I have been on Facebook since you had to have an .edu email address. Back when there was no News Feed, no Groups, no Pages, no Live, none of the life-overriding accoutrements that Facebook now bears. I have nearly walked away many times, but Facebook’s benefits (as well as that I have to have an account, as a professional social media manager) keep bringing me back.
Over the years, I have started and stopped many articles about Facebook’s weird and sometimes distressing social phenomena, specifically friending and stalking. I have yet to finish a piece because Facebook changes like the wind and the piece no longer seems relevant or timely. However, one thing has remained the same: the arbitrary “friend” connection obfuscated by the artificial nature of the platform combined with the Internet’s greatest evil: the ability to say and do what you like from behind the safety of your screen.
I don’t typically unfriend people, because I’m selective about who I add in the first place, especially in the age of bots. I’m unfriended a lot, mostly by my grade-school acquaintances who now wear MAGA hats. When I noticed I’m unfriended by someone, it’s usually — I hate to say this…or do I? — old white men.
Old White Man #1
I knew him from community theatre, back when I did that. He was approaching 60, and a teacher. We’ll call him Bob. One day, I shared a fairly lengthy article discussing school dress codes and how many of them featured more restrictions on girls’ clothing. The article also detailed some incidents in which girls were sent home or even suspended for clothing that was about as provocative as a paper bag.
Cue Bob with a rant about “how those girls dress and act now” and how he was often distracted by “slutty clothes these girls are wearing these days” (ew).
He taught middle school.
Then he slammed me for sharing “liberal propaganda” and told me to “think for myself.”
Rather than outright question him about how his professionalism apparently couldn’t keep him from ogling his pre-teen students, I ignored the propaganda comment and attempted a friendly debate. I pointed out that the article described the bias implicit in the codes and that subjective assessments of clothes were affecting girls’ education.
Bob unleashed a tirade that went as such.
Oh, whatever. You’re a kid [I was 26 at the time.] If you’re not going to listen someone OLDER, someone with EXPERIENCE, then fine. Good. Done. Bye.
Old White Man #2
When the 2015 Paris attack happened, it of course was all over the news and social media, and the profile picture filter came down to allow everyone to show their solidarity. Emotional about the attack, I donned the filter.
That same week, several dozen were killed or injured in terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip. I and many people I knew felt that, politics of the situation aside, that terrorism is inexcusable and deaths of innocents are always to be mourned. Not wanting to be selective in my sympathy, I removed the filter and shared an article about the violence in the Middle East.
Cue a series of condescending comments by someone who to this day I cannot recall how I met. He somehow interpreted my post to mean that I didn’t care about the Paris attacks and instead only cared about attacks on Christians. “There’s so much more to the world that your dogma is blinding you to,” he wrote. “Open your eyes and think about other people’s experiences. Think for yourself! Christianity is making you stupid.”
I’m a Pagan. My partner is atheist.
I tersely responded as such, and reiterated that even if I were a Christian, his comments were rude.
He responded with, “As a man with experience who’s seen the world, I’m trying to help you expand your mind.”
I said, “Listen, I don’t know how I know you, but you don’t know me.”
He said, “I guess I don’t.”
Then he unfriended me.
Okay. Bye, Felicia.
Old White Man #3
One day, I was in a bit of mood (it happens) and posted, “Why do people have to be assholes?” I got a lot of comments exhibiting various types of humor, and one serious one, from an acquaintance, mid-60s, named Joe.
He left a giant comment going on about handling the world with maturity, and how if I worked on my own happiness, I wouldn’t be bothered by people who did things I didn’t like (nevermind that my deliberately vague post was about drivers breaking all the laws of traffic) and all that he’s learned in his life has shown him that we are in charge of our own destiny, and blah blah blah.
Then he added that once I “grew up a bit,” I’d see it too.
Now I was mad. As a survivor of domestic violence who worked through college and had brushes with homelessness, as well as driving in Florida, I have had my share of experience with assholes. I told Joe that my post wasn’t about people “doing things I didn’t like,” but rather things that no one should like, and that asshole behavior was a thing.
He responded with “Now now, namecalling doesn’t get you anywhere. Focus on yourself. Don’t be childish.”
The corollary to positivity culture is the demand that we all look away when someone misbehaves and “focus on yourself” as though that will change anything. That’s a good way to get sideswiped or rear-ended (keeping the driving metaphor).
Joe left a few more comments outright calling me “childish” for “namecalling,” then unfriended me.
Facebook “friending” allows you to build an artificial connection to someone you may not know well in real life. But that means you each rely upon the headlines in their feed to assess each other. You immediately label them in whatever political or other box system you have in your brain, and if you are of an entitled mindset, you assert your own opinions, no matter what
“side of the aisle” you’re on, forcefully, ignoring the very complexities of each individual. Facebook is, ultimately, not complex. A Facebook profile is a compilation of links, photos, and other surface markers of someone’s consciousness. Facebook’s algorithms then run with this material to forge an artificial network that’s geared toward making them money.
What’s most intriguing about these unfriending incidents is they were all older white men who all trumpeted their “experience” while talking down to me. Were I a young man and they older women, I believe the exchange would have gone differently. They all misinterpreted what I shared on social media, yet clung desperately to the label they’d boxed me in. Based on that, they felt entitled to comment on my small-mindedness, my bigotry, my ignorance. They all told me to “think for myself” and demanded that I respect their age and experience.
Without knowing me in person, they let their misogyny and entitlement dictate their “conversation” with me. I put that in quotes because Facebook “debate” is rarely that. Proper debate involves points and counterpoints, rhetoric and evidence, procedure and politeness. Facebook “debate” involves ad hominem attacks, sealioning, and expressing one’s response in GIFs. Facebook “debate” is a means for people to assert their own biases with all the rudeness, while that wonderful screen buffers them from consequence.
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