Look at my Facebook page and you’ll find a history of beach photos, poetry and links to articles about Republicans doing terrible things. Which, you know, they’ve been doing. (And are still doing.) I posted those links for the same reasons most of my friends do: When you’re appalled by something and seeking to stop terrible things, you instinctively put that information out there hoping to activate people into making a difference. Or at least to share in the disgust.
Couple problems, though. First of all, my Facebook crowd is not exactly politically diverse – with few exceptions, I’ve purged everyone who obviously identifies as a Republican or a Trump-sympathizer. Partly because I look at their posts or comments and think, “Oh, I just can’t,” and a quick unfriend or blocking follows. Partly because I’ve never found debating politics via Facebook to be particularly useful.
Conversations quickly devolve into virtual shouting matches. A sincere offering of facts is met with a barrage of links to bullshit. Or condescension. Or smugness. Or other commenters pile on, shifting the tone. My lack of tolerance for all the above means my Facebook world contains, almost exclusively, people who already agree on and support a similar political agenda (ensure basic needs are met and otherwise ensure all individuals have the same opportunity for health and happiness regardless of birth circumstances). Rarely am I sharing something they don’t already know – we’re all just flinging gasoline on an already raging fire.
The other problem is, Facebook isn’t a great company. We often hear Facebook referred to as “the modern-day public square,” but a more accurate description is more like “privately owned malls.” To hang out on Facebook is to be under surveillance in a place designed to sell you things and, unlike a mall, where heated arguments are encouraged, because that’s what keeps people hanging out – and the longer we hang out in Facebook, the more money they make from us. Facebook thrives on political divisiveness because that’s what keeps people engaged. So, is that a monster I want to feed? No.
But opting out of Facebook completely would mean I’d miss pictures of my cool nieces doing amazing athletic feats. I’d miss my friend posting new music he’s made. I’d miss my stepmom’s stunning bird photos. I’d miss my friend’s documentation of her exceptional ceramics. I’d miss other people’s beach and mountain and river and lake photos. I’d miss new babies and old dogs. Pre-COVID, maybe I could compensate with in-person visits and phone calls, but under current circumstances, our social interactions already reduced, entire categories of friendships erased, Facebook will have to continue serving it’s higher purpose in my life.
I’m not opting out of politics, of course. I’m just continuing to do what I find to be effective: speak up at public meetings, hassle my elected representatives, vote, give money to groups working toward the collective good and join with others to shape a better world. Keep my day job.
And I’ll try to shape a better world – albeit my own tiny one – on Facebook with more beach photos, more poetry, more beauty to refute the cash crop of conflict Facebook counts on.