The Other Face of Facebook

Part 1 in a series

A few months ago I blogged about how fantastic social media can be during an extreme weather event. The Facebook group for my neighborhood was a much-needed source of information, entertainment, and connection during a snowbound week.

It’s true that Facebook enriches my life. My Facebook feed has brought me wisdom, creative expression, long lost friends, writing jobs, amusement, and fascinating news stories, local and global.

But then there’s the other face of Facebook. Take the aforementioned neighbors’ page, which can be quite helpful, not just in a crisis. We’ve returned lost dogs to their owners, rallied to raise money to protect our public art, and urged each other to support small businesses during a grueling winter.

All good. And why is it that seemingly every other day, there’s arguing and accusation and drama all over that page? Why do so many discussions devolve into a pissing contest?

The nutty thing is how compelling it can be, like some kind of reality TV show that’s simultaneously grotesque and addictive. Even though I rarely engage, it’s hard to look away. With Herculean strength I resist the urge to read every argumentative comment thread.

The joke’s on us. I can’t remember where I saw it (probably on Facebook), but someone wondered what a person from the past would think if the smartphone had been foreseen: “Someday, we’ll have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the sum total of human knowledge. We’ll be able to connect instantaneously with anyone, anywhere. And we’ll use it to watch kitty videos and pick fights with strangers.”


Obligatory Cute Kitty

(I have friends on the neighbors’ page, but many of the participants are relative strangers, except through their repeated appearance in that forum. Come to think of it, what’s crazier than arguing with strangers? Lurking among the arguing strangers.)

I blame the physiological response that accompanies a “hit” online. There’s a corresponding hit of dopamine. That spells addiction.

Photo by Michael Schlinge, via Flickr Commons

Photo by Michael Schlinge, via Flickr Commons

Still, my energy healer friend Merry Henn has found the Internet to be a partner in healing. “Through Facebook I have found that what I am feeling on a particular day is often being experienced by many others. The Internet is our energetic connection made manifest. It has a collective consciousness, and often the exact resources we need will appear before we even ask for them. Just be aware that prolonged computer exposure scrambles your energies.”

Perhaps it’s all about the intention we set, or the mindfulness with which we seek. Clicking around mindlessly, I sometimes seem more likely to encounter collective fear/unconsciousness than than collective wisdom. Before I know it my energy is in a downward spiral.

But then I’ll see something redemptive, some kindness or insight. Example: musician friend Sean Flora recently pointed out that whenever someone “spouts some godawful crap…there is some kind of hurt behind it.” He noted that in online interaction, it’s harder to remember that a hurt little child is driving the diatribes. He spoke of finding a path to connection and compassion—while recognizing how our own hurts might affect others.

A good thing to remember in both online and face-to-face conversations.

What about you: How do you experience social media forums like Facebook?

Next up: More on social media addiction, and strategies.

4 thoughts on “The Other Face of Facebook

  1. I think what our Facebook community needs are Face to Face Debates, Mud Wrestling Teams, Food Fights at “Jackamos” – drunken brawls at ” Black Acre” – call it ‘Saloon Night’…and then Forgiveness Parties during ‘Luminaria’??? eyeball to eyeball – skin to skin…let’s bring it back…sounds kinda fun.

  2. I was a “late” Facebook joiner, but once I hopped on the bandwagon, I thought it was great. Now, due to illnesss, I find it too taxing to look at FB for more than messages sent to me. I feel like I’m missing quality posts from people i care about, but I AM NOT missing the drama. I like your summation! It’s spot-on!

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