Facebook Farewell

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It was a love-hate relationship from the start.

“Social” means fun for most folks. For folks like me, “social” means stressful. Introverts tend to find the very idea of socializing online somewhat to very off-putting.

When wonky pre-social networks (AOL profiles, Classmates.com) gave way to genuine social networks (Friendster, MySpace), I gave them a pass. Well, full disclosure, my daughter helped me set up a profile on MySpace, but I never went there, and I’m quite sure nobody else did either.

The early birds on the scene had only a couple of good years before the social-media raptors swooped down and snatched them out of the ether. In 2006, Facebook became available to the general public. Virtual moments later, MySpace was passé and Facebook was the place to be.

Resounding numbers of my peers were suspicious of the web and incompetent when it came to navigating it. Boomers baffled by VCRs and email were not the first to flock to Facebook. Those to whom the Boomers turned to program their VCRs and set up their email accounts – their Gen-X and Millennial children and grandchildren who had grown up or were growing up with computers, mobiles, and video games – were on Facebook before their elders even knew it was a thing.

I was 53 years old when FB went public, working as a stage manager in the San Francisco Bay Area. While many 50/60-somethings could disdain to buy into modern trends or dabble in them at their leisure, I was in a field where keeping abreast of developments in communications was mandatory. To stay employable, I’d already had to upgrade my phone to one that could send and receive texts, get a laptop to use in the rehearsal room, and master the mysteries of email.  With the advent of Facebook, it was clear I needed to hone my social-media skills in order to connect with my casts, crews, and production teams and monitor their show-biz posts.

Initially, my experience with Facebook was centered on figuring out how to protect playwrights’ and designers’ creative property rights on a platform where anybody and everybody could upload images and videos any old time. Most of my colleagues were younger than me, and so were networking online ages before I reluctantly joined them. My production managers heaved a sigh of relief when I finally got with the program. I heaved a sigh of relief as the PMs got off my back. It’s just part of the job, I reassured myself. No biggie.

Ah, but I was on Facebook anyway, right? So I friended my kids.

Notice friended above? Look up “friend” in a modern dictionary, scroll down to the verb bit (I assume you’re doing this online), and you’ll find two entries. The first usage is “rare”: to befriend. The second is more common: to add someone to a list of contacts on social media. The New Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2009 was “unfriend”, defined as to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook. Three years in, and FB friending had already entered the official lexicon.

Some users are super-invested in the friend thing. A while ago I clicked “accept” on a friend invitation only to be informed that the guy who had sent it had reached FB’s limit – of 5,000 contacts (!) – and had no room for me. I don’t send many friend-requests and don’t accept all invites, yet I’ve managed to accumulate 288 contacts. Seems a lot for a reclusive gal.

Right, so my kids were my first two Facebook friends. The perks were immediate and seductive.

It’s easy for parents to lose track of what their adult children are up to, especially if those children live far away. We can demand weekly calls, I suppose . . . but imposing parental demands on people who are finally free of parental rule is more likely to breed resentment than create connection, and I imagine the resulting conversations are as pointless as asking teenagers about their day at school.

With my kids as FB friends, I just had to log in to see that my son had hit the beach with his mates on a blustery day and read an insightful article my daughter had found on body positivity. No demands, no impositions, no prying – not really. It was something they had posted with intention to share, and they had agreed to share it with me. I liked how that worked. I liked what they posted. I “liked” their posts.

She likes that, FB’s algorithms observed. Give her more of the same. And find her more friends.

Facebook’s mission statement (taken from FB’s Facebook page) is as altruistic, idealistic, and noble as a mission could be: give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.  Wow. What’s not to like?

I have no objections to Facebook’s “official” purpose of making the world more open and connected. In fact, their revised mission statement, written after the info-leaks about their personal-data sales, states FB is there to help people stay connected with friends and family, discover what’s going on in the world and share and express what matters to them.

Thing is, Facebook kinda delivers on its advertised goals. I’m a crap correspondent. Before social media, I lost touch with people all the time. Those I retained, I retained tenuously, via an annual holiday card. No yearly recap with my cards, either; just a wave and well wishes. Aside from an exceptional few, primarily super-long distance friends, my “contacts” lived in the vicinity and were good at calling and dropping by. I am not a social animal, I may have mentioned?

Whether or not my feelings had any basis in fact, Facebook made me feel more connected to folks I care about. As my list of contacts expanded, I got to see how my cousins were faring, got to peek at my colleagues’ gigs and productions, got to marvel at my friends’ creative projects.

Every once in a while, FB enabled a connection that truly thrilled. When I got a 30+-years-later message from Susan Bradley asking if I was the same Risa who had toured Mont St. Michel and hitch-hiked bits of Northern Europe with her back in the day, I was beside myself with excitement. Though we haven’t yet managed an in-person reunion, Sue welcomed my son to her home with open arms when he made his solo trip to Australia and showed him the best time ever. A lost friend found, a treasured connection re-established . . . gotta admit, FB, that was well done.

Susan, 1978 – I’m behind the camera

Facebook is my link to this marvelous woman and to so many others – old HS buds, erstwhile kung fu brothers and sisters, pagan pals from our time in LA, travellers I met on the road and instantly adored, friends-of-friends I clicked with online, beloved former students, people who have moved on, moved away, or who I just don’t get to hang with enough. Facebook lets me see my nephews in Virginia setting off for the first day of a new school year, listen to the bass lines Hauk is getting down, play word games with fellow punsters, vie with my associates on the Grammar Police Force to find the most egregious misuse of our native tongue, talk EPL with Blair, and take vicarious holidays all over the world.

Ah, but that’s not all . . . and aye, there’s the rub. There’s the “discover what’s going on in the world and share and express what matters to them” part of the Facebook equation.

Even if FB did enable me to stay in touch with everyone I know and love (spoiler: it doesn’t), catching up with my entire social network isn’t something I need to do on a daily basis and certainly not something that necessitates multiple daily log-ins. What spurred me – what spurs us to open the app every damn day is the endorphin rush we get from the cool/uncool things that show up on our feeds. Phenomenal performances, breaking news, brilliant cartoons, insightful articles, compelling images, uplifting quotes, political commentary, horrifying tales, heartwarming stories . . . all that juicy click-bait.

While some of us see far more cat videos and breakfasts than we care to (I’d say zero is good number), Facebook’s famed algorithms ensure the bulk of our feed is stuff we do care about. When FB swapped out the thumbs-up “like” for an assortment of emotional response icons,

credit: Digital Resource – June 3, 2016

it was to give us a way to express ourselves more precisely, yes – but only because Facebook was keen to have more precise data on us to sell to their true clients. Too right, FB’s mission is to help us “share and express what matters” to us, because the more we share, the bigger targets we make. Because collecting and selling our likes, loves, laughs, wows, tears, and anger is what Facebook is all about.

For years I’ve shrugged off the insidiousness data-collection aspect of the FB experience on the premise that the Illuminati have access to that info anyway. Every time I get cash from an ATM, charge my credit card, browse the web, shop through Amazon, comment online, email someone, or speak within 100m of my phone, ‘bots in the service of virulent capitalism and authoritarian world domination are taking note and applying what I do and say to update the tailor-made ad-bombardment programs they design for me.

While I’m not as avid a Facebook user as some, I do give it plenty of data to sell. When a friend creates a professional FB page, I “like” it, in support of their endeavors. When I am invited to thumbs-up a page or join a group that taps my sense of humor, love of nature, occupation, sports interests, physical/metaphysical inclinations, roots, ambitions, predilection for languages, or desire to be entertained, I usually accept.

FB’s phenomenal success (sitting pretty on 2.23 billion active users monthly; read the full report HERE) makes it a – and sometimes the – primary communications hub for myriad real-world events and causes, from demo releases to demonstrations, birthday parties to the Green Party, the Girl Scouts to boycotts. When issues arise, social media acts as a town hall for airing views, a community kiosk for posting updates, alerts, and announcements, and sometimes the only way news and info can escape the media blackouts of oppressive regimes. No denying these services are valuable, even critical during emergencies or disasters.

I never shared anything deeply personal on my Facebook timeline and, until recently, rarely shared anything political. I posted killer jokes, remarkable vintage footage, innovative performances, images of earth and the cosmos, scientific discoveries, and perspectives on the arts.

All that changed when malicious Republicans, uncompromising Democrats, and listless legions of non-voters gave the go-ahead to racism, sexism, and xenophobia, turned the nation over to the oligarchs, and put a petty, puerile, pea-brained pervert in the White House. After that, posting non-political items felt irrelevant and irresponsible. As the democracy-destroying bombshells began dropping all around us, my timeline took a hard turn to the Left. I didn’t simply “like”/join a plethora of political pages/groups. I helped launch the SVAC/CAVS group (Sonoma Valley Action Coalition/La Coalición en acción del Valle de Sonoma) and am one of its managers.

Along with taking to the streets, making phone calls to government reps and agencies, writing emails and letters, and donating to worthy causes and organizations, I thought we could – and should – use Facebook to build a community of resistance; to spread the word on urgent issues, share opportunities for political action, get people woke, and provide assistance where help was most needed.

Alarm bells began sounding almost at once. Check your sources, don’t propagate fake news, be vigilant against propagandists, beware of hackers manipulating your feed . . .

Though policing news agencies and other informational media is not a task for which I am remotely qualified, I did my diligent best to post just the facts, ma’am. Bogus “news” occasionally snuck by me, nonetheless. I deleted it each time, apologized profusely, but kept posting, because Puerto Rico, walls, Muslim bans, tax bills, living-while-Black, pipelines, baby jails, Supreme Court nominees, de-regulation, and white terrorism never gave it a rest.

I thought I was doing my part, keeping friends informed. My lizard brain was too flooded with fury for me to realize I was in a vicious cycle of FB’s making. I didn’t understand that I was seeing posts that outraged and horrified me because Facebook’s true mission is to divide the world into outraged and horrified factions that can be easily controlled by the most ruthless and corrupt political/commercial powers on the planet.

While the breadth and depth of the corruption has not been revealed (and likely never will be), we know beyond question that Facebook is ruthlessly and unapologetically unethical, untruthful, and greedy. FB’s platitudinous “build community and bring the world closer together” is simply slogan subterfuge, on a par with the ubiquitous “make the world a better place”. Better for whom? As Maria Ferrell aptly noted in her piece published by Medium,

Facebook knew long before 2016 that “giv(ing) people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” only makes sense if you think “community” means herding people into ever-smaller filter bubbles to be data-stripped and manipulated. Sure, the company sometimes rolls back abuses or goes on apology tours, but it cannot stop doing what it does, fulfilling its fundamental drive to herd and strip, herd and strip.

In a much abbreviated form, all the social media pluses listed above were my excuses for sticking with FB and putting up with its abuse of my privacy. Unless we all leave en masse, I’d tell my friends . . . (I’d tell my Facebook friends . . . on Facebook . . . yeah, no irony there . . .), unless we all switch to MeWe or another network that is, or at least claims to be, spybot-free, I’ll fall out of all sorts of loops I like being in. I’ll lose track of what’s up with my friends and family. I’ll become informationally impoverished. And I’ll lose my platform for urging my 288 contacts to political action.

Despite everything I knew about FB, I would have kept logging-in for those pleasure/pain prods forever, if not for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

credit: NAACP

Just last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that conclusively proved a Russian disinformation campaign had targeted African-American Facebook users in order to suppress their votes and hand dumb-ass Don the election. In response, the NAACP called for a weeklong FB boycott. Seemed appropriate to me. I posted the boycott info, logged-out, didn’t log-in again for a week.

And I didn’t miss it. Didn’t miss the good stuff, because I didn’t know what I was missing. Didn’t miss the anxiety-provoking, gut-wrenching stuff, because life was sweeter without it.

A week stretched to two. Two edged into three. I debated making my personal boycott permanent . . . then something happened that clinched the deal.

I was sitting with my daughter at her dining table, chatting. Bryn asked her nearby Alexa-device for the time. Alexa apparently didn’t hear, because Alexa didn’t answer. Yet, moments later, Alexa clearly heard me mention a study that showed dancing was the superior way to stave off dementia, because when I logged in that night – opening the FB app for the first time in weeks to check out an article my daughter had posted – the ad space was chock-full of mature couples dancing and captions that read, “Do You Want to Dance for your Mental Health?” “Sign up for Seniors Dance Classes with One Easy Click!”

True, that was as much an Alexa thing as a Facebook thing, but it put me over the edge. Big Brother listening in on every conversation and phone call, reading my texts and emails, scanning my blog to refine my marketing profile . . . it’s too creepy.

“Just gotta find the balance between privacy and convenience,” a guy told me the other day. His point was that the convenience outweighs the invasion. I used to tout that same line, but for me, the balance has shifted. I know I can’t escape the Matrix, but I’m tired of being complicit in Facebook’s agenda, tired of imagining I’m immune to manipulation by foreign and domestic social media ‘bots and hackers, tired of handing my personal data to FB’s masters on a silver platter.

I’m not deleting my profile. I’ll even log-in now and then, maybe “like” a few things to let my friends l know I’m willing to sacrifice some privacy to stay in touch. But if you really want to stay in touch, call/text/email me, or find me through my website or the Neither Here Nor There blog site.

Because I’m through with FB. I’m over it. We’re done.

And we’re not still friends.

Risa Aratyr @ January 29, 2019