I joined Facebook ten years ago at a time when it had exploded in popularity across college campuses in the United States. While open to international universities, it had yet to see the same popularity overseas. It was the Spring Semester of 2006 and I was on a university exchange and my first trip abroad. I had previously used and deleted accounts on social media sites such as Friendster, Myspace (three times!) and OK Cupid and used other programs like MSN Messenger to chat with friends.
Facebook was different.
Some of what was different is hard to see, as the site has evolved considerably although retaining the same colour scheme. The difference that is very hard to appreciate now was its exclusivity. One reason it was so attractive on college campuses was that you had to have a college email to register and use the site. This made it a great platform for organising parties, networking and making friends, not only at your own university, but universities all over the country. When Facebook was later opened up to high school students in the United State, there was a large backlash from college students. Despite threats to stop using it, they eventually resigned themselves to the change as all students did when it was eventually opened to everyone. That initial exclusivity had to play a large part in its success, as the site could rely on news users with each freshman class in September. At the same time, it drew increasing interest from those who could not access the site and there must have been a large number of very curious people when the site finally opened up.
The site looked like this when I joined only it was open to all colleges and just called “facebook” by then.
The other major difference was the welcome lack of user customisation options. No doubt learning from the horror that was Myspace with ghastly table-breaking images and obnoxious embedded music tracks. Facebook was clean and easy to browse. At the time I started using it there was no timeline, like button, newsfeed or status updates. You could create events, photo albums, groups and leave messages on people’s “walls” (is that still a thing?), as well as private messages. I remember coming back from parties to friend requests from people who I’d met only briefly that night. I always accepted whether or not I remembered them.
So Facebook was once a young community in a clean, gated area.
It isn’t anymore.
I have not seen it for years but people used to talk quite a lot of “Facebook stalkers”. These were just people who spent a lot of time looking at pictures which is exactly what the people who uploaded them wanted. From the outset Facebook was to narcissism what a flame is to petroleum as I recently wrote in an email to someone not registered with the site. When the newsfeed was introduced, it was criticised by many because it made “stalking” easier. Every change from the very beginning brought loud but empty user backlash. I’ve no doubt that Harvard students threw such hissy fits when it was first opened to other colleges.
Now having finally quit the site for good, not even a return to the old design would convince me to sign up again. And none of these changes over the years have anything to do with my decision to finally leave the site after using it for the last ten years. I deleted my original account years ago after being tired of individually removing “friends” I didn’t know or hadn’t spoken to in years. I was also “removed” many times over the last few years (people always notice). Sometimes people who I hadn’t spoken to if at all, would almost immediately add me back. Being done with the site seemed like the best idea especially with a child on the way who was none of the business of strangers and estranged acquaintances.
The problem with that first deletion was that by then, my entire family used the site and I was living overseas. I made a new account with a pseudonym and only close friends and family connected with my account. I’m not and never have been a popular person but I still ended up with a slowly growing friend list as people (whom again, I rarely spoke with) began adding me.
Status updates and sharing were common before I made this new account and I had began to get a lot of enjoyment out of sharing blog posts and news articles. I had already experienced being “unfriended” by people who disliked my political outlook and this again became a problem – even with the pseudonym. I was eventually using the site only to communicate with close friends and family and sharing views that most of my friends and family find outrageous. The main observation to make though is that people were adding me as a friend, not communicating with me at all, and then removing me for sharing things I valued or even just thought interesting. So why add me in the first place?
With my name not really a secret anymore, I proverbially threw up my hands and decided to make another fresh account with my real name and some basic information public in case future employers wanted to Google search. I also decided I’d add people from work and leave politics at the door. I just wanted to keep in touch with family and friend and have a clean result that could be found when someone Googled my name. Not that there’s anything I don’t want found, I just thought it better someone gets an immediate result and stops looking than keep looking.
I’ve often said to myself that if I was only friends with people who shared my general outlook, I’d have virtually no friends. Come to think of it, I’d probably be divorced too. That isn’t most people though and if you know me, you know as well as I do that I’m odd. Most people broadly share the same socioeconomic and political outlook of their family and friends. They’re “crazy uncle” is their only window into the soul of the man across the street. I, on the other hand, love my crazy uncle and agree with him on quite a bit.
I use the above to preface what came next. Although I stopped the political shitposting (Google it), nobody else did. This grated on me and came to ahead when Bruce Jenner was declared by all to be “stunning and brave”. This became too much for me to stay silent on and I shared an article that shared my sentiment without comment. Disbelieving comments followed but nobody could explain to me how a man could really become a woman. It was just feelings.
This one opinion piece that I shared on my feed without comment revealed the Emperor’s nakedness to me for the first time. I’d been told it but I hadn’t really seen it myself. I finally realised that the left while culturally dominant, was totally unable to defend their own beliefs coherently. I said as much to a friend who asked me to “remove” him for wrongthink.This tangent probably warrants a separate post.
After realising this, it was hard to keep with my intention to stop posting political articles and my own commentary soon followed. Everything from gay marriage, gun control, immigration and general cultural suicide were shared and commented on. Pretty soon I was getting no comments and was losing “friends” again. Nobody from work ever said anything and nobody could ever respond to me (even when I was wrong), with anything approaching an argument. Almost all was emotion and virtue signalling. I doubt anybody I’m speaking of would allow me to charaterise it that way though.
Where am I going with this?
Well, I soon began to notice something wrong with what I was doing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with my expressing myself especially since I was often just responding in my contrary way to what many of my friends shared daily. But I did notice that my reasons for doing it were moving into sinister territory. I started wanting to troll people rather than just putting out my own take on things. This was wrong and it also ate up a lot of my time.
It wasn’t just me but what I’d observed in the behaviour of many people close to me using the site. There are plenty of people who just have an account and don’t really use this and they’ll no doubt find much of this hard to understand. But I’d noticed the lazy way people would share factually false information when a minute checking the background would reveal it’s falsehood. Not only was a friend of mine doing this but large community pages and thousands of people all over the world were too. Also little things like fishing for “likes” including what I suspect were posts calculated for a time that would yield the most attention.
Around the same time I noticed this behavior in myself, Facebook had began openly censoring anti-immigrant posts from Germany. This as well as the way they manipulate newsfeeds so that things I was interested in from pages I’d followed were omitted. I decided that Facebook was not only wasting my time, it was also openly against most of what I hold dear and profiting from my participation on the site. So I decided to delete my account for good.
At the time of writing, my last account should be unrecoverable though I’m sure they have everything from all three accounts I used over the last ten years on a server somewhere. A close friend of mine said I should start a blog in response to one of my posts a while back and that is honestly one of the reasons I’ve started writing here regularly.
I certainly won’t use Facebook again and I hope I never use another site like it. Even without all the creepy data mining and censorship, it brings out the worst in many people. That’s not something I want to see in people I care about nor in me. If the site survives with a high user base for the next twenty years, it will be interesting and no doubt very depressing to see what it has done to those who have grown up with it.
To end on a positive note, no matter how large it gets, it could still end up like its early competitors.