I’m writing as a former curmudgeon. I was one of the last people to finally buckle and give up my brick phone for a smartphone, one of the last to accept that Amazon was more convenient than brick and mortar, one of the last to watch Game of Thrones. Recently, I made the latest decision in my gradual embrace of the new world: I signed up for Facebook.
Now you might ask, in 2019, isn’t Facebook the party to which I am certainly the latest, among those I’ve listed? True. But I would argue that, relative to smartphones, Amazon, and GoT, Facebook generally has the most controversial reputation; although, with Season 8, D&D certainly gave Zuck a run for his money. And I suppose most folks do harbor a love/hate relationship with Amazon (“That fatcat Bezos drove my aunt and uncle’s store out of business! Oh look, Hi-Chew is on Prime...”) And with Snowden’s NSA leaks… Okay, maybe all three of my examples are actually pretty controversial.
Nonetheless, for as long as Facebook has been a household name, all I’ve heard about it has been negative. Among the claims I have both heard and witnessed secondhand via my more with-it friends and family: Facebook presents other people’s highlight reels and makes everyone feel bad about themselves. Facebook undermines our democracy by creating ideological silos, enshrining personal biases as commonly-accepted facts. Facebook is polluted by Russian bots and MLM spam. And on and on.
However, I must say, having recently signed up and sent out a whole swath of friend requests to all the old familiar names, I discovered something else about Facebook: just how nice everyone on it is.
Without even exploring any of the filtering controls provided by the platform, I find that my newsfeed is surprisingly uplifting. One acquaintance from back in high school posts a “daily dose of positivity” wherein he shares inspiring news from around the world. Another is in the midst of fastidiously documenting her amazing weight-loss journey, sharing the thoughts and habits behind her incredible and motivating story. Furthermore, I never anticipated just how positively my arrival would be received anywhere, much less the notorious land of political bickering and vain self-obsession! To say nothing of the company itself, Facebook is at least host to a lot of very nice people.
You may claim that I have fallen victim to selection bias: that I just so happen to be fortunate enough to have hundreds of nice folks concentrated in my social sphere. Although I cannot deny that possibility, I can suggest the irrelevance of the claim to any would-be Facebook hater: just look at all those filtering options on your news feed. Some ex-coworker posting too much political vitriol? Unfollow! He won’t even need to know you’ve done as much.
With Facebook’s filtering controls as well as your own attitude, you are in charge of your social media experience. I will hazard a bold, anecdotally-driven prediction: the negative effects of social media on our psyche, in time, will show to be growing pains of a world still discovering social media’s appropriate place in our lives. As an outsider arriving late to the party, I’ve certainly found Facebook to be a bright point in my day, rather than the apocalyptic drain about which I’d heard so much.
Social media is indeed no different than any other realm of life; what you see is what you'll get. Bring an optimistic attitude, and you'll see the good people spreading their light. What's more, you'll be one of them.