I quit Facebook before doing so was fashionable. I quit, before the public felt the need for alternatives. I quit, because the Website supposed to offer an instant-telegraphic service, and keep its users up-to-the-minute on everything their friends and relations did, wasn’t doing so.
I joined Facebook, when I originally did, under pressure. I had just come to the end of a two-week package-tour of New Zealand, and wanted to stay in touch with my fellow-travellers. One of them suggested the site, and I took her suggestion and opened an account on it. For a while, it seemed to work: the gang was all there, and said they were happy to hear from me, and even told me where they were going next. Every friend and relation I have, wrote to me at least once on the site; and most of them, two and three times. Everyone seemed cheerful and amiable, and I looked like getting in touch even with some I hadn’t seen since childhood.
A year later, no-one wrote to me, on Facebook or off. No-one answered my messages, or commented on my posts, or expanded on any comment of mine. None of my friends or relations, or ‘connections’ of any sort, even sent me a post of their own, or tagged me in any, or shared an interesting article. The little I saw, lost its quality: even people I knew in person to be vivacious, intelligent, and articulate, were posting rubbish about nude models and stuffed capsicum; and most other posts, when not rubbish, were so small and boring as to be virtually incomprehensible.
At the time, I had never heard of the ‘filter bubble’: the phenomenon, by which a user, if it prefers certain things on the Internet (even if only once, and only for a moment), afterward receives content related only to those things; this category becoming increasingly narrowly defined over time.
Eventually, I determined to sign off. With nothing I did garnering any interest, and no-one else writing anything interesting, I had no use for the site whatever; so I wrote a farewell note to all my connections, and closed my account.
No doubt, if the administrators of Facebook were aware of my dissatisfaction, they would point to some choice I didn’t remember making, as the cause. When I heard of the filter bubble, years later, it had a certain unethical logic. If the computer takes preferential notice of the most superficial and widely ramified words in a given sample of content, it only makes sense to present the user with more stuff resembling it, however little similar in fact. Garbage in, garbage out.
Now several years off Facebook, I consider myself a better man: not so excited by silly things, and less inclined to shout from the rooftops about everything I see and do in a day. Nor have I got my emotional security attached to the number of approvals (“Likes”) on line, as if I were Tinker Bell and kept alive only by applause. Plenty of my family and friends are still on the site; but I like to think, they have learned to use it, without it using them. If not, I invite them all to spend a year without it, and see whether they see the same improvements, or more, in themselves.
The news I get from the rest of the Web, about Facebook, makes me grateful I got off when I did. Supremacists and fundamentalists regularly use Facebook to publish their obscene opinions, and the site’s administration offers no defence to the victims. Their guidelines, on the site itself, say, “Don’t retaliate”, which is about the worst advice an administrator can give. ‘“Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord’; but instances of divine justice are few and far between, and administrative justice, no less so.
Meanwhile, Facebook is rumoured to seek a monopoly on news and transmissions: rather like Wm. Randolph Hearst or Horace Greeley, a hundred-odd years ago. The courtesy of the Internet forbids me to comment on this; but let me conclude with a simple question to all my Gentle Readers (if I had any): given Facebook’s practices; — of filter-bubbles, nonsense-news, and protection, by default, rather of the obscene than of its victims; — is a news-industry run by Facebook, one with which we want to live at all?