When I first joined Facebook in 2008, it was primarily a way to remain in contact with my dad while he was deployed overseas for a year. As I went through school, and then graduated and moved across the country for college, it became a way for me to connect with new and old friends.
Now, thirteen years later, I am looking at deleting my Facebook. Here’s why:
Last month, Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made waves when he announced the creation of a parent company over Facebook called “Meta.” The basic idea is what Zuckerberg calls “the next frontier” of the internet – a virtual reality in which people can engage in connection and creativity with one another.
Think “Ready Player One,” or more recently, “Free Guy.” Meta would offer people an online existence far more interactive and immersive than we have yet known.
Here’s a promo posted to Meta’s YouTube page to give you a taste of Zuckerberg’s vision:
Human beings are wired to connect, so we can’t entirely fault Zuckerberg for trying to continue what he started with Facebook. But we should engage our critical thinking and ask ourselves a few questions before jumping aboard the Meta train: Has Facebook actually improved the ways we connect with each other? Will a new platform further that connection? Can we trust Zuckerberg’s leadership to create a safe and productive online space for meaningful relationships and work?
Let’s start with the first question: Has Facebook improved the ways we connect with each other? Has it created a more “connected” world?
The answer is a complex yes and no. The truth is, without social media, I would not be as connected with as many friends and family members. Prior to social media, it would take a phone call or a letter for me to stay in touch with those far-away friends and family, methods that take time and effort. Social media allows me to stay in the know about hundreds of friends with little effort. We can’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing.
But there are downsides to social media, and Facebook specifically.
For instance, recent evidence shows that Facebook actually serves as a tool to divide people. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen provided internal documents to the Wall Street Journal, which has been reporting on the findings. One of those findings is that Facebook’s algorithms tend to promote incendiary content.
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said the aim of the algorithm change was to strengthen bonds between users and to improve their well-being. Facebook would encourage people to interact more with friends and family and spend less time passively consuming professionally produced content, which research suggested was harmful to their mental health.
Within the company, though, staffers warned the change was having the opposite effect, the documents show. It was making Facebook’s platform an angrier place.
Company researchers discovered that publishers and political parties were reorienting their posts toward outrage and sensationalism. That tactic produced high levels of comments and reactions that translated into success on Facebook.Keach Hagey and Jeff Horwitz, “Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead” at Wall Street Journal
This leads us into the next question: Can we trust Zuckerberg’s leadership to create a safe and productive online space for meaningful relationships and work? Based on the internal documents made public by Haugen, the answer is no. Facebook is riddled with safety issues that continue to go unaddressed: crime and trafficking flourish on Facebook, Instagram chips away at the mental health of teenage girls, and free speech is hampered. Haugen recently accused Facebook of recklessly expanding into Meta without first fixing those issues.
Facebook is a business, businesses are driven primarily by profit, and Facebook’s profit depends on the amount of time and attention people pay to it. This was highlighted in Netflix’s 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma. As it turns out, social media creators and administrators engage in a great deal of manipulation to keep people online. It would seem keeping people on Facebook is more important to Facebook than the quality of the time spent on Facebook.
Facebook’s social connectivity is a good idea in theory, but much harder to implement in reality without unintended consequences.
With all of this in mind, we are led to our third question: Will a new online platform further human connection?
In his October 29 episode, Andrew Klavan of The Daily Wire opined that online worlds are removing us from what it means to be an embodied human:
…your friend is not somebody who befriends you on Facebook, or Meta now. Your friend is somebody who shows up in the flesh. This is a very important Christian idea. The Christian idea is not that you die and your soul goes to Heaven. It’s that you are resurrected in a body, that you are in some sense your body, that your body is the word that speaks the inner truth of yourself. It is God’s language – matter is God’s language for speaking His mind. You can’t be anything without a body. Your friend shows up in his body. Your wife or your husband is there in his body. To touch someone, to put your hand on someone else, to look into someone else’s eye is what life is literally all about. When you love your neighbor, you don’t love your neighbor that you don’t see. We can all do that. We’ve got to love that ugly, stupid, annoying person right in front of you.Andrew Klavan, “All Your Children Are Belong to Them” at The Daily Wire
Klavan makes an important point: Our embodied experience is valuable, and by removing ourselves to an online forum where we are essentially body-less, we are robbing ourselves of an important piece of our humanity.
I fully admit that there are benefits to social media that are making it difficult for me to cut the cord for good. I enjoy being able to stay up-to-date on the lives of friends who have moved away, and cultivating my own online presence does provide a certain sense of fulfillment. The way I see it, though, there is much more value to be found in disconnecting from the online world as much as possible to re-engage in those relationships within reach and the community around me.
So after thirteen years, I’m ready to say goodbye. Meta isn’t an inherently bad idea, but given all the problems Facebook has caused, I’m resistant to the idea that we’re ready for the next evolution in the online world. Perhaps with the whistleblower revelations and the out-of-control censorship in mind, it would be a better idea to take a step back from the online world and re-discover our connection to one another in reality.