So Long, Facebook
A couple of weekends back I had my Saturday ruined by Facebook.
It’s been getting good at that lately. I’ll be minding my own business when the reflex to check the News Feed hits. I’m not even conscious of it half the time. One second I’m looking out of the window of Republic of Pie, trying to put my chaotic thoughts into something like linear order in a fresh notebook, and the next my phone is in my hand.
Paper made scrolling through the feed fun, like a physics based game whose difficultly was set to “caveman stupid.”
Everything was fine—the usual weekend bullshit mix of food photos and political ranting I could more or less ignore—until the cat photo popped up. Not just any cat photo, but an image of a cat that had been born in my mother’s living room more than a decade ago. A cat that my friend was having to give up for adoption as he moved across country from Oakland.
The situation was known to me, I’d seen a previous plea a few weeks before. That nothing had come of the earlier Facebook requests for help was news. He was boarding a plane soon, and a cat that I had driven to her new home all those years ago might be facing a shelter or the uncertainties of the fosterage system.
This hit me like a punch in the gut. I still feel connected to that little life, still remember her cries as I took her away from her siblings to her new home. The sense that I was betraying her weighed heavy on me then and still rumbles in my chest years later.
Now I was being confronted with the legacy of that betrayal a decade on. We had lost two of the five kittens in the little and Chairman, as we had called her then because of her resemblance to Chairman Mao at birth, was one of the survivors. Worse: there was nothing I could do about it. These days I live in LA, hundreds of miles from her and from her brother Rupert, who lives with my mom. Mi madre has two other cats: their mother Quincy and another stray we rescued years ago, Garfield. (We did not name the later, we’re way better at cat names than that. I usually call him Sharkboy because he’s a biter. Also “Chunk” and “Tons of Fun” because, my God, that cat is fat. Never let anyone call a cat Garfield, it’s a cruel self-fulfilling prophecy that produces lazy felines.)
I can’t have a cat in my current apartment, no matter how much I want to bring Rupert down to live with me. My mom has the three in a one bedroom. She already has too many cats, so that rescue option was out.
It took all of two seconds for a perfectly decent Saturday afternoon to be shat on by a Facebook reminder that I am utterly powerless in many respects. Stripped of agency in a world that is lived at the pace of constant crisis.
I did the only sensible thing I could: I deleted Paper from my phone. If I couldn’t fix the problem at least I could prevent any more grief and pain—micro and macro—from seeping through my smartphone.
After that moment I was forced to reckon with the ongoing role of Facebook in my life. The News Feed is a constant parade of horrors that I have no ability to fix. I can ignore it, or I can share the pain, but it seems as if no amount of likes, shares and comments ever changes anything.
Professionally it is a wash. I see the metrics on my posts: the work I put online via Facebook is seen by a small fraction of my friends. If it wasn’t the metrics than the bald evidence that they have no clue what I do for a living shows up in some of their own online antics. Every time a friend launches a deeply flawed crowdfunding campaign I feel Zuckerberg’s blade twist in my guts. I tried to warn them, but they just couldn’t hear me.
Without a dedicated campaign to con them into sharing the fruits of my labor my work never lands in the feeds of most of my cohort. There’s always the option to pay Facebook for a privileged place in their feeds, but fuck that. I’m not paying anyone other than AT&T to talk to my friends, like my father and my father before him. Not if I have to sift through bullshit ads and Buzzfeed posts or whatever new hell beats the algorithm next.
The algorithm. There’s the culprit: lurking behind the scenes like a stage phantom. Manipulating entrances and exits, dropping unsuspecting bit players into a dark oubliette from which there is no escape. Instead of being an effective way to communicate with a broad swath of people, the algorithm turns Facebook into a defective CB radio. It is impossible to know who even had the chance to see what you post unless they respond. Actually strike that. At least with a CB everyone knows the etiquette of checking in with a “10-4, good buddy, you’ve got smokies on your tail, Bandit!”
After a couple of days of ignoring Chairman’s situation, and feeling the guilt and rage bubble up inside, I decided to put Facebook to the test. I reposted the image my friend sent out, along with an explainer. It was a call to action for my Bay Area friends. A last ditch attempt to see if I could reclaim some of the power I cede to Facebook by playing their game.
Nope. Nada. The only offering of fosterage came via a distant cousin who responded to my aunt’s reposting of the image. Said cousin lives in Amsterdam.
If I was the kind of person who could fly a cat to Amsterdam I wouldn’t be in this mess. So in a sense Facebook proved to be worse than useless: it turned out to be a generator of hollow hope.
So I’m done with it.
I’m not bothering to deactivate the entire account, the damn thing just lives on like a zombie anyway. Instead I’ll no longer post to Facebook as of 11:59 PM on Friday the 13th of June, 2014. I’ll respond to messages sent via Facebook Messenger, but only thorough the phone app or a desktop client. I won’t sign in using Facebook for anything new. If it’s the only option for a service, then that service isn’t for me.
I suppose I’ll have to clean out the “other” inbox every so often, as people foolishly use Facebook email to try and connect with each other. It never really works, messages don’t get through unless I actively remember it is even there.
To be clear: I’m not abandoning social media. I’m not walking away from the Internet. I have a personal website I’m probably more likely to update now. A Medium account that needs tending, and a Tumblr blog that can use some more attention. I still like Twitter, and I love Instagram. I recognize that Instagram is owned by Facebook. This isn’t about the problems I have with Facebook, the company—which are many—this is about the problems I have with Facebook the product. I have no place for a service in my life that reminds me on a daily basis that I am a helpless pawn in a world controlled by vast corporate forces.
It’s the same reason why I don’t watch network TV news.
I’m posting a link to this on Facebook to let my friends know why I won’t be around anymore.
Odds are none of them will see it.