Saturday, June 23, 2018

'Faceversary' musing

Yesterday was my “Faceversary”, the name that Facebook gives for the anniversary of when someone first joined (June 22, 2007 was mine). The graphic above is the opening still from the video that Facebook makes for people’s Faceveraries, something that actually fascinates me because it automates what it picks up and puts into “slots” in the video format (in fact, it’s basically the same video as last year’s.

As it happens, the day before that I saw several Facebook friends complaining about “all the politics” on Facebook. Yesterday I got my usual email alert from Statista about the success of various Apps that Facebook owns (that graphic is below). Funny when worlds collide like that, no matter how slightly or unimportantly.

The reactions to “all the politics” varied from urging people to be kinder to each other right though to announcements of “muting” people (a way of hiding what friends post for a short time) to get away from political posts “from all sides”. I understand the impulses at play, but not completely.

First, and easiest, people really should be kinder to other people. Even when they know the person they’re being unkind to, and especially when they don’t, they don’t know what might be going on at that very moment with the person they’re being unkind to. I don’t think it’s worth it to run the risk of making things worse for someone by being unkind to them.

The other issue is that too many people think that their ideological or political adversaries are the exact opposite of themselves. But most people share common concerns at the most basic level: Food, shelter, safety. We may see the problems and solutions completely differently, but we very often we start from a similar—possibly even the same—place. Yet we constantly lose sight of that.

People are people, and I doubt any human is capable of being kind 100% of the time. At any moment we might lose our patience for whatever reason, or just not have our rhetorical brakes engaged. The point is that we should strive to be kind to other people when we can, recognising it won’t happen all the time.

Being kind is how we ought to treat others in general, and not just when it comes to politics. Talking about sports, movies, TV shows, books, restaurants—literally anything can lead people to say unkind things to others. So, I don’t think it makes sense to talk about being kind to others only within the context of politics.

While I can understand exhortations to be kinder, I can’t really understand why people get so upset about what other people post. My own Facebook friends post all sorts of things, and if they post something I don’t like or disagree with (for whatever reason), I can “hide” that post and I won’t see it again. I’ve done that a lot over the years.

But “muting” someone means we don’t want to see the authentic person. What people post is an expression of what concerns them, and collectively posts show the current zeitgeist as well as history unfolding in real time. Hiding all posts from someone means we’re missing out on seeing and knowing what is important to the people we know.

To be clear, I’m not talking about people who are abusive or who say horrible things. For people like that, “unfriending” and blocking is always an option, but that’s a pretty brutal solution. Instead, we can unfollow their posts if we don’t want to see their stuff but don’t want to “unfriend” them (like because of some sort of close personal connection to us). And, if someone seems obsessed about a subject, one can still “mute” them temporarily.

What I don’t understand is the need some people have to publicly announce they’re doing that, even when they don’t mention names. While it might give a suggestion to someone else, it can also end up being a not-too-subtle warning to people to censor themselves so the same fate doesn’t happen to them.

Several years ago, something like that happened to me, and because of that, I all but stopped posting anything about politics on my personal Facebook. At the time, it was because I didn’t want to upset people who disagreed with me, but I've continued that. Anyone who wants to know what I think about political things can read this blog, the AmeriNZ Facebook Page (where I do share political things), or even send a message to ask me about something, as friends do from time to time. So, in my case, it wasn’t total self-censorship.

I still rarely post anything political on my personal Facebook. That self-censorship means that anyone reading what I post there, arguably, isn't seeing the authentic me because there’s so much more that they never see.

That’s been on my mind a lot lately because these days people I know feel very strongly about various current events (I do, too), and they need to post stuff expressing what they think and feel (I do, too). I think that’s great, regardless of whether I agree with them or not, and I get a chance to see where their passions are, and the issues that people are concerned about.

By leaving politics off my personal Facebook, I’ve created a (mostly) “politics free” zone for myself, and these days that’s kind of nice, especially considering how utterly toxic Twitter and the public parts of Facebook have become.

The problem is that in some ways I feel like I’m “cheating” by effectively hiding the real me and using my other outlets for politics, something those who disagree with me can completely ignore if they want to—and they probably do. Is my choosing to do that the same as someone “muting” my personal Facebook posts? Pretty much, yes. But in my case I’m making the choice, not letting them make it for me. I don’t know if I made the “right” choice, but, regardless, I made the choice.

Besides, for all I know, they may have already muted or unfollowed me for other reasons. It happens all the time and we usually have no idea.

When I joined Facebook 11 years ago, MySpace—which I was also on—was the biggest social network. In April 2008, however, Facebook pulled head, and MySpace began its fall. Nothing has emerged since to pose a threat to Facebook’s social media dominance, which is a problem. The chart below shows how much Facebook, as well as all its Apps, absolutely dwarf Twitter, Pinerest, and Snapchat. At the moment, that seems unlikely to change.

A lot has happened to and on Facebook since I joined, including the fact that I now use it every day, and Twitter very seldom. Not so very long ago, it was the other way around. Since I joined Facebook, we’ve gone through three US Presidential elections, four New Zealand General Elections, four NZ local elections, four Australian federal elections, plus the Australian marriage equality postal survey, three UK General Elections, plus Brexit, the Irish marriage equality referendum, and so much more, including many things that weren’t at all political, of course—and people have talked about all of them.

Whatever we may think, that will continue for some time to come.

Infographic: Facebook Dominates Social Media | StatistaApplications left to right: Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram (all owned by Facebook), Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. You will find more infographics at Statista.


rogerogreen said...

Facebook - I thought all the young kids like you were doing Instagram

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Well, yes, we do. But, of course, Instagram is owned by Facebook…

As an aside, Instagram is going to start having "long form video", which means 20+ minutes (the current limit is 60 seconds). That could be very interesting.