10 years ago I succumbed to pressure from some friends and joined this thing called Facebook. I had no idea what I was stepping into. Did any of us? At first, it was fun. Names and faces of people with whom I hadn’t connected in years, in some cases decades, began to surface. I quickly discovered that this could be a fun way to exchange witty banter about day-to-day life, sports, and even politics. It was fun.
Within the week I will deactivate my account. I’ve had enough. 10 years later, what was a goofy, weird, and fun place, has become Mos Eisley. That is, here on Facebook, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Facebook evolved before our fingertips, becoming a place for witty banter about things like sports and entertainment, a display case for our travels and experiences, the announcement of engagements and babies, and even a sacred space for communal grieving of loved ones who’ve passed. Those are good things. But it’s also devolved into a place where polarizing political ideologies are reinforced, misleading fake news abounds, pithy half-truth memes further divide, and authentic and thorough dialogue about complex issues too often give way to sarcastic, snarky, and cynical reductions. Beloved, “We must be cautious”.
As Facebook has devolved, many would say, “just don’t pay attention to that stuff”, “hide the idiots”, or “just don’t engage”. None of this is bad advice. But I’ve tried, and I’ve found I have two struggles with this: One, I’m a deep feeler. It’s hard for me to just ignore this stuff. I don’t do it well. When what I see as destructive rheotirc is attached to people I know and love, I feel it deeply. So I can’t just ignore it or hide people. That doesn’t work for me. I feel like I’m censoring relationships for the sake of a social media platform. Doesn’t feel right to me.
But also, and perhaps more significantly to me, we’re learning that social media is shaping public opinion more than we think. Many say, “no one’s mind is ever changed on social media”, which is mostly true, but not entirely true. People have directly told me that things I’ve shared and talked about on social media have caused them to rethink issues (albeit, very rarely).
Though our minds rarely, if ever, changed on social media, our minds and even worldviews are shaped and reinforced by social media. And much more so than I think we’re willing to admit. Between the work of the algorithms and our own filtering, we are being fed more and more of what we already like and that with which we already agree. When someone says “it’s all over Facebook” that may not be entirely true. It may just be all over Facebook for you, because Facebook is feeding you more of what you already consume. From a spiriual standpoint, just think about that for a minute. We are being fed more of the ideologies we already consume. We are morbidly obise on our ideolgies and it is creating in us a kind of emotional/spiritual socio-poltical diabetes.
With that in mind, I feel a responsibility to speak up about certain things. When a half-truth divisive meme is thrown out by someone, I feel need to call out its bullshit if only to get the person who shared it and those who “liked” it to even consider rethiking its flaws. If I filter that out, those ideologies are merely reinforced, lies are believed, half-truths are made Gospel, and, perhaps most dire, the ideological chasm that is ripping us apart is widened (and this is true for me as it is for those with whom I disagree). Quite simply, your clever, pithy meme isn’t helping. It’s hurting.
So simply ignoring things and hiding people doesn’t work for me. It might for you, but it doesn’t for me.
What it comes down to for me is this: Facebook is bad for my mental health. It just is. I tried to stay in the game to be a voice of reason, to model healthy debate (something I’ve often failed at), and to speak up for things about which I am passionate and which I believe warrant advocacy. But I can’t do it anymore. My wrestlings with mental health don’t need feedings from unneccsary sources.
The virtual straw that broke the Paul’s back landed onto my feed this week. My inward and visceral reaction to a stranger on a thread making serious accusations about my character and vocation over sports banter, combined with one more awful, divisive, half-truth meme from someone I used to be close to, led me to a place of deep reflection about the value of this platform in my life and what it’s doing to my soul.
Reflection is a dangerous thing. It can lead you to places where hard work needs to be done. Scary work. Work from which we would rather hide behind a screen of likes and shares and pithy memes. I found that the combination of my relational nature, my inability not to speak up when I feel convicted about something, and my own narcissistic tendencies to be noticed, seen, and heard have led me to need to leave Facebook. It’s just bad for my mental health. You might find that it doesn’t impact your soul and mental health like it does mine, but I would challenge you to really reflect on that. It’s impacting you, whether you notice it or not. I have yet to see any kind of study that says “social media makes you happier!”
But I’m not going to speak or decide for you. I just want to encourage you to be honest with yourself. I fear social media platforms are impacting our relationships and our mental health more than we want to admit. I know it’s true for me, and so I’m getting out of the game. Or at least one game. The game that’s chipping away at my soul the most: Facebook.
For those who are interested, I may be opening a new Facebook account that will merely be for professional purposes (part of my problem is that Social Media platforms are great tools for ministry), where I’ll share blog posts and other such things. I will keep my Twitter account active and will continue to engage in sports, politics, and religion there because I’ve found it to be less soul crushing for me. And, in all honesty, I find following and commenting on hi-profile sporting, political, and popculture events to be quite entertaining. So come follow me at @BelgianFriar, as well as here at belgianfriar.com, and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (I’m also on Instagram but that’s mostly to stalk my kids!).
It’s been an interesting decade, Facebook Machine. But I need to say goodbye. Quite simply, you’re bad for me. Maybe I’ll return someday (I suck at follow through), but for now, Goodbye. Farewell. Amen.