I've quit Facebook. I've deactivated my account and 'scheduled it for deletion' - turns out that you can't just snap your fingers and disappear from FB, it takes a while and quite a bit of hoop-jumping. Whether I stay off forever will be seen in due course, but my intention is to stay off.
Full disclosure: I'm no Luddite. I love social media. I tweet, I manage an Instagram feed, a Pinterest page, Google Plus... but for some reason, Facebook has always been especially thorny for me. I'll gleefully admit that I've spent weeks, perhaps months of my life on Facebook, and enjoyed much of it. I loved the ability to reconnect with people I hadn't seen since high school, and I loved the vaguely voyeuristic way you could sneak into other people's lives. And the other night when I got home, I received a Facebook message from a friend asking if I'd heard the news about a certain person...
And I realized that FB, for me, was no longer tool for expression, but an agent of censorship.
Let me explain:
In 1961, Stanley Milgram conducted a series of psychological experiments detailing how much cruelty human beings are willing to inflict upon others based on whether an Authority figure is present.
The set-up: The test subject took on the role of a 'Teacher', asking questions of a 'Learner' who was actually an actor in another room, disconnected physically, only heard over a speaker. If the Learner answered a question incorrectly, the Teacher was told by the Authority Figure (the Experimenter, who was in the room) to administer a punishment in the form of a small electric shock. This sounds somewhat unsavory but generally harmless... but it would escalate; the more wrong answers, the stronger the shock. Milgram found that as the wrong answers built up (as the experiment was designed to do), if the Authority figure told the Teachers to continue to punish, they would follow orders - and in fact, a huge percentage would shock until the 'Learner' was screaming, and many would go so far as to deliver shocks that were lethal.
Turn that over in your mind, folks; these perfectly normal people, if told to do so under these circumstances, would follow orders... and KILL someone.
So how does this connect to social media? One condition of this experiment that I believe is important, especially to our social media world, is that the 'Teacher' was disconnected from the 'Learner' - the Learner was in the next room instead of sitting in front of them. They only connected with them through the sound of their responses on a speaker. And we all know that lack of physical connection decreases empathy, and thus makes it easier to be cruel.
Here's my thing: 'Social' media is a total misnomer. In many ways it actually takes us further away from each other, not closer. I know that sounds crazy, but consider how empathy disappears in places like Facebook. I have witnessed people say/type things to others on social media that they would never, EVER say to each other face-to-face. They just wouldn't, both because of empathy for another human being, and simply to avoid getting punched. And because of this free-for-all, lately I've found it very difficult to be myself, to be simple and honest in my communications (on Facebook in particular) and true to my values; because I despise the kind of cutting remarks, cowardly trolling and dumbshit behavior that makes you see red and keeps you up at night.
Which brings us back to the other night: It turns out this person I was being asked about on Facebook had unexpectedly died, and in an utterly, utterly tragic way. I went to this person's FB page, and saw post after post about how wonderful this person was, what a tragedy this was, and how awful the world can be. It was touching, it was inspiring, and it made me slightly ill.
Because here's the kicker: In my experience (and I can only speak from my own perspective), this guy was a douchebag. I'll spare you the details that I witnessed personally, but the truth was that he was a guy with issues, who at times laid waste to those who challenged his issues. In fact, I rarely unfriended people on Facebook, but I had recently unfriended this man.
And now he's dead.
And I feel terrible. I feel terrible because I'm very very sad that anyone should die the way he died; and I also feel awful that because I have found it impossible to participate in the outpouring of love over his passing, because of the kind of person he was.
I wanted to post that - to say my truth about this person, my truth, from my experiences. But how do you get such sentiments across in a forum that is actually so disconnected from empathy, so far from 'Social'? The sad truth is that posting my feelings about that on FB that would earn me a clear conscience...and an endless, endless river of shit. So I'm taking the advice of Pat Morita: "Best way avoid punch? No be there."
I want the truth, I want real congenial discussion; and if these things were water, FB would be the Sahara. So Facebook...I'm done with you.