Gazing into the Abyss: Is Facebook Really Broken?
I recently made the decision to leave my personal Facebook account. Find out what I learned from this experience:
I quit Facebook.
To be more precise, I quit my personal account. I deactivated it.
I don’t know. The decision certainly wasn’t an easy one for me to make. Facebook’s one of my favourite social media platforms, after all. Leaving it, to me, was like cutting ties with a dear friend.
Here’s the thing, though: These days, I don’t really recognize my friend Facebook anymore.
There’s just too much anger and negativity on my Facebook news feed that it has taken a toll on my productivity, my mental state, and my emotional well-being. Make no mistake: I’ve practiced a ton of self-restraint when it comes to commenting and sharing my views. As someone who has been a part of this industry for as long as I have, I definitely know how important social media etiquette is.
More often than not, though, I find myself overwhelmed and unable to swallow the things I’ve been seeing and reading. And after a long period of deliberation, I finally told myself: “Enough is enough.”
Is Facebook really broken?
One of the tech news sites I follow, TechCrunch, recently posted an article that resonated with me. Entitled, quite simply, “Facebook is broken,” the article talks about the entire Facebook experience, and why it seems that for most people, their Facebook news feeds are full of fake news and negativity.
The Facebook news feed algorithm determines what content to show based on your activity. This means that you’re more likely to see posts from pages or people you interact with. Of course, this also means that you’re more likely to see posts that you agree with — and while this might be good for you in terms of fulfilment and validation, it also sort of walls you in, keeping other points of view out of your sight and entrenching you and your opinions deep within your group of like-minded individuals.
At first, this may seem like an okay thing. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy having their beliefs be reaffirmed, right? Here’s the problem, though: When you don’t get to see the other side of the fence, you also don’t get to see where you might be wrong about certain things.
One of my favourite stories (I’m calling it a story because while I’ve researched its veracity and can’t say if it actually happened, it’s still worth telling) involves an experiment supposedly conducted by some researchers on five monkeys in a cage. (The details change across each retelling, but I’ll stick to the version I know.) In this experiment, a ladder was placed in the middle of their cage, with a banana at the top.
Every time one monkey would climb up to retrieve the banana, the rest of the monkeys would get doused in cold water. Eventually, it reached a point where any monkey that attempted to climb up the ladder quickly got beaten up by the rest, even after the scientists weren’t administering the cold water punishment anymore.
After some time, the researchers replaced one of the monkeys with a new one — one who wasn’t familiar with the unspoken “rule” in the cage. Of course, the new guy tried to get the banana for himself, and of course he got beaten up again. Over time, the new guy learned the rule, but without understanding why. When another monkey was replaced with another new one, the freshly indoctrinated monkey joined the rest in delivering a beatdown to the new “new guy” every time he attempted to climb the ladder.
The lesson that we’re supposed to get from that story is one about blindly and unquestioningly following the thinking patterns of the majority. What I think, though, is that there’s another lesson to be learned here: A group trapped in a contained environment (literal or otherwise) for an extended period of time will not learn anything new, will not gain new insights, and will be too strong for any new member to resist. See why being walled in your news feed is dangerous?
The Facebook news feed also tends to display more popular, viral, and widely discussed content. And what kind of content or news typically gets discussed more than negative news, right? That’s likely the reason why we see more and more of the same terrible news items being displayed on our news feeds.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not naive, and I certainly don’t believe that living in a world full of rainbows and butterflies and cotton candy is possible. I just really feel that there should be a balance between positivity and negativity on our social media feeds — and right now, it seems like negativity is dominating.
Must you really quit social media?
Here’s the bottom line: Despite the fact that social media platforms have been emerging left and right, they’re still in their teenage years, so to speak. As the years pass, they will continue to grow, adapt, change, and adjust to the dynamic needs of their users. It’s just the nature of social media — of any widely consumed service or product, basically.
However, this also means that you’ll have to be more selective when it comes to which platforms you’ll be more active on. Don’t just stick to a single social media platform; learn to branch out. This isn’t just because all of these platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses, but also because being on multiple social media platforms will give you a unique and well-rounded perspective on the things that are going on around you.
Keep an open and critical mind, and don’t put all of your eggs in a single basket. Don’t wait for the day when your favorite social media platform — or your only social media platform — becomes too toxic for you to stand.
As for me, I’m not closing the door on Facebook, nor am I downplaying its significance in my life in any way. After all, it is still an essential part of my business. Right now, though, I’m happy with keeping my personal life free from negativity and fake news — and waiting patiently for the day when I come back and see that Facebook’s just as nice, warm, and open-minded as it was in its nascent phase.
What are your thoughts about the state of Facebook these days? What does your news feed look like? Do you think I was wrong to deactivate my personal Facebook account? Please feel free to share your insights in the comments section below.
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.