In its initial phases, my relationship with FB was wonderful. I thought about FB all the time. I wanted to spend every possible minute with FB. I was giddy with the possibilities for our future. FB allowed me to reconnected with old friends and make some great new ones. It was how I communicated with almost everyone, near and far. I liked the person I became when I was with FB. It allowed me, in effect, to reinvent myself. I didn’t have to be the shy, insecure band geek I was in high school. I could be the real me. I was outgoing, friendly, and fun. I was popular. Yep, I was hooked. I was in love.
While still in the honeymoon phase, I was presented with the occasional "alarming little sign". Signs I chose, for the most part, to ignore. Perhaps some of my “friends” were not as I had remembered them. (Or maybe they were and I was the one who had changed.) I deleted my first “connection” in November 2008. Although I wrestled with it, I decided it was the right thing to do. Matter settled. Things with FB sailed along smoothly again for a while. Then, the patina really began to wear off. FB started exhibiting disturbing behavior. Little “red flags” would pop up here and there – “ Hmmm, that’s not a very nice thing to say” and “This must be a joke, right?” were thoughts I would occasionally have. (Codependency indicator # 1: I was rationalizing.) Slowly but surely, FB started getting really bold. I was being exposed to offensive things. Narrow-minded, misguided, judgmental things. Bigoted, racist things. Posts that were borderline blasphemous and over-the-line hypocritical. Some were just down-right scary. And my favorite, the good ol' personal attack. I started thinking that either FB had multiple personalities (a Bad Side) or it had allowed its loud, obnoxious cousin, the Black Sheep of the family, to move in and start “running the show”. Whatever it was, the BS was abusive.
During this phase, I just dealt with the BS. Tried to ignore it. I used the delete and hide options. Oh, but FB would apologize for the BS – do kind, sweet things to get me to forgive it – Living Social, Virtual Bookshelf, writing groups, games. My friends and family were part of FB, after all. But the BS was still there.
The BS tried to manipulate me. “People have a right to their opinions.” “You’re just too sensitive. Let it go.” , it would say. The BS was trying to make me believe my discomfort with its inappropriate behavior was MY fault. (indicator #2 - deflecting & projecting) Buying into the trickery, I would issue calls for peace, mutual understanding, and civility. But yeah, that didn’t work. It only served to strengthen the BS. I found myself dreading even logging onto FB, knowing that the BS would inevitably be there taunting me from the daily news feeds. I started believing I could fight back. I fell into the age-old trap of thinking I could change the BS. (indicator #3 ) I tried to reason with the BS; tried to introduce to it another way of thinking. But I was beating my head against a virtual wall. The BS was intransigent.
Depression set in. I had trouble sleeping. I wasn’t eating (and if you know me, you know this is alarming). I was stressed out. (indicator #4) I also realized that I was spending a good part of my time with FB not only avoiding the BS, but trying not to offend it – censoring myself, editing myself, compromising myself. (indicator #5 -enabling) I was standing by while the BS went about its bashing and bullying. I was guilty by association. That was the source of my depression – anger turned inward is a sickening feeling. At this point, I thought “I’ll just give the BS a taste of its own medicine”. I began trying to use its tactics against it, but in clever, creative ways. FYI: sarcasm, irony, subtlety – lost on the BS. So are facts and common sense, for that matter. I wanted to get back at the BS. I wanted revenge. But no matter what I did, l felt furious and powerless. (indicator #6) And the BS just kept getting stronger and uglier. Something had to change.
Finally, it dawned on me - I was in a codependent relationship with Facebook! How had I not seen this before? My relationship with Facebook was unhealthy. I was exhausted, wounded, and needed to back off. Reappraise. To see if there was anything left that might be salvageable.
Luckily, (because I have been down this road before), I remembered the trusty Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
So here we are. As a life-long proponent of free speech, my dilemma is two-fold: First of all, what exactly defines the difference between the ”colorful expression of opinion" and hate speech? Secondly, is there anything wrong with righteous anger and indignation? Conceding, capitulating -aren’t those just ways of condoning the behavior and furthering the agenda? Isn't silence a sin of omission? By not speaking up against the BS, I felt like I was back in middle school. Watching a bully vilify and defame someone who isn’t there to defend himself. And somewhere, wrapped up in all the BS’s trash-talk, I was being insulted as well. (Yeah, it was personal.) If I stood by and did nothing, I was just as culpable as the bully. The twist: the bully was supposed to be my friend. Just like middle school. (sigh….)
I’m wrestling now with these questions: Should hate-speech on Facebook be protected under the 1st Amendment? Should hate speech on TV, on the radio, anywhere, be protected under the 1st Amendment? Should one be able to draft her own "personal Constitution", deciding what she will and will not allow in her life? (Me, the people...) What is our responsibility when it comes to standing up against hate speech, lies, or just plain ignorance? Are Facebook and other social networking sites really the venue for potentially inflammatory and/or divisive discussions and posts?
As it stands, FB and I are still officially “on a break” (holla, Geller!*). I’m still not sure if or when I’ll come back to FB. But rest assured, if I do, it will be strictly on MY terms. FB is going to have to clean up its act; go to rehab. We have to kick the BS to the curb, damn the torpedoes. FB, in its current state, is not worthy of me. I deserve better. This will entail the proverbial "laying down of the law". No more racial slurs. No more distortions of the truth. No more hypocrisy, hatred, or fear-mongering. No more demonization of entire political parties and populations of people. (How’s that for alliteration? Too much, I know.) At least not where I have to see them. I’m a big girl now. It’s time to stand proud and tall. I have the right to be respected and to surround myself with respectable people. It’s my right to be selective in the company I keep, even if it is via the internet. So f*#@ing what if the BSers don’t like me, what I believe, or what I have to say. My real friends do, even if we don’t always agree (and we don't). I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my little piece of it.
That’s why I’m telling Facebook “It’s my way, or the (information) highway.”