Now that I’m a hemisphere away from most of my loved ones, I appreciate Facebook more than ever for its ability to connect us.
Through Facebook, media outlets disseminate breaking news to thousands of people in a second. People use it to promote events, create electronic scrapbooks for friends near and far, and stay in touch with Grandma. When seeking immediate advice, it can be the online equivalent of looking up answers in an encyclopedia (remember those?) or dropping by your friend’s house to ask for a recipe or her no-fail solution to remove that wine stain. Facebook has even been used as evidence in criminal cases, thanks in large part to people whose egos win out over their intelligence.
By now, based on the title of this post, you’re no doubt expecting the implicit “but …” / “however … ” / “nevertheless … ”
Well, here it is.
I have a few bones to pick with Facebook, from cyberbullying to sheer time-wasting in front of yet another screen. But both of these instances boil down to personal accountability, and are not what the site was intended for. What bothers me most about Facebook is, by the nature of its design, I fear it is cultivating a culture that suggests its users – particularly its young users – must agree with (i.e. “like”) each other’s interests and activities in order to remain “friends.”
Facebook is saturated with posts regarding some of the most divisive issues in history – politics, religion, homosexuality, race, the treatment of women, the “right” or “ethical” way to raise one’s children/educate others/save our planet; you get the idea. We gravitate toward the the posts – and, therefore, the people doing the posting – that agree with us. When we disagree, we at the very least ignore that post and move on, and perhaps the next time you interact with that person we feel slightly distant. If things get out of hand, we hide that person’s posts or, committing the greatest disrespect in Facebook land, we “un-friend” the poster.
I am reminded of the following Thomas Jefferson quote, which surfaced – on Facebook – during the last U.S. presidential election:
People like to like this quote. It’s one that easily circulates and gathers “likes” because it is diplomatic and we like to think we are fair, civilized people who put this into practice. And then we promptly avoid that one friend’s 10th post for the week on the same religious or political subject that makes us uncomfortable. Or else we write a comment that can only end in heated debate, and possibly the end of a real and/or virtual friendship. (Tangent: I also feel this is why sports posts are so dominant on social media, particularly leading up to and during important games. It’s one subject people from all walks of life can support with gusto. If you are my Facebook friend, you saw my Super Bowl posts.)
I fear when we ignore or block friends with views differing from our own, and our news feeds suddenly feature only friends and ideas we agree with, we are doing ourselves a disservice. If the people we surround ourselves with are all like-minded, we no longer require the conviction that brought us to our opinions in the first place. We don’t talk about the big issues because we assume we all feel the same way.
Despite all this, I’m not too worried about those who have spent their formative years in a pre-Facebook era. They (presumably) learned to get along with others before the days of social media and the Liking Culture, even when disagreeing.
I am most worried about pre-teens and teenagers (Henceforth you will never hear me say “tween”. Something about that word just rubs me the wrong way.). I remember being 12. At that age, so much of what you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, believe or don’t believe, is a direct result of your interactions with friends. I remember The Mean Girl in elementary school asking how many friends I had, and comparing my rough estimate with her own (much higher, naturally). Imagine how much more hurtful a tangible number of “friends” would feel when compared side by side.
I can see how easily kids and adolescents can confuse acquiring “likes”, shares and comments with acquiring friendship, popularity and acceptance. Sharing ideas used to require original thoughts and being articulate. Through Facebook, all you have to do is “share” someone else’s. Comparison is often the decider in how young people behave, and if your looks or thoughts vary from those filling up your news feed, something must be wrong with you, right?
I suppose if I’m going to critique, I should offer a solution. I don’t see the elimination of Facebook as the answer, even if that were feasible (people like me are far too dependent on it). And I realize kids are going to behave like and be influenced by their peers as much in the physical world as the virtual one. It seems simplistic to say parenting is the answer, but I do feel if you teach your kids not to let others pressure them, and reiterate that until they believe it, they will learn to speak their mind regardless of the majority opinion.
What are your thoughts?