On why I'm mad at Facebook

When I first joined Facebook more than 10 years ago, it asked me for my political views. I answered “politics are a joke”. I still believe that.

I’ve watched the State of the Union Address every year since it was an assignment in high school government class to watch it. To me this has represented a Cliff’s Notes version of Current Events. In other words, I’m your typical civically unengaged Millennial. But not so much because I don’t care (although to be fair, as a white, educated, born-middle-class citizen I haven’t personally really needed to care much), it’s just that modern American politics have always seemed like an unattractive, corrupt system full of liars, sell-outs, and uncompromising raised voices. 

Six years ago I went to go see the Michael Moore movie Capitalism: A Love Story at the dollar theatre by myself. I don’t recall how, but I had heard “things” about Michael Moore, and I fully believed I was sinning by going to see one of his films. But I went anyways, I think because I was craving to understand all perspectives, even the ones I was “born with”, and even if I had to allow anti-traditional, “impure” ideas into my mind in order to do it. I tweeted much of my inner life back then, and this was my tweet either during or shortly after that movie:

“I refuse to live in a country like this. And I’m not leaving.” — Michael Moore #foodforeatingnotthought #shoulditweetthisornot?

That hashtag “#shoulditweetthisornot” I remember using very clearly. I used it because I was nervous about putting it out on my public record that I was watching one of Michael Moore’s films (sinning). But the truth is, if there was any truth in that movie (and documentaries usually have some truth to them by definition) I was attracted to it. This was sort of my “coming out” tweet. And by that, I mean that I dared to become a person who was willing to think for herself, to develop an informed opinion based on as much information as I knew was available.

Developing an opinion has always been a hard thing for me. I remember in 4th grade writing a report about a historical figure (I don’t remember who). Part 3 of the report criteria was “Your Opinion”. I misunderstood that as meaning “optional” and didn’t do it at all. I remember in 5th grade, we got weekly journal-writing assignments about controversial topics. I went home and asked my mom what her opinion was, and then I adopted that as my own. Later in my education, the phrase “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” rang particularly true, so I avoided having or stating opinions simply because I knew I didn’t know everything (or even enough) to formulate a legitimate one.

The day after I watched that documentary, I was matched with a very progressive man on eHarmony and married him 4 years later. And now, there’s Bernie Sanders: as far as I can tell, the first political figure in recent history to remove the politics from his politics.

But about Facebook. Why I’m mad at it.

I’m thinking about how it’s being used in recent years. I know I’m not the only one with this struggle — seeing post after post, meme after meme, in our Facebook news feeds from people on either side of every controversial issue; a new topic pretty much every week. Taking sides. Perpetuating the polarization of American politics. One might even call it a special kind of civil war. I could post a long collection of examples (I think I’ll start a collection), but I’m thinking of those posts that confidently claim black-or-white Truth without the socially difficult requirements of confrontation, conversation, relationship. Things that result in the unspoken alienation of some friends and family from each other.

“How easily we dismiss one another, often without a much bigger body of work than a few sentences. Conversation is far less common, replaced by a series of competing monologues in search of a kill shot. — John Pavlovitz

Slight tangent. Protests are an important part of democracy. They are very uncomfortable to people who don’t like change, don’t want the status quo messed with, etc. but they’re very important in a true democratic society where the people have a voice. I went to a protest this past year for the first time with my husband. It was extremely uncomfortable and I avoided news cameras to the best of my ability, for the same reason that I hashtag-tweeted #shoulditweetthisornot, but at the same time, I wanted to be there because I believed in the cause.

On Facebook, protests can be anywhere from passive to aggressive. Or passive-agressive. But whatever it is, it’s not working. For many reasons, but here’s two:

  1. Because people simply unfollow those whose opinions are too uncomfortable, perpetuating networks of likeminded tribes.
  2. Because Facebook isn’t set up for legitimate debate.

I don’t know what it’s actually set up for anymore.

I believe that Facebook has developed a very important role in society, a very important social responsibility that is acutely different from the traditional definition of “corporate responsibility”. It would certainly be an interesting experience to work at Facebook; I hope they’re taking this seriously.


Hannah Downey

CX Design Consultant at Salesforce focused on content & sustainability. I love information design, the art+science of text, guac, sweet potatoes, & amazing people.

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