Last fall, for about three months, I took a sabbatical from Facebook. Every 3-4 weeks I would log on to check my notifications to see if I had missed anything. Other than the happy birthday well-wishes I received at the end of September, I missed nothing critical.
During the sabbatical, I began to understand how the platform was manipulating me. One of my more disconcerting discoveries was that Facebook capitalizes on our lower brain functions, the areas where we respond by instinct rather than our higher-level functions. Facebook does this, and it does it purposefully because Facebook is a part of the “attention economy.” They are competing for your attention with other social media platforms, with other forms of media, etc. All’s fair in love and war, so Facebook has targeted the parts of us that will most likely hook us and keep us coming back for more.
The last paragraph likely affected how many people will see this post.
The effects of their manipulation on public discourse have been disastrous. I joined Facebook in 2007/2008 when the platform was much different. By 2012, things had changed to the point that I doubted this platform was suited for thoughtful, nuanced, and edifying discussions. I know others feel the same way because some folks on my newsfeed work really hard to offer substantive, carefully-worded thoughts. Generally, though, the topics are benign with little controversy. But when I see anything approaching controversy, I know the post is a few finger movements away from a mosh-pit of virtue signaling, dunks, angry faces, and clicks on “unfollow” or “unfriend.”
Among the assorted consequences of social media usage is one of particular importance: we have been trained to assume that anyone who holds a different or an opposing point of view has evil intent. Make no mistake: it is in the financial interests of media companies to make us hate one another. And the fault does not lie with them, it lies with us. We have allowed them to train us in the art of hatred.
Here’s a simple suggestion that will substantially change your participation on Facebook: when you run across a post that hits you the wrong way, or has a tone you don’t prefer, or makes you really, really angry, stop for a moment and ask, “Why would a reasonable person believe this?” Strive to assume the person either spoke in good faith, or used poor judgment, or has a difficult time expressing themselves, or is misinformed, or all of the above. As your lesser angels tug on you, force yourself to be gracious, generous, and kind. If we all aspire to such virtues, we may not change Facebook, but we will change ourselves for the better.
Love, “…believes all things…” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).