I joined Facebook a year ago, thinking it was a really good way to stay in touch with family who live miles away – thinking it would be a lovely, cosy ‘place’ to inflict images of the domestic life I lead, upon the various far-away relatives – until I discovered that sons 1, 2 and 3 mostly didn’t share their mother’s newfound Facebook-based enthusiasm. But I kept on updating the News Feed anyway with exciting photos of newly installed radiators, the contents of a home cooked meal or the husband asleep in the chair, mid-snore – and felt a tiny thrill of excitement when those little red notifications appeared at the top of the page.
A year in and my Facebook mania has faded, and I’ve given up posting domestic-related bliss. But I quickly check in most days to see what the risible number of friends (22) I have on there have to say. And it would appear that most of my Facebook friends have, like me, absolutely nothing to say, or no desire to say it, judging by their non-appearances on the old News Feed; but I do have a few regulars who turn up present and correct every single day.
And over time it’s become clear that, whatever Facebook is – what it isn’t is a place to connect with your nearest and dearest – except if you go the private messaging way.
Because a Facebook News Feed, like every other social media, is an incoherent, facile mess and, at its worst, a playground for bullies (and not just the teenage’d ones) or those with a strident axe to grind. Not that the internet created this vociferous, rubbishy mess – the behaviours seen on social media existed well before we had the extraordinary power to publish our every thought to the world and his mother but, don’t tell me the penny’s just dropped? …..I hear you cry. Well, as I said, I only became a part of the tyranny of Facebook just over a year ago.
Back then I was living in blissful social media ignorance; now I know that any Tom, Dick or Harriet has the ability to inflict his/her political and religious viewpoints onto my Facebook page, via my friends’ share buttons – when all I actually want is a photo of their dog or that nice holiday they went on; and even those insights into my fellow Facebookers’ worlds are beginning to lose their questionable appeal.
And speaking of photos. My News Feed is now awash in a steady stream of profile pics all done out in the French tricolour – the burgeoning tyranny of the worthy-cause profile pic.
The precedents for this are the breast cancer pink ribbon and the Aids ribbon. Breast cancer is the one disease all women fear, even though heart disease kills three times as many women, but every October I am gently persuaded by social and ‘old’ media, to wear Pink. To publicly display my financial and psychological support for women with breast cancer. And what if I don’t wear the ribbon? Or don’t want to wear pink? Do I not care as much? Am I not bothered? What if I’d actually had breast cancer and didn’t want to be reminded of the fact via the wearing of a Pink ribbon? And somewhere along the line will I start to feel an obligation to wear Pink? – to feel the tyranny of the Pink ribbon?
There’s a million other equally horrid diseases out there – where are their millions of symbolic ribbons, and why am I not gently ‘forced’ into pinning them onto my unfashionable top?
And now Facebook gives you the option to temporarily re-do your profile pic, to step up to the virtual political plate and show you’re with the Facebook majority. This led to my News Feed featuring a lot of snazzy rainbows a while back and now everyone’s face is covered with the French flag and some of those faces, hiding behind the flag, have taken the opportunity to tar the entire Muslim community with the terrorist brush.
Does leaving my profile pic as it is send out the unintentional message that I don’t want to celebrate gay pride, or that I’m oblivious to the awful consequences of the terror in Paris? When all it signifies is that I don’t easily respond to the slight feeling of coercion, implicit in seeing my fellow facebookers rapidly changing their profile pics en masse, for whatever reason. And I’m too nervous for Politics – the world is a scary place, can’t I just limit my Facebook page to nice cake decorations, cat videos and ‘I F*cking Love Science’ (I can, apparently.) If I were to change my profile pic how long do I keep it that way before changing it back – does changing it back mean I’ve forgotten Paris and the lives lost?
And, in a worst case, Thought Police scenario, what could Facebook do with access to all this personal political and religious affiliation, willingly volunteered by its users? Nothing you might say. You’re overreacting. It’s on a par with posting all those cats and dogs.
In 2012 Facebook carried out an experiment for scientific purposes without telling its billions of users. In a psychological study they altered the tone of roughly 600,000 users’ News Feeds so that only positive or negative posts appeared on there. The users’ responses to such posts were then monitored with this result:
“When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”
‘massive-scale contagion via social networks’ – sounds like some deadly virus doesn’t it, or the beginnings of a scary, future, digital Apocalypse.
Despite my Facebook misgivings I’ll stick with it. It’s a lovely contagious idea to show support for the people whose loved ones were killed in Paris. A way to feel that you’re doing your small, public part against terrorism, to uphold the inclusive values of the West, and I can’t fully explain why I don’t immediately align my Facebook profile pic – but am using the tricolour on the blog that no one reads.
I’ll let Jerry Seinfeld do the explaining instead. Seinfeld recognised the double-edged nature of the worthy cause twenty years ago and this clip sums up my own Big Brother, vague feelings of disquiet.