Posted in Digital Democracy, Friendship, Media

how we ate Facebook (or did it eat us?)

facebookCast your mind back to your first experience of Facebook. Remember the Easter Egg Hunts? I loved finding the little eggs hidden in other people’s profiles. It was the closest I came to playing a game online. I knew that Facebook was luring me in but it was something new and exciting. I was stuck inside with two very demanding young children, alone, in a remote countryside location with scant connectivity. Facebook seemed like a lot of fun. I knew that this was going to become a Big Thing and I wanted to be involved.

When I did manage to get online it allowed me to reconnect with old colleagues from my freedom years. Eventually I linked up with members of my family who lived 100s of miles away. Then my old school pals from Friends Reunited arrived. we had a school reunion or two, all organised and paid for via Facebook. I reconnecting with pals from primary school and from places I used to live and I felt glad.

Remember Poking? It as an item on Radio 4! What exactly it was, how it wasn’t sexual but rather like a poke in the ribs and oh the thrill of logging on to discover lots of pokes waiting for you,

It did start raising questions though. Suddenly, random people and those really close to me could see everything I posted. It was such a weird feeling. I read and read about the sharing economy and enthusiastically threw myself in. Facebook felt like quite a blunt instrument to manage the often complex dynamics of real friendships.

Pre-social media one negotiated friends, acquaintances and family in seperate little bubbles. Now they were all thrown in together – and even found out about each other via the friend list. The thrill of being ‘friended’ and the agony of having a friend request refused was acute. In the old days, if you sent a request, the other party was able to view your profile for a set time prior to agreeing or declining. It was a completely different way of managing people and oneself.

Interests could also be pursued through Facebook. in particular, it has the power to connect strangers who have a shared purpose or interest/condition. It can be incredibly empowering by its ability to do that.

My self-inflicted imprisonment passed as the kids started school and I found myself using Facebook professionally having convinced the local college where I’d secured much-needed stimulation from work and education to use it to talk directly to potential new students.

I designed and administered their very first Facebook ad campaigns. It was thrilling, especially since it was a disiplinary ofence to use social media in work for many. It felt quite cutting-edge. I used Facebook in my teaching and mentoring until new rules were written banning such interactions.

Stories about Facebook (rather than stories stolen from Facebook) appeared in the mainstream media. Some of my old friends, reporters with the BBC and local newspapers, set up fake profiles, sharing nothing but plundering other people’s profiles for possible stories.

But then the ads started cropping up in the newsfeed and the commercialisation of Facebook started to dent my enjoyment of it. Worse, these ads – targeted to the concept of ‘confirmation bias’ has directly influenced major, world-changing election results!

My children are being raised in a digital age with all the worries and liberation that comes with it. For oldies like me, receiving feedback from people instantly was still an amazing novelty. It’s apparently all down to Dopamine and we’ve all become addicts. We’ve also been bought.

I started to realise that people (including myself!) can be inadvertently quite annoying on Facebook. Friends with diametrically-opposed political views started arguing via my own profle. Awaful, fake and crappy news stated to be shared by people I’d prevously respected. I was gobsmacked to find out that many members of my family held extreme political views, totally opposed to my own. Random comments would pop up. Friends argued.

My segmented, quiet and relatively peaceful engagement with a variety of people of different ages, interests, beliefs, social and economic classes, countries and political views could now, on a bad night, be the source of FOMO, misunderstanding and upset.

In an attempt to pacify and placate, I then discovered the ability to create specific groups of friends and relatives so that I could be more subtle in my sharing. I thought this would help. Then the Restricted function arrived and I saw this as the answer to what to do about ex boyfriends, ex colleagues and uninterested family members who I didn’t want to offend by unfriending but I also wished to cut back on my interactions with – for both our sakes.

Stick them on the Restricted list and peace will surely  break out (I thought). I’d lost a particulary close contact over the whole Brexit fiasco and I really didn’t want to go through that again. I also felt that I had a pretty good idea who found me annoying and I would then reduce the amount of stuff they’d receive from me and maybe inprove things.

What I didn’t anticipate was the paranoia that other people were also discovering the Restricted function.  (You can spot users this quite easily. If one of your friends only seems to only post publically then it’s quite likely you are also on their list. Or they have no concept of self-censorship).

What started off as fun, light-hearted and alternative media away from the mainstream is now, well, mainstream. We spend time actively avoiding each other online where in the past we’d have simply crossed the road or not opened the front door. Instead of bringing the world closer we’ve fallen out of love with each other and with Facebook. The perceived liberation of the Restricted list has simply become another way of damaging further what are often quite fragile relationships. Major political and commercial forces are also leveraging their influence through targeted, echo-chamber adverts.

I tell myself that I am mainly on Facebook for work (which is true: I’m learning about inbound marketing and I work in a voluntary capacity for a charity with 5,000 families needing advice via a private Facebook group). And I do have an authentic online connection with some truly wonderful, inspirational people. But it’s interesting that I am writing this on my blog rather than on Facebook. I know it takes effort to seek out someone’s blog. Comments are carefully considered. My blog feels like a calm, safe place whereas Facebook now feels like the Wild West.

Facebook groups are invaluable and the main reason I stay. Facebook Messenger is a great way to directly communicate with your authentic friends and contacts. Facebook ads and business pages are really helpful as a cheap way of promoting and showcasing your business. Those annoying sponsored news items can be very effective for inbound marketing, So I’m not going to quit. Yet.

Arguably it’s the case that Facebook has screwed us all up to a certain extent, changed our politcs and wasted a lot of our time. And we have no-one to blame but ourselves.

We’ve eaten the Facebook Easter Eggs and Facebook seems to have eaten us and our networks for breakfast. And we’ve all got heartburn.

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Author:

Surviving in the remote but glorious Pembrokeshire 'outback' isn't enough - I wanna thrive and feel happy to be alive....I hope my posts make you feel that way too :-)

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