I’ve recently decided to swear off a couple of things.
Firstly, in light of some troubling news from the dentist, I’ve decided to forswear soda and candy for the immediate future. Apparently I’ve got soft teeth, or acidic saliva, or I brush my teeth wrong, or the tooth fairy hates me.
In any case, this vow doesn’t apply to chocolate or ice cream. I need a reason to keep on living after all.
I’ve also decided that I’m done with Facebook and Twitter as a forum for the exchange of ideas. I will keep using them for networking and messenger functions, but I no longer feel safe either posting content, commenting on other user’s content, or even ‘reacting’ to things.
A large part of my decision is the consequence of how toxic Facebook and Twitter became during and after the last election cycle, although the germ of this decision has been forming for quite some time. Facebook is consistently making me angrier than it ever has, is straining my relationship with people that I love in real life, and is creating a consistent risk to my reputation and career. Additionally, I am terrified by the increasingly sophisticated algorithms that determine which content I am exposed to on Facebook, and which of my friend’s posts I see. If the last election has shown us anything about social media, it is that Facebook is more important than any legacy media outlet in creating and swaying public opinion, and that Facebook as a corporation is grossly unprepared for the responsibly it now holds within North American society. By spoon-feeding users unverified content that encourages their ideological stances, Facebook has not only helped created a radicalized American electorate, it has also encouraged frightening divisions in the Canadian political scene as well.
I no longer want a seat on this ride. I no longer want to aid and abet this machine by providing content and interactions. I no longer want to scroll through post after post, feeling the endorphins surge through my veins and the helpless anger constrict in my stomach. The allure of the medium no longer outweighs its dangers. I want out.
I confess that I am not at my best on Facebook. I am not as compassionate, I am not as reasonable, I am not as respectful as I should be. That is because my better nature (and I am not alone in this) has been eroded post by post, comment after comment, by the incessant grind of the outrageous and the reactionary. I can’t handle so many threatening and inflammatory things shoved in my face at once, and yet they go on and on and on. Clinton’s emails. Gender pronouns. Putin’s hackers. Steven Galloway. The Dakota Pipeline. Trudeau’s deficit. Trump’s hair. Snowflake millennials. The War on Christmas.
I am also aware that I’m not very good at Facebook. I’m too honest, too sarcastic, too attached to ambiguity, too influenced by emotion. I used to do communications; I understand what I’m ‘supposed’ to post, and I resent the saccharine opacity of it. I hold unpopular opinions on hot button issues, and these opinions are an increasing liability. Still, I realize that I am only a single viral photo or post away becoming “internet famous” (or infamous), and the internet legacy of that blog post (if the backlash hits the first page of my Google results) could be life-destroying.
The legacy media no longer controls the dissemination of news, which has resulted in the much-heralded ‘democratization’ of journalism, and (less-heralded) the tyranny of journalism’s mass-production. The breaking of the media monopoly has caused the fracturing of news production to thousands of different websites, organizations, and individuals, most of which use news production as a way to advance an ideological agenda rather than to (primarily) inform the public. Narrative rather than accuracy is the flavor of the moment, as illustrated by the popularity of “fake news” in the last election, and the popularity of polemic news sources for the last couple decades.
In short, my hypothetical Facebook post blow-up no longer operates by the rules of conventional scandal. The reaction against me could be misinformed, based on a misrepresentation of my position, or demonstrably wrong, and it no longer matters. My name could be cleared by private investigation, organizational review, even by a court, and it no longer matters. What becomes immortal, what would etch my supposed crime into the annals of history, is the Huffington Post article based on the viral reaction to my post/blog/comment/photo – because the HuffPost piece has the hits to remain Google’s top result according to the algorithm. The follow up pieces that provide clarity, context, the results of the reviews and court cases, will never be as popular as the initial, sensational headline. They may not even make the first page of search results for my name, which, as we know, is all most searchers ever look at.
In my opinion, the idea of Facebook as a forum for ideas is over. Facebook is still an asset, but the evolution of the platform has made it a personal risk. I want the access, but not the liability.
In the last few years I’ve watched social media scandals unfold over and over, and occasionally read articles that describe the insane coincidences that precipitate viral scandals (this one still haunts me). I no longer understand the rules, and I no longer believe the benefits outweigh the risks. In response, I’m laying out the following ground rules: