Monday, January 23, 2017

Facebookiversary: the antisocial media

Last week I had mentioned that it was my Facebookiversary - ten years of Facebook membership. I reflected on some of the blessings of Facebook, and had intended to think about the problems associated with it. That post didn't materialise last week, but here it is, Facebook's antisocial aspects.

1. Facebook can be addictive
Have you ever stopped to consider just how often you check your social media? How long you can go without checking, scrolling, posting or commenting? For some, it's the first thing they read in the morning, even before getting out of bed, and the last thing they see at night, even after the light goes out. That may include me, on occasion.

There are probably a few aspects to its appeal. Most people are inherently nosy, wanting to see what other people are up to. But perhaps even more than that, we want to know what other people think of us. So we'll post a status update, or a comment, or a photo, and then check to see if anyone has liked it or replied to it. Scientists have even suggested that the Dopamine hit in our brains can be as strong as any other addictive behaviour.

The Facebook app seems to tie into this addiction. I've noticed that if you've scrolled through your timeline, and you go to close the app, the feed will quickly refresh and show you the glimpse of something new at the top, tempting and teasing you to not leave, but just to see this one new item. And so on, and so on... Addictive, and therefore needing a remedy.

2. Facebook distracts us from real life
I've been in a few situations where a group of young adults are gathered together in the same room, but we were scattered in virtual worlds of our own. Physically gathered, but digitally separated, as we browsed our phones, visiting Facebook or Twitter or whatever the social media app of choice. It's why some people stack their phones in the centre of the table, with the first person to check their phone liable to pay for the meal! With so many out-there social possibilities, we can almost take for granted the flesh and blood people beside us. Let's be present where we are.

3. Facebook presents a distorted image of reality
While we're addicted to it, and distracted from the people beside us, Facebook also lies to us, by presenting a false version of reality. Everyone is a publisher and an editor, as they broadcast their carefully curated version of their life. If some people's Facebook statuses were to be believed, these people never have a bad day, nor a hair out of place, nor get annoyed. And so we compare our regular, normal life with the picture perfect perception of others' lives, and feel inadequate or dissatisfied. Let's remember the health warning as we observe the 'perfect lives' of others.

4. Facebook seems to be spammy
Whether it's the sunglasses sale, the unbelievable giveaways (just like and share to annoy all your friends with this non-competition so we can access their details too), or the hackers making fake profiles, Facebook seems to be a spammer's paradise. My response is always to report, block, or unfollow the offenders, but now it seems some spammers are finding new routes to provide their content - via links rather than status updates. You rarely hear of anyone winning these amazing giveaway competitions - so don't click on something that's spammy!

5. Facebook trades on your name
As someone said before, if you're not the paying customer, then you're the product being sold. This probably links into the spamminess, but our personal data can be big business. When advertising is all about impressions (views and clicks), then the efforts to get people viewing content becomes a never-ending arms race of fake news, clickbait and sponsored posts. We're not being paid to view them, so Facebook must be getting paid to show them to us. While imagining that we're in control, that it's our feed and our friends, we discover that we're being sold to the companies paying for access to our devices.

Facebook - bane or blessing?
So after ten years of Facebooking, and some thoughts on the pros and cons, what of the future? While there are some annoyances, and some antisocial elements, it seems that we'll not get rid of social media just yet. With wisdom, we can filter out some of the worst excesses - report, unfollow, unfriend, block - and watching how much we indulge in Facebook. There are some positives, which can be helpful for the Christian and for ministry. Will you be my Facebook friend?

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