Fear and loathing on Facebook

I’m in an abusive relationship with social media – I love it, but it also
subjects me to things like Bieber fever, shocking grammar and vapid popular
discourse.

My relationship with social media is being tested. As a member of the Facebook generation, it’s not a relationship that is all that simple to remove oneself from. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and even Pinterest are simply part of my everyday routine – almost on par with brushing my teeth.

Of course, I could survive without social media for a day or three. Much like I could survive without brushing my teeth for a while. But it would feel a bit… let’s just say, ‘uncomfortable’.

But as much as social networking is part of my life, I have a love/hate relationship with it. It connects me with people and things that I care about, but – at the same time – it holds up a mirror to some parts of popular culture that make me wonder where we are headed as a society.

The latest “CutForBieber” trending topic on Twitter this week has just made me particularly aware of my despair at what people post on these social platforms – platforms which have the potential to be used in such amazing ways, and yet so many use it for little more than LOL cats, Bieber fever and general attention-seeking behaviour.

In doing some research for a recent article, I inadvertently found a poll at the top of the search results that stated: “Eighty-one percent of people hate Facebook”. Interesting that. Especially given the fact that the social network sailed past the billion-user mark last year and continues to grow.

The poll in question (on Amplicate) saw a total of 1 469 133 opinions being offered, with 1 191 084 of those being negative. Of course, that’s a mere blip compared to Facebook’s user base, but I would be willing to put money on the fact that just about everyone who took the time to pen a reason why they “hate” Facebook still has an active profile on the social network. I’m not alone – there is a pervasive underlying love/hate relationship that most of us have with popular online social platforms.

Among the reasons offered in the poll for hating Facebook were the following: its constant layout changes (which I’ll take with a pinch of salt, since most users have probably already forgotten what the last change was), how it’s too easy to create fake profiles (okay, I can see how some would find that to be a problem), that it’s depressing (sure, I too struggle with scrolling through everyone’s photos of their exotic travels and interesting lives, while I’m chained to a desk) and that it “ruins the entire life” (sic).

While this final point could have been expressed more eloquently, it is referring to the way in which Facebook can suck users into a digital social world, where one’s existence is validated by likes and comments, and posting a picture of a night out with friends is more important than actually just enjoying their company.

 

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Newsfeed assault

I’m not saying I am not at times guilty of eyeing Facebook under the dinner table or posting a picture when I should have been more present in the moment. But, it’s not so much the addictive pull of Facebook and the Twitter stream and checking the Instagram feed that makes me love to hate these platforms. It’s the people.

It’s the fact that I actually spend most of my time rolling my eyes, straining to stop my fingers from attacking the keyboard and correcting someone’s grammar/punctuation/world view, or simply just despairing at the state of modern society.

We’re in too deep to simply get out and go cold turkey.

My thought stream while scrolling down the news feed is essentially this: “No one cares. Seen that before. Why would you post that on here? No one cares. Shut up. Why are you speaking in hashtags? Learn how to spell. No one cares.” And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

Inappropriate over-sharing, atrocious grammar and general annoyances aside, though, the social networking world hit a new low this week, with the “CutForBieber” trending topic that assaulted my news feed and led me to question what value I’m actually getting from social media.

On the back of the world-changing news that Justin Bieber smoked a joint, some online opportunists seized the chance to exploit the “Belieber” insanity that is fuelled to a large extent by social media.

Using fake Twitter accounts, a group of 4chan users are said to have posted the first tweets with the #cutforbieber hashtag, calling on the pop star’s fans to cut themselves in order to stop him from smoking weed.

The topic spread like wildfire, amassing photos of teens supposedly cutting themselves in the name of the “cause”. While the authenticity of the images has been questioned and the hashtag trended primarily due to people either taking the opportunity to crack some jokes or condemn the trivialising of a serious psychological problem, the whole thing does make one wonder what exactly you’re signing up for when you join the social networks.

Escape

While Facebook started out with the intention of connecting students at Harvard, it now connects us with the whole world – whether we like it or not. Sure, it has groups and ways to filter the news feed, but there’s simply no drowning out all the idiocy. Even on Twitter, a service designed to connect people with their interests, that pesky “Trending Topics” tab serves as an oft-depressing reminder of the disappointingly trivial, vapid nature of popular discourse.

While some would say the obvious solution is to withdraw from social media, it’s just not that simple. In this day and age, it would be like severing a limb for those of us who have essentially grown up with it and who have built up what are essentially digital scrapbooks of our lives. We’re in too deep to simply get out and go cold turkey.

The social networks have become noisy, though, and overrun with the likes of Beliebers who manage to seep into my online social world despite whatever filters I may put in place.

As I become more aware of my love/hate relationship/dependence on social media, I’m starting to really understand the appeal of private social networks. Maybe they’re not just for hipsters wanting to avoid anything mainstream, or digital hermits afraid of the big bad social networks.

They could very well prove to be the answer for frustrated Facebookers seeking a way to scale down their virtual social lives and find a reprieve. I know that I, for one, am looking for such an escape – if I only I could convince some of my friends to come with me. But who am I kidding? That would be as likely as convincing them to move to Google+.

-By , Digital Media Editor at  ITWeb. Johannesburg, 9 Jan 2013

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