My online presence was born on June 8, 2000, user number 4752 (farbel) of the fledgling social networking site called LiveJournal. I had been around for a while, occasionally posting on the message boards of Ana Voog. It was from there that a number of us migrated to LiveJournal, and active blogging. Many of these people remain my friends in the age of FaceBook and in the “real” world as well.
I have always argued politics online. On Ana Voog’s message board we argued about the politics of the Clinton White House, the 2000 election, and the beginning of the second Bush presidency. During my first year on LiveJournal we made fun of President Bush’s bumbling ineptitude, expecting him to be dethroned easily in 2004. During that year, my list of friends also grew, aided by LiveJournal’s interest list search function. I felt I really knew my circle. We posted seriously about our lives, our loves, our culture, and politics, embedding multiple images, links, and videos to flesh out our words. We had posts with hundreds of comments, but they were all threaded, so you could follow individual conversations within the parent thread with ease.
15 months after I entered the world of LiveJournal, 9-11 happened. I was working in a very conservative industry. I had my second journal by then (i), and it became the place where I could really talk about the issues and concerns which mattered most to me, with people who actually thought about their answers. Many of my friendships became closer during that period of Global shock and upheaval. Some were strained, but held together despite political differences, because our conversations were more than just a series of simplistic memes, headline links, and news fabricated to tailor towards a particular belief set.
Five years later, I started hearing about a new copycat blogging site. There had been many, all trying to cut in to LiveJournal’s appeal. This one, FaceBook, had an interesting twist. It allowed you search for and/or invite all your friends to the site, and it required the use of real names to facilitate the process. One of the appeals of LiveJournal, was the ability to remain as anonymous as you chose, only revealing your actual identity to people you trusted. On LiveJournal, the writer has complete control over who sees their posts, and the reader has complete control over what they see. There is no algorithm filtering your feed. It consists simply of the most recent posts by the friends you choose to see. All of them.
Why did I move to FaceBook, you ask? Quite simply because everyone else did, including both my LiveJournal community and all the family and friends who looked upon my LiveJournaling as something eccentric, if not creepy. Overnight, it seemed, everyone in my life, past and present, was on FaceBook. So I opened an account. Here was my chance to reconnect with old friends, to stay in touch with current ones and family as well. Here was an opportunity to expose my art to millions of people.
I was soon frustrated by the platform. The basic functionality of it, from the lack of threaded comments to the difficulty in finding people with shared interests, all paled in comparison to even the early days of LiveJournal, years prior. Despite recent upgrades, it still falls far behind. I want to be able to go back and see what I said on a certain day. I want all comments threaded in multiple tiers, with my email notification taking me directly to the comment in question when I click. I want to be able to embed multiple photos within a post, in the position I choose. I want to be able to insert multiple links into the text. I want to be able to add emphasis or italics or color to my font at will. FaceBook could do all of this, but they don’t. I want to see every post of each page I like. That is why I like them. I want all the people who like my page to see all my posts. I assume that is why they liked my page. FaceBook doesn’t do this either. That is because FaceBook is not actually about communication. It is about profit.
OK, I accept that. FaceBook got so big it had to go public to continue to operate. It has to make money for its shareholders. So it charges me to show the posts on my page to more people. The problem is, it doesn’t even do that well. I would happily pay a yearly fee, for example, to assure that my page posts made it to the feed of everyone who has liked it. Instead, I am forced, if I want to promote a post, to spam hundreds or thousands of people, including the unsuspecting friends of my readers, and my post still doesn’t reach all the people who have liked the page.
FaceBook is a terrible platform for communication, full of fake news, deceptive memes, snarky twitter posts, and filters most people are unaware of that ensure you stay within your bubble, polarizing us more and more every day. It is a terrible platform for friendship, catering to the one line zingers and fake intimacy that cheapen relationships from both directions. It is a terrible site for business, withholding information from your clients, even if you pay to have it disseminated. Imagine a band which is having a show on a certain night in a certain town. they post about it, and FaceBook shows it to a random 10% of their fan base. If they pay to promote it, they show it to another 10% of that base and to a bunch of people randomly connected to them. This is insane.
But everyone is there. You have to be on FaceBook, or nobody will know you exist. This is why I came back to Facebook after deleting my entire presence a couple years ago. I came back because I wanted to crowdsource funding for a dream project of mine. I was not as successful as I had hoped in raising funds, but, more importantly, I got sucked in to the adversarial back and forth of FaceBook, the shallow jousting over critical issues, the political gamesmanship, and the just plain nastiness of this election year.
I am burned out. I want real words, strung together by thinking minds into coherent thoughts and arguments. I want beautiful, image filled posts from the people who actually made those images, and who talk about them eloquently. I want to choose what I see.
I’m not going back to LiveJournal. I still maintain my two blogs there, but the site was bought by a Russian conglomerate a few years back, and the place no longer has the feel it used to. I’m going to post here at my WordPress blog and have it automatically sent to FaceBook, in case anyone feels like clicking on it. I will maintain my photo and drawing pages on FaceBook, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the feed. It is poison.
I hope to maintain friendships with people I have met on FaceBook, but if that isn’t possible without the platform, I suspect those friendships weren’t very deep anyway.