Why I left facebook

Yeah, well, you probably already know most of why i left facebook.  If you’re on facebook, or you know someone on facebook, you know what kind of poison it is.  It’s even likely you’re considering getting off facebook too.  Lots of people are;  NPR did a story about it.  In case you need to be reminded of the reasons, I’ve taken some quotations from that story and made a poem of them. 

In the days after, all I saw was hate.
Untold numbers of gloating, trashtalking, flamethrowing posts.
A summit on a frustrating, drawn-out illness,
all of my friends doctors of their own dogma.
I also realized that I had become a meaner, more cynical person.
Clicking on Facebook in the morning is like blunt trauma to the brain.*

That comes close to summing it up, but I’m still going to spend a minute trying to explain my own reasons.  So. I don’t mind people telling me what I should think.  That’s conversation.  But I do mind when they start telling me that anyone who doesn’t think what they think is an idiot.  There’s a difference between “a is right and b is wrong” and “a is right and anyone who thinks b is an asshole.”  It bothered me when otherwise thoughtful people started expressing contempt in every post.

That’s not what put me over edge, though.  This is:


Now what’s going on here?  Was this in reference to something someone said?  Who?  What?  None of the many people who reposted this gave any context, and I believe it likely that many of them didn’t know the context.  They were reposting in order to position themselves politically.  And not just to position themselves as a democrat or left-winger, or anything simple like that.  This is not the kind of positioning that takes one side against another;  it’s a delicate and sophisticated positioning that marks them as a member of a group, a club of sensibility.

Am I a member of that group?  I’m guessing that if I knew what they were talking about, I would wholeheartedly agree with them.  Probably some old white guy told black Americans they had nothing to fear, and that’s bullshit.  But I’m not sure I can agree with the statement without a context.  It’s pretty sweeping then.  How often do the words “you don’t need to be afraid” just mean, “I am here;  I stand with you”?  Is a father allowed to comfort a daughter with these words?  Is a Jew allowed to comfort a Muslim?  One would like to be able at least to ask these questions.  It might start a discussion.  And here we come to the real problem with this little image.  It doesn’t just tell me what to think, and it goes further than telling me that anyone who doesn’t agree is a jerk.  It tells me what I am allowed to think.  It forbids questions.  And for this reason, no, I don’t think I’m a member of the group that adopts this positioning.

The thing that, oddly, almost redeems the little image is the way it repeats itself—a sign, as a rhetorician will tell you, that it is not all that certain of what it is saying.  Unfortunately it’s an unconscious uncertainty.

Anyway, in the weeks before I left facebook, I saw this kind of thing everywhere.  “Don’t bother coming to our event if you don’t believe x.”  “ You’re not allowed to admire p unless you’re a member of group q.”  Walls were going up, walls based on the finest of distinctions, as in an aristocratic society where one knows by the way someone wears his collar or raises his hand that he isn’t quite one of us.  Rules, all unspoken.  As they have to be because to speak them would allow people to question them. 

I am afraid of these rules, afraid to get on the wrong side of them.  Getting off facebook won’t save me, but allows me a little space and time to think about things with distance, to formulate real critiques of what is happening in the world.

*Robert Sapolsky argues this literally, in an article that a lot of people didn’t like.


First in a series of great album titles courtesy of Donald Trump:  Phoney Stuff that Didn’t Happen.


Has anyone ever tried to make Damien Trench’s recipes?

3 thoughts on “Why I left facebook

  1. My experience has been different from yours (“NO!”), and FB continues to be a greater source of frippery than frowns. But that’s not why I’m commenting.

    Every statement is (or at least is likely to be) wrong when taken out of context. The one you mention above crossed my horizon too, in a context I recognized (and in which I deemed it unobjectionable). FB is a bunch of overlapping contexts — my geek friends, my current colleagues, my activist friends, my relatives, my rando friends from the distant past, etc. And because I’m so strict about who I’ll accept as FBFs (only people I would actively look forward to having a drink with, and never ungraduated students, no matter how dear to me), the context is generally fairly transparent. Plus I don’t post or comment on much political material — not because I don’t have strong opinions, but because that is not what I come to FB for — so the feed algorithm downplays it.

    All this is not to say “Oh, Oo, you’re Doing It Wrong.” I’m just saying that there are multiple ways to read FB, and those of us who stay are not unthinking boobs. (Not that you said that — just to be clear.)

  2. I agree with you. And I’ll add that I’m really complaining about something I see in lots of places. There are many forums in which people now feel free to forbid questions, to let me know what’s allowable to think. Facebook just gets so muddy with this stuff. People trying define what is acceptable in the realm of political posturing had started to dominate my feed. Remember the safety pins? First there were “wear them” posts. Then “don’t wear them” posts. Then there were “leave those people alone” posts. Then there were “who cares?” posts. This I need in my life?

    • I’m always wondering about where the lines are. I too found the safety-pin back and forth very tiresome. But I’m pretty sure I’d feel differently if the discussion were about some other symbol. What if, in this era of apparently more-visible antisemitism, people started wearing yellow stars of support? I’d be more interested in the discussion.

      Having an opinion often means telling people what’s allowable to think. And when it doesn’t, others still interpret that way, because DAMMIT LANGUAGE WHY YOU GOTTA BE SO DUMB. So I guess I don’t let it bother me (much). The very definition of a symbol is that it can mean different things. It’s a good thing the world has people like us to do the play-by-play.

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