Facebook Isn’t The Problem or ‘The Problem’

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I was asked to write some ideas for an online article regarding social media and the election cycle’s impact on virtual friendships. I wrote a short snippet Sunday morning and posted it. Here’s a long diatribe, so skip it if you are microwaving something and killing a moment or are currently experiencing a craving for a quick internet cat fix. (Or actually have a life and don’t like reading people’s opinions about anything, ever.) Every error is mine and thank you in advance. And no, I don’t know how to get to the point. You keep saying you don’t want memes, so read these actual words as you fall asleep and hit your head on the coffee table. 🙂
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If you feel like you are broadcasting or sharing with people you don’t know, don’t trust you, or shouldn’t be in the loop, you are doing Facebook wrong in the most basic way. Chances are, it is because no one has ever shown you how to use the tools in plain sight to talk directly to those you love, appreciate and trust – rather than everyone in the world. If you are an average user, you have a few hundred people you never engage with. They have access because you either allow it or set it up that way. You can post in such a way that they can never see it. The people who know the ‘deep’ you already know what peeves you, provides motivation, inspires you, or angers you. Just because you give voice to that doesn’t mean that you can’t control to whom you’re speaking. Every time I hear a version of the argument of ‘the dangers’ of Facebook, I imagine someone holding a shotgun, firing randomly into crowds of people. If you are holding the gun and pulling the trigger, you can aim it. You control who sees and hears what you share. If you can’t post and share to even a handful of people you deeply love and trust, you have a problem immensely bigger than Facebook.
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Sidenote: After watching dozens of people over the years, I’ve come to some unusual observational conclusions. One of them is that it is very hard for people to limit to whom they post. They might not choose ‘public,’ but overwhelmingly, ‘friends’ is the default option. In effect, you might be posting to 700 people. That’s strange to me. To increase your engagement and sense of privacy, reduce your number of friends or add them to ‘restricted’ and unfollow them. You won’t see them and they won’t see your posts until you post it publicly. I’m not sure why people are reluctant to take a few moments and use the tools available to limit to whom they are speaking, but I have a lot of theories based on what I’ve witnessed. Sociologists tell us that an average of 150 is about manageable. Even in a such a small sample, you are going to find the largest variety of opinion and crazy.
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Never giving voice to things you deem to be negative simply perpetuates the inherent flaw in social media we’ve all heard about: people overestimate the fun their friends are enjoying and conversely feel worse about their own lives. It’s because so many people superficially share the shiny things and just as in real life only whisper delicately about those things that might shed darker shadows on our lives. Everything we do, say and feel, the sum total of it all is who we are. The platforms of social media don’t share any of the responsibility for how we as participants play the game. We bring broken expectations to the game and then don’t see that we are literally using a rock instead of a tennis ball to play the game. It’s okay to be negative sometimes – but it is also imperative that you throttle the frequency, venom, and relative significance of it. While you are doing it, think about who you are sharing with and share only with those people.
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I pity those who can’t be honest or authentic on social media. People tend to denigrate the lack of authenticity of the news or on the part of those they interact with, yet rarely stop to consider that they might be doing the same by being reluctant to share the meaningful things in their lives. Facebook is literally the only place where some people get their news. Whether you believe it or not, for people you don’t seen on a daily basis, it is often the only insight others have into your life. It can be and often is the only window many peer through to know about the world. We all feel misunderstood or judged, yet don’t provide the personal backdrop that allows others to see us in a way that might reflect our natures.
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If you argue that ‘they don’t need to know,’ you are at least a part of the problem, as social media has easy tools to allow you to control who, what, when, where and how. You can share only with two people, ten, or the whole world. You can write and post to your close friends, or your family, or to only the people you work with and trust. Setting up lists shouldn’t be more work than making a nice pot of tea. If you have 800 friends, again, most of the blame falls on you. Social media is a powerful conversation tool cleverly hidden inside the mask of narcissism. If you engage with the people close to you and they reciprocate in kind, even the lowly Facebook powerfully adds meaning and access to your life. Facebook hides in plain sight, one of the best communication tools in the history of mankind. Yet, so many people look it and cast blame to the medium rather than the users.
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To get to that point, though, you have to know how the car works and being willing to learn to drive it properly. I see constant complaints about Facebook and most of the source of the complaint is rooted in unfamiliarity with how it works. People are glad to take the keys from their parents but are at a loss when they need gas or have a flat. Worse still, they then complain when the drive isn’t scenic or enjoyable.
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It’s the not the system that’s the problem. It’s you. Social media works well when used well. It works best when those involved take a moment and see that there are bigger factors than simply sharing or controlling access to your life. Absent a tendency toward personal sharing, social media is worthless to those using it. Without an embrace toward a little vulnerability, it is superficial and perpetuates all the things we tend to loathe in other people. If you feel that you can’t share without reprisal, social media isn’t for you. It is hard to quietly read people complain about what people share when I see that those complaining control access to their lives like they are in a prison camp – or gripe that they are misunderstood. Knowing people well only happens when we know their stories and have seen glimpses of the moments that define them. While it is true that it might be easier to post only superficial information under the mistaken belief it is ‘safer,’ the reality is that this retraction from sharing serves the master of the banal; while it might seem safer, it tends to foster an environment where people can’t make deeper understandings. We discuss the weather but don’t care about the responses.
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“But I don’t want everyone to know my business.” Either post nothing or learn to use the multiple and myriad tools to achieve your goal of sharing and informing without being victimized or feeling exposed. “What’s the point?” What’s the point in any communication, especially if it isn’t engaging, personal, and relevant? “I don’t want people to get the wrong idea.” People already get the wrong idea and form conclusions about you that aren’t based in reality and aren’t fair – and they are going to continue to do so whether you use Facebook or not. “Someone close to me might see it.” Oh dear, someone in your life who should be respected and respectful is going to judge you for who you are? Hmmm… “I get tired of seeing the same old thing.” Just like TV, you’re going to see the same old thing if you watch the same old channel, interact with the same old friends, or don’t use the social media platform to creatively participate. “I get mad when I see what others post.” There are tools for that. And if you find yourself getting angry a lot while reading social media, you are doing it wrong in several ways – and might need to start understanding that social media is like a room of shouting, belligerent people – if you let it be. Take control. “It seems like dirty laundry.” Yes, it might be. If you don’t want to see it, change what you see. Treat social media done correctly as a window into the life of someone you love and respect. People who use it sometimes share too much with you, just as they do in real life. If you are hearing too much anger and nonsense, you are doing Facebook wrong. Or have really lousy friends.
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It’s not ‘them,’ it is you. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
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If you think social media is nothing except the same tired nonsense, repeated and regurgitated, you have the wrong friends, or are surrounded by people who aren’t engaging creatively. The creative part is what provides the true fun and excitement to every endeavor and not just social media. You derive what you put in.
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In my case, I use it in the way I think it works best: I make most of my content and share it. I share moments, memories, and even opinions. You have a door available to get to know me better. You might not like who I am or what I believe, but you do indeed have an immense path to stroll around and investigate.
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It’s not me, it’s you. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

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