
In 2016, Donald Trump quickly became a frontrunner in the Republican primary for their presidential candidate, and garnered what seemed to be the lion’s share of media attention. And then in November 2016, he was actually elected president.
Both of these situations seemed to embolden people who had previously been relatively quiet. Not people who were truly in the minority; not people who were truly threatened; not people who were losing legitimate rights; but people who had long enjoyed a place of privilege in our country, and felt that privilege slipping away as more people clamored for equality. And many people who felt a loss of privilege quickly took to social media to bewail their decreased status. It was a loss, for sure — not a loss of privilege, but a loss of the ability to have reasoned political discussions on social media. The death of politics on social media.
This also impacted religious discussions on social media. The 2016 election had highlighted the hypocrisy of white evangelism, who sold out on virtually every single issue that mattered to them in previous elections so they could see Donald Trump, their great protector and promise fulfiller, elected to office.
It was also the election of the “single issues voter,” the person who was so anti-abortion that no other issue mattered to them, regardless of how non-pro-life their candidate would end up being on many other issues.
And as Trump wedged a greater religious divide in our nation, by singling out Muslims with his “travel ban,” many white evangelicals remained silent, or worse, agreed with Trump in his desire to discriminate based on irrational hatred and fear.
Both politics and religion brought on even greater social divides, and those social divides were highlighted even further by issues such as climate change, energy policy, foreign policy, and tax policy.
In each of these areas, the discussions and debates on Facebook could become so heated as to actually fracture or even completely break relationships.
At the beginning of 2018, I made a commitment to myself that I would refrain from making my own political posts on Facebook, as I had seen too many real relationships damaged because I disagreed with someone on Facebook about a political issue. This commitment did not exclude me from commenting on others’ posts about politics, but I vowed I would do my best to avoid creating controversies on my own profile.
Then, in 2018, it was publicized that Cambridge Analytica had accessed the Facebook data of at least 50 million users. Numerous articles were written about the situation, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, even made a much-hyped-but-ultimately-pointless appearance in front of Congress. One of the interesting takeaways from this fiasco was that Cambridge Analytica didn’t need to access your actual Facebook profile, or for you to even have a Facebook profile, to get data on you — they could do so simply by gathering data from your friends.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I read about the top five regrets of the dying. A few of the regrets spoke to me, and how I can sometimes choose to “live” or “share” my life on social media:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my true feelings.”
“I wish that I had stayed in touch with my [true] friends.”
“I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
With those major topics in mind, I’ve been pondering a revised approach to Facebook, an approach that focuses on selectiveness, privacy, and relationship cultivation.
Trust me, my Friends list on Facebook isn’t meant to be an elite group. No “Members Only” jacket included. 😅 But I do think a few questions are relevant:
When was the last time I physically saw this person?
When do I expect to physically see this person again, if ever?
What value does this connection on Facebook bring, either to me or to them?
Are they actually active on Facebook, or is theirs really just an inactive account?
My main questions here include:
Who do I want to share this information with?
Who can I trust this information with? (Especially photos.)
Would I invite this person into my home, or visit their home, to discuss this with them? Would we go out for coffee or a meal to discuss this topic?
I have realized, more and more, that Facebook relationships are not real. They are, for the most part, truly and simply status updates. “I did this today.” “I went on vacation here.” “Here are some pictures for you to see.”
Just like “real life,” you have to work to cultivate relationships on Facebook. It’s more than seeing someone’s update or photo and Liking it, or even commenting on it. It’s truly being engaged, learning more about the person, reaching out to them when you know they’re hurting or need help, or being able to reach out to them when you yourself are hurting or in need of help.
It’s difficult to do this with a huge number of Facebook connections, especially when it’s simply a connection with someone who isn’t truly a friend, but is simply an acquaintance. That isn’t meant to slight anyone; it’s just a reality.
And the more connections you have on Facebook, the more challenging it is to stay connected to the people who really matter to you. Sure, Facebook gives us a few tools to put people in certain lists, to follow or unfollow, to receive notifications, etc., but by and large, our News Feed is decided by Facebook’s algorithms. And I’ve found the best way to influence that algorithm is to limit the number of connections I have.
Eliminating a connection on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m no longer “friends” with that person in “real life.” I’ll still do my best to be friendly, to say hello, to carry on conversation, and all of the other things that we expect from an in-person interaction. Reducing connections, at least for me, just means I’m trying to control one more aspect of the morass that is Facebook, so I can focus on the people who matter most.
I’ve already started putting some of these decisions in play, and I’m noticing positive results. I like what I’m seeing, at least from my end. There’s definitely a risk that someone will notice that I’ve unfriended them on Facebook, and they’ll be unhappy with that decision. I can only hope they’ll contact me and let me try to explain, but in the end, I realize that their happiness is not my responsibility.Posted on May 21, 2018