Tony, a commenter on one of my stories, made this statement about Facebook’s algorithm. It really got my attention because it spoke to the heart of the matter: my heart. Your heart. Our collective hearts.
The point, he said, is that the design of the algorithm is to make us, and keep us, angry.
There is powerful truth in this. And that is, in part, why Facebook is so very addictive.
Let me add an additional perspective as to why this is so effective- and why Facebook’s methodology has so swiftly divided us into Me Vs. Them (as nearly everybody else who doesn’t support my POV).
We Are Addicted
In a lifetime of work and study about psychology, working with and writing about people and how we function, I’ve noted two primary addictions that we all have just by being human. This isn’t a judgment. Simply an observation:
We are addicted to being right. And by the way, YOU need to be wrong.
We are addicted to being superior. And by the way, YOU need to be inferior.
These two fundamental beliefs, which we see played out in our families, our work arenas, between countries, lead to virtually every kind of discord ranging from playground punching matches to international war. The problem is that because we are so susceptible to both of these tendencies, we are easily manipulated by forces- such as Facebook- which depend upon our lack of awareness as well as our resistance to change.
Facebook counts on your natural desire to be validated and made right, if not righteous. Them’s is powerful feelings. We feel vindicated that others have our backs, they believe like we do, that makes us RIGHT, by God. Unassailable. Unless, of course, there are other ways of seeing, which, for the uninitiated and uninformed, means that there are 7.4 billion and counting differing Points Of View in the world today. And growing fast.
You’re right, of course, until a new viewpoint becomes obvious, you have a life-changing experience, you travel, you learn to listen, ponder, read, research, consider- in other words, grow. Growth is earned by hard work and the mature willingness to question whether you really know what you know. That’s scary. And ultimately freeing. However it implies a willingness to be in the question. Growth is by its very nature uncomfortable and discomfiting. We have to be willing to admit that perhaps we were wrong.
For many this is increasingly impossible.
Living in the Question
Living in the question is by its very nature scary ground. You have to be willing to question long-held beliefs, and wonder a little about your sanity. That’s a very, very good thing. It means that your cup is half-empty and you can receive new information, new experiences.
Facebook allows us to selectively pick and choose only those memes that feed our POV. We don’t have to change. We get validated by others who agree with us, therefore there is safety in numbers, therefore we don’t have to evolve. Therefore we stay at whatever level of awareness, education, maturity we are now. That’s not good news.
Righteousness, be it religious, political, or any other kind turns us into assholes. The sense of superiority that comes with it is insultingly arrogant. There is no room for other ways to think, to be, to exist in the world. Such viewpoints are the beginning of genocide, White Nationalism, and all such movements that depend on fear, trade in righteousness, and count on a high level of ignorance for their momentum.
Such as, ridiculously and most embarrassingly, the Flat Earth movement. Come ON, man. Really? Yes, really. https://abcnews.go.com/US/inside-flat-earth-international-conference-believes-earth-round/story?id=52580041
The Cost of Anger
I travel a great deal. That means immersing myself in other cultures ranging from the remote, high country villages in Myanmar to the icy towns in Svalbard, Norway. Part of what that does for me is isolate me from Facebook. Travel gives me a chance to engage with the richness of the world at large, and be in a state of not knowing for weeks on end. To the best of my ability I set aside whatever notions I may have and work hard to keep my mind, my ideas and my heart open. Invariably the world etches new information on my psyche and sends me home with hundreds of new gifts, not the least of which is a renewed appreciation for our diversity, the richness that appreciating others provides, and new insights into how others live.
After recovering from jet lag, I make the mistake of checking Facebook feeds. It shocks and disappoints me how quickly my blood pressure skyrockets and how angry I get at the insane shenanigans of our administration, or other videos that are precisely timed and designed to do exactly that. Before I know it I’ve penned something ugly, and it’s on my feed. When I come to my senses I take it down. But the damage is done, not only to my peace of mind but also to my heart.
I allow this to happen. I have to give Facebook permission to manipulate my emotional state, and this is costly to my physical and emotional health.
Shutting It Down
There is a slew of new information about the wholesale damage that Facebook has wrought in society (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-pacific-heart/201801/is-facebook-destroying-society-and-your-mental-health). Among the most vulnerable, people who are isolated, mentally unstable, lonely, Facebook can exacerbate those conditions. Social media in many forms, such as Instagram, take advantage of the unfortunate human tendency to compare ourselves and our lives to the perfection that must surely exist in other’s lives.
It doesn’t matter that this is pure bullshit. What matters is that kids, especially, and immature adults get sucked into the lie that everyone else has a great life and they don’t. (https://www.fastcompany.com/3027380/want-to-be-happier-stop-comparing-yourself-to-what-you-see-on-social-media); see also (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/cyber.2016.0206) That foments more anger, more vitriol, and the need to lash out at all those perfect people. This is true across the board, at all ages. I write for an online community called SixtyandMe.com. In one of my first posts I talked about adventure travel. One woman laid into me with viciousness, accused me of being rich (I live on a disability pension) and having all the resources to do whatever I wanted (I often have had to sell my furniture and clothing to be able to afford a trip) and a variety of other nonsensical crimes that in her state of mind she had imagined I had committed against her. She’s pissed at the condition of her life. Well, forgive me, but that’s your problem, lady, and it’s up to you to do something about it. However, Facebook IS what she’s doing about it: painting the social media landscape with all the fecal matter of her life’s disappointments.
Honestly. This is hardly the only place this happens. Facebook and even Linked In, which has descended in many ways to being as rude as Facebook, provides a bully pulpit for assholes. I use that term because assholes attack without a single care for how much damage that does. Their hate, immaturity and viciousness seem to be based in the notion that the world by god owes them a living, and since their lives aren’t perfect, and of course everyone else’s is, then they have the right to attack. UM, no you don’t. Grow the hell UP for crying out loud. And in every way that is just as much directed at that part of me that overreacts to stupid, useless memes that grab me by the short and curlies emotionally and cause me to show up like a first- class jerk.
I am simply shutting most of Facebook down. I am tired of giving sick, angry people permission to fuck up my life. Tony just wrote that if someone is consistently making him again, he unfriends that person. Such as a relative, who is a priest, who is constantly slamming Trump. Look, it doesn’t matter what the issue is- the point here is to protect ourselves from so much anger. I appreciate the opportunity to think differently, consider other viewpoints, and have my precious notions of what I believe challenged. That makes me open, soft and curious. It has also taught me how to question without insulting people, and make plenty of room for other ways of being. Facebook turns me into a first class bitch so quickly because of the inherent meanness of so much of its material. The only way I can better manage that unfortunate part of my nature — which, by the way, exists in all of us — is to do what Tony does: unfriend. Most of the time these people are not our friends anyway. Friends don’t try to bring out our worst.
Real friends invite us to be our best. And Facebook is not a landscape full of that kind of friend- it’s not designed that way.
A Birthright of Joy
Before I was stuck in an Icelandic hospital for five days straight with nothing to do but surf Facebook, I never bothered with it much. After that experience, I found it very hard to shut it down. That is how effectively it was designed. But like any other addiction, it has to be named, faced, and handled. There are positive, encouraging and rich places to spend our time. Medium.com, with rare exception, is among them. I get fed here, challenged with respect, educated, and expanded. I am encouraged to read, think, ponder, question. I am interested in the POVs offered. Being on Medium.com is a far more joyful experience. And I believe that other, similarly-designed online communities are growing fast in response to the sewage that is Facebook at its worst.
I’m tired of hate. Tired of mindless righteousness that is so often based on a combination of fear and ignorance. Tired of being hijacked into saying things that I would never, ever say to anyone in person. Tired of occasionally seeing myself show up as a mindless reactionary. It’s bad enough that we are susceptible to such tendencies. What’s criminal is that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter encourage, develop and amplify every single one of our worst traits, and bank on our inability to admit to them as well as our deep addictions to being right and superior.
Joy is our birthright. It’s earned. The ability to experience deep joy is in part gained by our work on ourselves. Facing down those parts of us that can disappoint ourselves and others. Learning to be vulnerable. Being joyful and in the moment is gained by our not allowing others to hijack our hilarity.
Facebook, which has some positive uses, all too often is a big part of the problem. You and I can solve it by parcing out our time and attention to things that matter. Increasingly, at least to me, Facebook doesn’t matter. What matters is spending time where we grow, learn, develop, evolve, find reasons to celebrate, be humbled, and expand our potential. What that looks like is unique to each of us.
All I know is that Facebook is not that place for me, nor is most of social media, if it doesn’t demand my very best: graciousness, courtesy, openness, curiosity, respect, courage, and the willingness to not know. At any given time, we are either adding value, or sucking the very life out of those around us.
I know what I choose. Which is why I spend less and less time on Facebook, and more and more time in places which invite me to be a much better version of myself.