Republished on The Body is Not an Apology, November 3, 2017
My trust in Facebook has been broken, and I am determined not to rebuild it because our relationship has become abusive.
Therapists say it’s possible to build trust even after betrayal. But such generalizations must have outliers. Surely it is not possible for some people or relationships to rebuild trust. Because to do so is to ignore the very survival mechanisms which make us human. Once bitten, twice shy.
For years now I have only ever trusted someone to do what is in their own best interests. I guess you can call me cynical (abuse survivors are like that). Still I conceptually trust in integrity–in a person’s moral courage to make their actions consistent with their knowledge of what is right and wrong. But alongside that, I also subscribe to the psychological confirmation bias, creation of personal narrative to promote survival, and self-fulfilling prophecies. I believe the knowledge of what is right and wrong is subject to polarizing interpretation dependent on personal experience and that ‘having integrity’ is not analogous with doing what I believe is right or wrong, but only with what that individual believes is right and wrong.
For me, a successful working relationship therefore means finding the way that is both in my best interests and in my partner’s best interests. It is one of the keys to authenticity. We can both trust that we’ll stick around for a while, be authentically ourselves and protect each other’s interests during that time because we have the same interests and understanding of what promotes them. That’s not the case with Facebook, although I once believed it was.
My relationship with Facebook was built without awareness–it wasn’t a person was it? Why should I be wary of a relationship with a neutral platform? But like all abusive relationships, the power transition crept up on me insidiously. Our relationship was built in 2007 when I believed that Facebook wanted to enable my connection to family and friends. I did too. We were aligned so it was okay.
Over time, Facebook built algorithms to analyse my feed, bump up what they believed were my preferred articles, clustered functionality so that messenger became the primary and almost only means of contacting my friends, and pages became the primary way of marketing my business. If you leave me Facebook warned, your business will fail. All your readers are here! You will lose them all! I became dependent on Facebook, step one complete.
It waved warm family-friendly arms in my direction and by my own enabling clicking, my feed started to give news reported by professional journalists working for The Times less credence than opinion pieces published on Cracked. Because I like most humans, hungered for the adrenalin rush a tantalising headline could give me. Something enticing (like who had fucked up most that day). Something easy to read (like a list). And there it all was on Facebook! Slowly I stopped going directly to the Guardian or the New York Times, because well, I only had so much time in the day to read and Facebook took it all. Like an abuser, Facebook diminished my world and slowly isolated me from any other sources. I can give you everything you want, everything you desire, it said. You are in complete control of your feed! That was a lie, but I believed it. Step two, gaslighting complete.
In the end my use of Facebook broke my relationship with media so much as a whole, that eventually I started to fear reading any news articles, even from the most prestigious of outlets because well, what if they were trying to brainwash me? Just like my relationship with an abusive man, which made me wary of ALL men. Step three, isolation complete.
So there I was, left in an uncertain world where I didn’t know what was true or what was fake. And neither did my friends and family who were all in exactly the same position as I was. I co-created a relationship with Facebook where I abandoned and absolved my power. I woke in the morning to check Facebook in order to see what was going on in the world. Facebook had persuaded me that it was EVERYTHING I needed. But now it was confusing me by combining fake news with real news so that I couldn’t tell the difference–and not only from my friends, but from Facebook’s own suggested clickbaits. Too late I realised that Facebook was a platform which enabled and perpetuated gaslighting.
Facebook is not a news feed. It is an opinion feed where subjective ignorance is lauded and verified journalism denigrated simply by creating a false equivalence. It is a he said-she said feed. I cannot stay in a relationship with anyone or anything which undermines my ability to trust in myself. I am thrown back into gaslit trauma where there is no security, no clarity. It is the screeching of chaos and now I must make my own order.
But like all abusive relationships, getting out of Facebook once you’re in, is difficult. I’m reducing my interaction with it click by painful click. I’ve unfollowed any page I’m not personally involved with. I post my own op-ed and blogs to twitter in order to highlight the fact that my blogs are only personal opinion.
I’ve deleted the facebook app, keeping only the messenger app on my phone and disabled all notifications. I’ve signed up for Whatsapp and Signal, and consciously use them or SMS to contact people as a preference. Any posts on my personal page from friends who share news stories whether from respected outlets or content aggregators, I’ve also disabled so that gradually I will only see text status updates (warning, if you do this your facebook feed will be far less exciting and colourful). In keeping with how I now see facebook–as a stream of unsubstantiated opinions and gut reactions–I’ve kept personal blogs, but now that I go directly to news sources first, I have far less time to read them.
I’ve donated to the Guardian. Subscribed to The Economist. I’m well aware that my ability to do so, is a function of my privilege. If ‘true’ news costs money, then those less privileged than I will have more difficulty breaking out of their own abusive relationship with Facebook. But for my own sanity and as a sadder, wiser adult I’m slowly weaning myself of my much needed adrenalin fueled outrage and vicarious excitement. I feel bereft and alone without Facebook. I have sacrificed connection, which was Facebook’s intention, in making a clustered service so indispensable that eventually it became my go to source for all connection. But Facebook has abused my trust. And it won’t be getting it back.