It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision to disengage from Facebook. There was a slow build up of disatisfaction as 2020 progressed. I became more and more disillusioned as my social network began to implode. Friends, former classmates, colleagues, and family members- all known to me but strangers to each other- began bickering on my posts. They revealed aspects of themselves which I would rather not have seen.
I am someone who has used Facebook daily since 2008. I don’t promote my blog on the platform, choosing to keep Confessions of a Patchwork Momma public, yet more or less anonymous. Facebook is the only social media space where I limit my network to people I actually know in real life or am acquainted with through work. My experiences there affect me more because I’m deeply invested in many of the relationships.
This year has challenged everyone. Each of us deals with stress differently, and what we share on social media says a lot about how we are coping. The prevalence of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, outrageous (and misinformed) political perspectives, and an increasing level of intolerance have at times filled me with despair.
It has saddened me watching people I care about slip down the Rabbit Hole. (This week I plan to start listening to the highly recommended New York Time’s podcast “Rabbit Hole” about how the internet is affecting us). How will we recover from the deep divisions that now separate so many people within our society? Ireland, while not as polarized as the US (yet), seems to be emulating much of what we consume through American media.
There is a lack of genuine discourse about issues affecting us all. While people may think they are “debating” current events online, it seems more like a shouting match. No one is listening. Instead they are talking over one another, trying to press a point. I say “they,” but I have been guilty of the same behavior. I felt like I was going around in circles, wasting energy. Finally I stopped and asked myself: What’s the point?
Normally we can invite people to dinner, meet for coffee or go for walks. We can sit calmly for face to face conversations and exchange ideas. That’s no longer possible because of Covid-19. Instead we’re locked away with our screens as our primary form of communication. It’s dehumanizing.
Last summer I found myself deleting Facebook contacts because I don’t want their negativity in my network. I drew the line at family members, despite two of my cousins posting Confederate flags, while defending Southerners, as Confederate monuments fell in record breaking numbers. I keep them as contacts not because they are my blood relations; I simply want to know how far regular Trump supporters (not just anonymous online trolls) are willing to publicly go with their racist sentiments.
During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer I reached a stage where I’d finally had enough of Facebook. I am a biracial woman who identifies as exactly what I am: a brown person in a predominantly white world. I was raised by white women, married a white man, and live in a white community in rural Ireland. Even though I am half white, living in a white culture, my black identity is also an important part of who I am.
I care very much about the struggle people of color face back home in America as well as abroad. As a result, I have shared a lot of articles and resources online, hoping my white contacts would embrace this moment to deepen their understanding about the obstacles black people are facing. Armed with information, I thought they would join me and call for action.
How many black squares were posted in solidarity on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter last summer? There was an outpouring of support for black content creators, business owners, and artists. I hoped it wasn’t superficial. I hoped eyes were finally being opened to the systemic injustice which has long plagued black communities. I hoped we would see reform at last.
In the midst of all of this, another family member posted a meme on Facebook belittling the movement. It was a sarcastic post mocking the concept of white male privilege. Reading it, one would think white males are the group currently being oppressed. This far left leaning individual is of the perspective that Black Lives Matter is a divisive political party and is prone to saying “All Lives Matter.” Private conversations had already occurred about this particular issue. When the inflammatory post appeared in our newsfeeds, both my partner and I felt the need to comment with our opposing viewpoints. It didn’t go down well.
Suddenly it became a big family event since others were following the post without commenting. Various phone calls were made. Everyone was talking about it both to our faces and behind our backs. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public… and all that. What surprised me was how sympathetic most of them were to the offending party (it seemed to me). One family member went so far as to tell my partner Robin can fight her own battles. That said it all. Even though I’m reading So You Want to Talk About Race, I no longer want to speak to any of them about the subject.
Why does the onus always fall on people of color to rectify racial oppression? Why are my supposed white allies not doing more to combat racism on every level? Why is it my job alone to advocate for justice and equality? If my own relatives can’t stand by my side- or at least listen to what I have to say about my personal experiences- I fear progress will be slower and more painful than I imagined.
The lack of support was incredibly hurtful and I felt deflated by it. Unfortunately a good friend of mine in California was going through the same thing. Despite the 8 hour time difference we managed to chat over the phone and commiserate with one another. I miss my African- American friends. The sense of belonging and acceptance when we are together cannot be replaced.
After the family blowout my instinct was to retreat. I think social activism is important but you need energy for it. Facebook, I realized, had become a hostile environment where many of my acquaintances were offloading their anger and frustrations. What toll was it taking? Was it energizing or draining me? The reason I created an account all those years ago was to feel connected. The truth is I feel the opposite has occurred.
During these challenging times it’s especially important to look after mental health. Disengaging from Facebook was a step towards protecting my wellness. I stepped off the roller coaster of emotions in an effort to preserve my inner peace. I’m so glad I did!
It’s been 5 months since I stopped logging on regularly and I don’t miss it. I can only imagine what the vitriolic posts have been like leading up to tomorrow’s US election. Ireland returned to lockdown Level 5 nearly two weeks ago, and I’m sure there were mixed reactions from my social network. There is so much chaos in the world at present, and everyone’s voices are amplified online. I am happy to steer clear of the frenzy.
I occasionally will share a photo relating to a family birthday, but that’s as much time as I want to spend on Facebook. I do feel like I miss out on stuff though. My partner shares many of the same friends so he’ll occasionally alert me to important news. The most shocking event occurred when a local friend posted surprise wedding photos last month… We didn’t even know they’d gotten engaged. I could easily have missed the event entirely. (Only family attended due to Covid-19).
I also missed a friend’s divorce announcement. Fortunately my mom is a Facebook friend of hers too and told me about the news. It’s made me realize how much people rely on Facebook to communicate rather than pick up the phone or contact friends individually. Our social circles are much bigger than in the past so in some ways it makes sense. Still… something has been lost.
Have you noticed that your social media usage has changed this year? Has the pandemic created similar ruptures in your social circles? Overall my experiment has proved that I’m happier without Facebook. I can dip into groups for work or check the community notice board when necessary. If I’m concerned about a friend and want to catch up, I can call them or send a message. As for the mindless scrolling and squabbling, it’s time to let that go.