A new ‘rithm: Depending less on Facebook

The past few years, I have had a love hate, mostly hate, relationship with Facebook. While it has kept me connected to people I love who are far away, it has also manipulated me and used my data to promote hate and violence with no concern, particularly, for the lives of young people. I’ve never been naive. I always knew I was the product. And I’ve used the product. I’ve used your data to promote my churches and my own writing and endeavours.

Spending the past few years learning from anti-racist movements, I’ve learned that my complicity in white supremacy and capitalism contributes to their growth and the oppression of others. I’ve also learned how intricately and completely I am immersed in these systems. I can only start with me and the choices I am offered many, many, many times a day.

Two things really got me thinking about this. First was an article by Mirko Petricevic this past June on Academica Forum, “Hybrid or Hummer? Our pivot away from Facebook“. As Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Martin Luther University College (where I am currently pursuing a PhD), Mirko was part of a committee that investigated not only how effectively social media was driving traffic to and interest in Luther, but also how Luther’s social media reflected the school’s values, particularly around building just, inclusive, and caring systems. The result, among others, was a drastic reduction in their use of Facebook.

The second reason was far more personal, and reflects how I introduced this post. As my body has cried out for more care and attention the past 2 years, I began to evaluate how much energy I was putting into efforts and relationships that took more than they gave. Facebook takes a lot. Not only does it take my data and oh so much time, it manipulates my choices and uses subtle and effective programming to draw me into conversations that will increase my anxiety. It keeps me sucked into conversations with people I will never meet face to face and, therefore, probably won’t be greatly impacted to change their lives from my gotcha comment that I spent 45 minutes composing. Increasingly, I don’t like who I become on Facebook. What I do like is who I become when I am intentionally spending quality time with people I love and admire. I become open, curious, empathetic, and I learn a lot that sticks and sinks into my heart and bones.

For many of us, and many churches, the past two years have been the absolute worst time to look too closely at Facebook’s corporate sins. The COVID pandemic necessitated products like Facebook Messenger and Facebook Live for us to remain connected as families and communities. When I first read Mirko’s article in June and started sharing it in clergy networks, the two most common reactions I received were, “There are some really good points in there” and “But our church would not have survived the pandemic without Facebook.” I know this is true. A crisis is a very difficult time to be picky.

But, now, the crisis has died down. While we are at a relatively quiet phase of this pandemic, as we are still in warm enough weather to meet outside (at least for another week or so here in southern Ontario. It is November 6 and I am sitting outside writing this post), and before we all move back indoors and infections increase and we look towards online tools again, maybe now is a good time to start re-evaluating how we present ourselves to the world.

So, what am I doing to take down the evil corporate Meta overlords and replace them with an ethical model of online promotion and connection? Well, not a whole lot. What am I doing to disentangle myself from dependence on Facebook not only for promotion but connection with loved ones? Well, here’s a small start.

  1. I don’t check Facebook unless something directs me there. It was a hard habit to break let me tell you. I turned off my notifications for a start and signed up for more email newsletters and set up an RSS feed for blog posts.
  2. I don’t accept requests to like pages.
  3. I accept very, very few connection (I refuse to say friend) requests. Only from folks I think of regularly outside of social media and care not only about their professional relationship but their lives and loved ones. Would I bring this person a casserole if they were sick? Would I even know if they were sick if they didn’t post it on Facebook? Yes? Accept. Do I only know this person from parishes I have served? Yes? Delete. Everyone else. Delete.
  4. I am exploring subscription based tools for remaining connected to my networks. Paying for something that is so integral to our lives seems fair and, frankly, ethical. I can also reasonably expect in this transaction that the tool is motivated to protect my privacy.

The biggest change is how I will be using my professional Facebook page . I have used my Facebook page as a kind of blog over the years as well as promoting events from my networks. As I have used the page less and less, I notice when I do post I get a lot less engagement. Gotta keep feeding the machine to get anything out of it. However, there are still folks there who are interested in what I think, and I am always grateful for their comments, questions, and critiques.

From now on, I will be using my Facebook page solely for sharing when I post something to my new blog www.dawnleger.ca. I will ask you to post your comments directly on my blog post and not on my Facebook page. I will respond much faster to comments on the blog post itself. I am also putting together an email newsletter I will always ask you to subscribe to using the form in the footer of my blog. I have no plans to monetize my blog, although I will share in the newsletter events I may be hosting (stay tuned!) and may ask for your support. Eventually, I will evaluate the necessity of Facebook and re-consider my strategy.

But, Dawn, I see you posting all the time on Instagram and Twitter! You are right. The truth is I get way more value out of those two platforms. I curate an Instagram timeline of beauty, humour, kindness, animals, and babies of my former youth group kids. Twitter is where I follow and engage a variety of important voices, including progressive and deconstructing Christians, Indigenous writers and activists, Black and Asian academics, LGBTQ2+ artists, womanist writers, and news sources I trust. Are their algorithms just as bad? Yes. Am I doing anything about those? Not at the moment, but I am open to suggestions.

One of the qualities of Facebook is there are many, many, people and pages who get as much thought as the .5-3 seconds they appear on someone’s phone or computer screen. The fact that you made it here to my blog and have read this post means a lot to me. Thank you. I hope you will subscribe to my newsletter (just scroll a little farther to the end and look to the right) and maybe even make the trip from Facebook over here once in a while.

I’m curious if you have recently changed your relationship with Facebook or social media. How do you deal with the multitude of platforms? What do you need most from your social media platforms?

5 thoughts on “A new ‘rithm: Depending less on Facebook”

  1. I appreciate this post. As you point out, Facebook falls into the category of “if the product is free, you are the product.” But I’ve also been thinking, in the past few years, about how Facebook doesn’t just commodify its users (which it does, to the highest bidders), but it also employs them.

    I think you hit on that with, “It keeps me sucked into conversations with people I will never meet face to face and, therefore, probably won’t be greatly impacted to change their lives from my gotcha comment that I spent 45 minutes composing.” This is labour that you are doing for Facebook. In exchange for this labour—your efforts to populate their platform with content, activity, engagement—you are paid with access to said platform.

    For a time, this seems a fair price, right? Keep up with old friends and family who are distant, organize events with local friends, discover the neighbourhood. Share your opinions and your creativity. All you have to do is spend some time on data entry (your data), exposing yourself to ads and keeping your loved ones and wouldbe stalkers hooked. And I do think this works, for a time. I used to take photos—in both my professional and in personal lives, http://mdtownsend.com/photography/religious-photos for example—and posted them endlessly to Facebook. People seemed to like them. I got attention, which I liked, but also brought housebound friends on hikes in the mountains and shared beauty, where I saw it.

    For me, as an American, this all fell apart in 2016. The hatred that was spreading across America was clearly very active on Facebook, and I reached a point of disgust with the platform. I also found that my photos didn’t seem to attract the same attention. They weren’t related to the need to lock up or not lock up Hillary Clinton, so they weren’t really getting attention anymore. As my travels destroyed my lenses and my audience likewise fell apart, I stopped posting photos… and taking them. I came to question everything about what I was doing on Facebook and what I hoped to get out of it. I couldn’t really answer my own questions. And when I tried to shift to the work they wanted—sending those carefully crafted political missives to angry people I’ll never meet—I also disliked what I was becoming. Vain, arrogant, tiresome.

    And at the end of the day, what do you call someone who is an asset and a labourer? A captured viewer and an active content creator? I am uncomfortable with this.

    > How do you deal with the multitude of platforms?

    I’ve moved increasingly to private, simpler, direct-communication platforms. I encourage friends to connect with me on Telegram or to email or call me. The idea of Twitter attracts me, but I don’t have the energy for it. I only really like long threads, which would do just as well on other platforms (e.g. Reddit, which often encourages longwindedness). Or, you know, I could read a magazine article or something. Instead of acting like I’ll help people by really digging into #blackpeopletwitter, I could subscribe to Black-owned magazines/digital pubs and actually put my money where my mouth is.

    > What do you need most from your social media platforms?

    For them to be social. When I ventured online 25 years ago, the best way to communicate was with IRC—internet relay chat. Most people congregated by interest group. I made friends I met in person, and connected with people (wonderful, wretched, communicative and unreal) that I still think about. It was stupid, but it was also kind of magical. I miss those days.

    I wasn’t always my best self there, either, but I don’t regret my time chatting on IRC. I regret nearly all of my time on Facebook, including my present engagement in it. It is awful. It is useful for genocide. It is filled with hatred. It has helped kill hundreds of thousands of my home country’s citizens via COVID misinformation. Its creator knows these things, and yet they continue.

    So, I need my social media platforms to be social, magical, stupid, and not purpose-built for division and hatred. I also need them to stop being platforms, where every element if the system is controlled by one person or a handful of people with profit motives. And I think that was part of what made IRC kind of neat, even if it was also hot garbage. It was never really a platform.

  2. I don’t disagree with anything that you have written. I used to use Facebook to keep up with wise opinion makers (among whom I think of you, Jesse, and Leigh specifically) Now, there’s not so much sharing going on.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I am grateful for the ways you and I have connected through Facebook. I value your encouragement and critical questions. Somehow it feels less safe than it once was. You are right. Less sharing and more prognosticating. I like a quote from Diana Butler Bass I heard from her recently: I have many convictions but very few conclusions. Conclusions are rampant on Facebook.

  3. I hate to be That Guy, but Twitter is far, far worse than Facebook as far as toxicity goes. What Zuckerberg has done is evil, but I am convinced that Twitter actually changes one’s behavior for the worse.

    1. Twitter can be a cesspool for sure. It’s a simpler platform, though, so I don’t find I get sucked in like facebook does. Facebook makes me angry and energized. Twitter is such that I can just roll my eyes and scroll on by. It is the place, though, where I learn the most from experts, Indigenous people, and racialized people. But everyone is different.

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