1/20/2012

Is Facebook worth it?

Over the time I've had a Facebook account I've often wondered whether the whole "social media" circus was worth the trouble and strife it causes. A couple years ago I even deleted my Facebook account and started a whole new one because over time I'd picked up dozens of people who did little but get on my nerves. I vowed that I would not make that mistake again and would limit myself to people I knew in the real world.

But here's the funny thing. A lot of the people I know in the real world cause a lot of grief. There's one person I was very close to and with whom I enjoyed spending time in the real world. Then, through Facebook, I saw a mean and ugly side of her. Racist rants against Hispanics and immigrants, rants against access to affordable healthcare, rants against "liberals" and Democrats, etc. I had a lot of trouble fitting that with how I had always viewed her. I found that I couldn't share in her Facebook experience because each time she posted those things (which was several times a day) I found myself grieving because I never expected such ugliness. I also found I couldn't look at her the same way in person. We drifted apart. I stopped planning days out, she stopped inviting us to dinners. Soon, there were no more shared meals, no more shopping days, no more movie marathons, no more shared holidays. We're still "nominally" friends on Facebook but I know that my posts are hidden on her feed as hers are hidden on mine. Rarely, now will we cross in a short comment on someone's profile we both know.

There's another friend I used to work with some years ago. We had a great time together. We sort of knew that we had different politics so following the old Southern rule of never discussing politics or religion we steered clear of the subject(s). We enjoyed our work time and developed a nice working friendship. Since I moved to Arizona we kept up a sporadic communication through email - sharing family news, commiserating over getting older and how her business was doing. Then we reconnected on Facebook and all that changed. Now politics and religion came into play because with the click of a button you can "share" things you normally wouldn't discuss in regular company. Sure enough, we began to drift apart. She posted photoshopped pictures of President Obama saying he wasn't a "real American." When I pointed out the photos were fakes she became upset with me. Now, we don't have a lot to say.

Some time ago, I reconnected on Facebook with an acquaintance from my high school days. He was an unusual character back then - think a blond Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club. Yeah, there was a little bit of a crush thing going on for my part. Anyway, we connected and come to find out he's joined a very conservative religious group and is now a minister. OK, we could deal with that, right? Just keep it light, reminisce and have fun. It worked fine for about a month. When he asked about my home life I was honest and told him I was gay and happily partnered for many years. Then he realized I was an atheist. We suddenly went from reminiscing to him sending me long messages and posts more or less demanding I account for myself and my philosophy. At first I tried to be polite and explain things to him but it quickly became apparent I was some type of project. The messages became long lists of loaded questions. Finally, I had to tell him I didn't owe him anything - we'd known each other 20+ years ago and that was it. It was a very disconcerting experience. Would he have been that way in person if we'd met at a reunion? I don't know, but I can't help but think not.


Of course, as hard as might try to limit exposure to people who cause you distress - racists, homophobes, religious zealots, etc., with Facebook it's nearly impossible. Every "friend" your friend has is right there in your face 24/7. Maybe they're cool with ignorance or bullying or meanness, but because they're your friend you're forced to deal with it too. For example a straight friend posts something supportive of the LGBT community. Their "friend" is a homophobe so there's the homophobic rant right in your face too. Facebook is one of the few places I have been called a "faggot." It's just such a pain to deal with crap like that nearly every day you open the page.

So, I wonder, is it worth it? Sure Facebook is supposed to be able to limit the scope of posts, but honestly, the system is so arcane most people can't figure it out. It's not intuitive like on Google+ where it asks you point blank who you want to share with before you submit the post.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive. When I did a search for articles and posts about this topic I come up woefully blank. There were some but most were complaints about narcicisstic posts, Farmville, banal updates, etc. There wasn't much there about actual content. Seriously, I'd rather have 20 photos the kids than one photo of President Obama as the Joker from Batman with some racial slur attached.

I honestly like to keep my illusions about people I know. I like to think they're all wonderfully charming people who treat others with respect, dignity, charity and compassion. That's not a hard delusion to maintain in the real world when abiding by that Southern dictum that politics and religion are never discussed in polite company. On Facebook, there's just no way to maintain that illusion and the ugly truth is often shoved right into your face. After that it's hard to look at a real friend the same way again.

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