Carrier pigeon. Snail mail. Telephone. Email. Facebook.
One of those things is not like the others. That’s because one of them is less a form of a communication, more a private corporation by definition. Call me? Sure! Email me? Why not! You actually have a choice about which service you’ll use to do so. But Facebook is just Facebook. Facebook me? No, thanks. Let’s not, and say we did.
I already wrote about Facebook’s uses here before, and there’s no doubt that it’s a tool. But if it’s just another tool, what’s so special about it? We don’t treat it like a hammer we lost from our toolbox. Heck, we hold more importance to our Facebook accounts than we do a book on our shelves, the favourite shirt on our clothes rail, or even our wallet. Think about it. Which would most of us be more traumatised about losing these days?
On principle, we have to make sure we stop rushing to one corporate social networking website to engage in discourse, because it’s dangerous, as I’ll explain in a moment. I refuse to believe we’ve become so inept at communication and mobilisation that we’re dependent on our Facebook accounts to do this.
No, Facebook isn’t just another web tool, it’s an albatross. And we’ve become tools for using it. In fact, we’re not just tools, or cogs in the machine – we’re the product, since Facebook finds out our friendships, relationships, anniversaries, workplaces, favourite foods and restaurants, and even tracks where we go, how many times, and for how long, then gathers all that information, and sells it to companies, commodifying us as the dreaded target market we often try to avoid being reduced to. They’re even watching us and using us to conduct social experiments.
It’s a McCarthyist dream, and this data-mining is how Facebook use you to make money off you, and are now worth around $200 billion because of it. No, you didn’t get a cut of that, did you? Sorry.
Sure, they all do it to some extent, since money makes the world go around. But nobody does it like Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg rules with an iron fist and around 60% of his board’s voting power, which even has the most laissez-faire free marketeers uncomfortable – and that’s saying something.
But that’s not the only way Zuckerberg turns a healthy profit. Facebook has a reputation for bargaining some of the lowest third world labour rates in the industry. Those people who pick up your complaints and reports when you’ve caught someone being abusive on Facebook? They’ve been getting paid $1 an hour for the trouble. When you compare that to Google – who are no saints themselves yet have frequently paid ten times what Facebook have – it’s no surprise that Google’s reporting services generally act within hours to tackle child pornography and other abusive material, which over on Facebook goes left for days to go viral. No surprise either, then, that kids have killed themselves.
Facebook, in particular, has become a haven for passive-aggressive attacks for cowardly perpetrators to deny any intention of targeting their victims, while it has also become everything anti-capitalist cultural critics have slammed for years as it grows into a cynical popularity contest, buoyed by the introduction of the “Like” button and Facebook’s habit of promoting the most popular posts into your feed, tantamount to rewarding the filthy rich with more wealth while the poor and the persecuted are left behind.
Every revolutionary is a romantic, and this imbues them with a vision of what might be, a belief in a better way of doing things, and a determination to fight for it. With that in mind, we have to be more optimistic, more ambitious, even if it seems a struggle. To leave Facebook behind means leaving behind many more people, but – much like my old documentary screenings before I got wise and made Return to Doncatraz – too often we find ourselves either preaching to the converted, or defending ourselves to those who are closed-minded, and hey, that’s no way to spend our time as citizens.
Share a gif of a cat flushing a toilet, and you get dozens of “Likes.” Post an article about how we need to live more ethically, get none. In turn, share a relationship update, and people scramble onto your page like gawkers slowing down their cars by a crash site. Sure, there are those whose every word is met with cheers when posting an overtly political status – and that’s because they’re the ones singing to the choir. See how it works?
Facebook has brought out the worst in people. While the open-minded have a tendency to seek out different, challenging information, Facebook leaves us customising our feeds to include those who agree with us, and we only address those we disagree with to vent our spleen at. It’s a culture of popularity, hypocrisy, and fake care and concern, giving birthday wishes to those whose birthdays weren’t even meaningful enough to us to note in our diaries in the first place. People deactivate their accounts for attention, or delete people in a passive-aggressive, gutless, virtual sucker-punch…often attempting to re-add them later on, once the knee-jerk feeling has subsided and the guilt taken over.
So much gossip has been said about me – I have enemies at home and abroad, and have learned of really frightening accounts that have included painful lies about me, but no worse breeding ground for that has existed than Facebook, where some people add you not because they care, but quite the opposite: seeking gossip, they’ve heard the rumours and lies, and are just keeping tabs on you to see if you’ll slip up. As someone with a strong sense of ideals, I’ve inevitably pissed off more people than I can possibly keep track of, but I’ve never once set out to intentionally hurt someone, yet I’ve been subjected to terrible claims about me both personally and professionally, even in my work at SilenceBreaker Media, or with AFC Unity, where individuals with claims later proven to be found false can’t wait to hit “Like” on someone’s jab at you on the page. It’s sad.
Since announcing my intention, people have said it’s a “mistake,” argued the case for good ol’ Facebook.com, and even suggested I’m overreacting. This is the behaviour of addicts. And the first part of dealing with an addiction is accepting you have one. Few in a drug den congratulate the person planning to kick the habit and quit their little ritual, do they? No, they persuade them to stay, because it makes them all feel better, then. Those who aren’t, say, alcoholics, but like a drink now and then, are often the first to applaud their friends going teetotal. Because they respect it without feeling threatened by it.
I’m not quitting Facebook for attention, or to return sometime soon. I’m quitting Facebook because I have found I don’t have room for unnecessary negativity in my life, and that’s mostly what the site offers, at the cost of selling myself to them for free so they can make Mark more money. I also resent its increasing invasion of privacy, its forum for bullying, its rewarding of those already ahead of the pack, and its platform for passive-aggressive behaviour. Too many assumptions are made about you on Facebook; I’ve had people claim I’m a “radical,” and the next day others call me “conservative” because, in both cases, I see myself as a citizen, I see it as my duty to vote in elections, and I’m at the same time pragmatic about working within the system, as well as outside it. What a weirdo! “Sooo political, man!” “No, not political enough! If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!” And so forth. Sigh.
I don’t know about you, but I miss – and relish – the opportunity to make things happen in my community by hitting the streets, meeting more people in person, and being a lovable asshole. I miss mixing up my time online between eBooks, forums, newsletters, podcasts, videos and websites in general, rather than getting bogged down with checking numerous notifications and seeing some little-known “friend” pipe up for the first time ever to attempt to bring me down a peg or two, or see someone else cheering on my antagonists, simply by hitting “Like,” then shrugging innocently.
No, it’s time for us to move on, a fact that the next generation are already increasingly aware of. It’s time to be brave, be bold, be different; have a change in how we spend our time. And it’s time for us to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg and his pals that we’re not reliant on his collegiate website for our information or interaction, and we’re sure as heck not going to put a price tag on all our photos, relationships, and feelings. We can have a better world, and that better world is one not with but without Facebook. Much like a government, if a social networking website isn’t working for us any more, we should build ourselves another one – and there are already alternatives out there, like Ello.
Surely Kalle Lasn had a point when he suggested mainstream media is to our brains what fast food is to our bodies. Everything needs to be consumed in moderation, and everything needs to be as healthy as possible. Facebook has become the equivalent of a Big Mac. Even the breadbun is bad for you, so there’s little point any more.
So, let’s leave it behind and get busy living. There’s a whole wide world out there to win.
And the next time you want to know the truth about what I’ve said, or done, or thought, you won’t be adding me on Facebook – you’ll be asking me to my face.
Some may not “Like” it, but I happen to like it.