If I were to write an obituary for Facebook, it might look something like this:
Facebook, The, 12, of Boston died in the early months of 2017, after a long illness stemming from the 2016 election cycle. Born of Mark Zuckerberg, survived by Instagram. In lieu of flowers, please click on an ad on the Facebook sidebar while you check messenger every now and then.
The Facebook, known as Facebook or FB for short, was invented as a tool to connect users with friends, family, and occasionally brands. The social network became a death knell for high school reunions, as we no longer had to schlep back to our hometown to see how fat the star football player had gotten, or how successful the school nerd had become. We use the service to connect with old classmates, coworkers, and neighborhood friends.
Millennials like myself can see on Facebook how our entire adult lives have evolved. I joined as a college student, and through the years I’ve announced a new boyfriend, then fiancé, then husband, then all three of our pregnancies on the social network. Every job change, every move, every everything got its own Facebook post. Most of my photos of the last ten years have disappeared from computers and hard drives, but still live on Facebook’s servers.
That’s what makes my slow breakup with Facebook that much more surprising to everyone, myself included.
The Negativity Has Gone Viral
Since the end of the 2016 election, and especially since it resulted in the victory of Donald J. Trump as president, Facebook has become utterly intolerable. I took the application off my phone when I realized, a few days after the election, that I felt angry every time I scrolled through my newsfeed, and that this sour mood was affecting how I spoke with my co-workers, who happen to be my children (I’m a stay-at-home mother by profession). Deleting the application made me feel more disconnected from these online friends from all walks of my life, but also happier and more calm.
One of my many friends also feeling this way, Sarah Barak, wrote on Facebook recently: “I feel hectored. I’ll be happier if I unfollow the worst offenders. It’s just too much and the constant negative coverage is affecting my happiness.” It’s not just in our imaginations; there’s plenty of social science research that indicates surrounding oneself with Negative Nancies has a way of turning you into a Negative Nancy also. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems many who were once politically ambivalent at best are now caught in a negative feedback loop, perpetually hysterical because all of their friends are as well.
The problem with Facebook political rants is this: It is not Twitter. I do not “follow” my high school best friends because of their insightful political commentary; I want to see updates on their lives and pictures of their adorable children. Unlike Twitter, I don’t want to unfollow or unfriend them because of their rants, because if I do so, I’ll miss out on the all-important baby announcements and updates.
When Everybody Owns It, Nobody Cares for It
If all you’re using Facebook for is to yell into the digital void about politics, you will find your audience for such rants is getting smaller by the minute. Sorry, random friends from all walks of life: I just don’t care what you think about Donald Trump today.
I hoped the tone would improve post-election, but with the inauguration and every statement or story out of the Trump administration, the hysteria remains at a fevered pitch. And I’m sick of it.
My solution, and that of many friends, has been significant or total disengagement from the social network, shifting usage to Instagram instead to catch most of those important baby and kid pictures.
With different interface and policy updates over the course of the last decade, many have written premature obituaries for The Facebook. The year 2016 saw many deaths, but one of the most notable may in the end be Facebook, destroyed by the obnoxious tendencies of those who built it: its own users.