The Facebook Conundrum

In spring of 2018, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and decided to just use the web app.

Then in November 2018, I suspended my Facebook account – I didn’t delete it entirely, but put in a calendar reminder 3 months hence to see if I wanted to either restore it or delete my account altogether. That alert came a couple of weeks ago.

So here’s the thing: overall, I think I’m happier not interacting directly with Facebook. I still do in many ways – I’m a regular (but increasingly irregular) Instagram user, I use WhatsApp to chat with friends, and I use Messenger for the same purpose. I was already fairly draconian in that I had a rule that to be Facebook friends, we must have shared a drink together in person, which made for a lovely way to say “thanks but no thanks” to so many random requests-to-be-friends (and, occasionally and awkward “whoops!” when it turns out I had done this thing with the person), and so I have a fairly small friend-list on Facebook compared to many. I’m not sure exactly, but I think it was about 120-150 people.

And while a primary driving factor in my getting rid of Facebook was corporate behaviour, it is also true that spending time on Facebook made me unhappy. No matter how I tried to curate my feed, I seemed to end up full of bizarre ( = conspiratorial, hateful, etc) news stories, dumb/scam-like ads and constant creepy reminders of how well FB could identify my lifestyle, habits and interactions. Very much related, a primary reason I’m using Instagram less and less is my perception that the number of ads I see in my feed is skyrocketing.

But here’s the thing. I’m not “off” Facebook. My wife still uses it a lot, and what’s ended up happening is that because I’m not using it regularly, she’ll mention some news about our circle of friends that I have no idea about. I’ve missed it. And, completely unintentionally I’ve just added the duty to inform me of news about my friends on to her cognitive load. And, it must be said, I miss hearing bits about my friends whom I don’t see regularly. And I can’t think of any reasonable way to stay in touch that doesn’t add a level of imposition to them: one-to-one messaging, rather than broadcasting, just for my benefit isn’t fair. And there’s nothing out there with enough of a presence that I could imagine asking 80-odd people to move to (given that their circle of friends is unlikely to move too).

So I find myself with this conundrum: I can give up this “protest” (I’m not even sure that’s the right word. I just… stopped going there), and turn it all back on, and then I’ll get the updates from friends, and I won’t be out of the loop, and Leah won’t have this extra duty to inform me. But if I do, then I’ll be back on Facebook, which doesn’t feel like a great thing either. I feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

And this is (probably) why no matter how scandalous Facebook’s behaviour, it just keeps trucking on. Inertia is massive.

Twitter vs. Facebook

I’ve been thinking some of late about my relationships with Twitter & Facebook, and why, more or less as soon as Twitter came around, I stopped hanging out on Facebook (so, more or less the same post as about 10,000 others, but this one from my point of view).

I’ve been a joiner of all the social network upstarts. I had a MySpace account (I suppose I probably still do, although it is long unvisited), I had a friendster account, and, as soon I was able to, I had a facebook account. When I first joined facebook, I immediately “friended” all my real friends, which was great, and we had a new method, beyond IM of rapid communication. When apps were added, I got sucked into those and played games and whatnot. But the novelty wore off. And once I added everyone I knew, I stopped going as often. Sure, I could see what my friends were up to, but for the most part, their statuses didn’t change that often. And I wasn’t meeting anyone new or interesting on Facebook.

When I dove into politicking last summer, Facebook became indispensible. Every politician, aspiring politician, and most importantly, potential supporter and volunteer was on facebook. And here, facebook showed it’s true power: It is a closed feedback loop, which is exactly what is required for grassroots organizing. Once we’ve made a connection to each other, we can easily send information to and from each other. The information doesn’t really escape that loop, which is fine. On the downside, as all organizers know, no one considers anything on Facebook binding. Just because someone has said they’ll attend an event on Facebook does NOT mean they’ll show up. Just because they’ve joined your group does NOT mean they’ll participate.

Twitter, by contrast, is open-ended. When I tweet, the potential audience is not just my circle of 200 friends, the potential audience is anyone with an internet connection. Additionally, because I can read the conversation threads of the people whom I follow (caveat: with the recent changes to @replies, this is less possible now), I can quickly find new and interesting people. My list of people whom I follow on Twitter very quickly grew beyond my circle of friends and family – first to aquaintances, then to people whom I wished I knew, then people who inspired me, then, often, simply to people who seeming interesting, whether I knew them or not. And reading my language, you’ll note what I consider to be the key difference between Facebook and Twitter: on Facebook, you “friend” someone – it has to be reciprocal for it to be allowed. On Twitter, you follow someone, and there’s no need for them to follow you back. They can, but they don’t have to. And even if they don’t follow you, you can still read what they’re up to.

Interestingly, when I visit facebook now, the people who use it the most appear to be those who have connected their Twitter accounts to Facebook, so that their tweets update their facebook status. I suspect that the proliferation of non-web-based interfaces for Twitter have only helped to accelerate this – certainly, I almost never go to the Twitter site itself, just like I almost never go to the Facebook site. Websites, for all their goodness, are somewhat inconvenient compared to an app on my desktop because they’re not always on, like a desktop app can be.

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