My current relationship status with Facebook: “It’s complicated”

Why I am unable to break up with the social media platform

brunch Updated: Mar 31, 2018 23:30 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
social media platform,Big Brother of social media,facebook
Facebook is a curated reality, but as long as it’s not a surrogate for the physical world, I’m okay to play the game(Photo Imaging:Parth Garg)

The clamour of voices rising against the Big Brother of social media is both righteous and compelling. Facebook has exposed users to certain apps that, if used a certain way, are complicit in a certain kind of data breach. From Trump’s election in the US to the Indian general elections in 2014, Cambridge Analytica has exposed disturbing facts about Facebook’s role in influencing users’ voting choices. The conversation seems to have momentarily shifted from security concerns about Aadhaar. (My betters will explain why a breach there is infinitely scarier.) #deletefacebook has become a thing. I believe Farhan Akhtar is one of the leavers. But I’m fresh off a vacation with all these lovely pictures and stories to share, so it seems a bit self-punishing to unfriend Facebook at this particularly shareable private moment.

Detox or delete?

The truth, however, runs deeper. Far be it from me to defend Facebook in the wake of these troubling facts. With personal data passing into unscrupulous hands, the threats to privacy are unnerving. So many ambivalent users, struggling with their relationship with this pervasive, persuasive force, have now found a definitive argument to confirm their worst fears. Revulsion has turned to rejection. For many, it’s the moment to march into a brave new Facebook-free world.

The conversation seems to have momentarily shifted from security concerns about Aadhaar. (My betters will explain why a breach there is infinitely scarier.) #deletefacebook has become a thing

But what does this utopia look like? What do we stand to lose? The question has kept both media analysts and social philosophers busy since 2007. There are many ways to diminish Facebook. It’s where anxiety-ridden social-media addicts intermittently declare: “I’m on an FB detox”, only to return to its fold swiftly and sheepishly. It’s where happiness is oversold and consumerism celebrated. The oversimplification of ideas and emotions abounds. But like gluten and Roxette, there are some things that are hard to give up, despite their obvious shortcomings.

The social bubble

It’s nerve-racking to have serious arguments on Facebook. You’re either enraged, browbeaten, or ignored. And yet there are moments where I’ve learnt to see an argument from different sides on FB in a way that reportage and opinion pieces can’t make me. Perhaps it’s the democratic nature of the space, the live quality of the action that keeps me interested.

It’s nerve-racking to have serious arguments on Facebook. You’re either enraged, browbeaten, or ignored

Of course it’s tiring to be constantly wound up. To incessantly react, provoke, defend, deny. But if you’re really there to listen and understand, in between silliness and posturing, you will. Yes, it’s a bubble. As is my home, my circle of friends and colleagues. As in all these curated spaces, I’ve picked up sensitivities that I didn’t previously possess. Had my patience and principles tested. Built and lost relationships. In all the banter and bluster of updates, comments, images and messages, I’m aware that there’s a world outside that this one corresponds to. And keep reminding myself that connectivity does not mean closeness.

Curating reality

I won’t lie about my favourite Facebook features, though. Ignore, Hide, Unfriend, Block. I notice a Snooze option has now been added to the list of sly weapons in this social battleground. These are weapons that I deploy at will, more as an act of defence than aggression. Protection against strangers (I only ever befriend people I know and like in the real world). Against the pain of damaged relationships. Against bad sense and tackiness. The limiting bubble is at different times a cocoon, a stage or a hiding place. I’ve never yet declared I need to detox but I slip in and out of the space at will.

Facebook is, of course, a curated reality. One that conceals as much as it reveals. But as long as it’s not a surrogate for the physical world, I’m okay to play the game

Non-Facebook users deride it as a stupid addiction (yes, it can be) or a social crutch (that’s its USP) and take the intellectual high ground by spurning it. I, for one, would much rather speak to the select few people in my bubble all at once, than go over the minutiae of life singly with each one. It establishes some givens. Saves breath. Facebook is, of course, a curated reality. One that conceals as much as it reveals. But as long as it’s not a surrogate for the physical world, I’m okay to play the game. It’s contemptible, the way our data is treated. And I’ll be an even more cautious user now. But this current crisis hasn’t (yet) driven me over the edge. One more Candy Crush request probably will.

From HT Brunch, April 1, 2018

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First Published: Mar 31, 2018 22:11 IST