It was Donald Trump wot did it.
Did what? Oh, well, aside from bringing incendiary fascism into public discourse, cultivating a urine-flavoured candyfloss hairstyle, and delivering all his speeches in a voice that sounds like an old man farting into a set of bagpipes, which you’d think would be enough to be going on with – he was also the last straw that poked me off Facebook.
I don’t mean the Facebook ‘avoidance’ I’ve been practising for a year or so, where I delete the app from my phone and ten minutes later open the page in Safari. I mean that I use it for a couple of essential pages (this blog’s page being one of them) and have ceremoniously deleted everything else. Including my entire News Feed. Oh my giddy aunt, it actually feels good.
I’ve been a loyal Facebooker since its early days, where all your statuses had to begin with ‘Rachel is’ (there’s a grammatical tangle-in-waiting) and that was about all there was to do. It’s been a useful thing for me. For every auto-playing Russian video or SHARE IF YOU TOO HAVE A SON MADE OF RAINBOWS meme, there was a baby announcement from a friend I don’t see often enough. Or a photo album from family halfway across the world. Irreplaceable things. Real things. But then Facebook started putting posts your friends have liked on the News Feed. And that meant an unavoidable crapstorm of opinions.
Surely (I thought) it’s not true that I like people less when I know their take on current affairs? I don’t think it is. It’s just that normally, you find out people’s opinions in very small doses. Face-to-face, and if you happen to be talking about it. Even with your friends, that happens relatively rarely. ‘Oh dear’, you might think. ‘My friend is somewhere else on the political spectrum. Oh well, they have many delightful qualities and, since we’re in conversation, we can find some common ground’. You are both considering what you’re saying, and saying it deliberately. This is how it is meant to be. Unless your friend is a newspaper columnist, that’s how it’s always been.
Then once Facebook changed their algorithms, second-hand opinions were all over the place. At first, this is only mildly annoying: ‘Oh, my friend has a friend I’ve never heard of and that friend is having a baby shower, and my friend has marked this with a Love’, you think. ‘Unnecessary information for me. But good for them’.
Then someone that you knew in high school and didn’t like all that much to begin with has a spouse who went to a party and was photographed in various stages of ‘banter’. She has Liked all these photographs. You have not spoken to your acquaintance in fifteen years. You have never met their spouse. You did not go to the party, though if you had you would have been strongly tempted to whack the spouse in the chops with their own comedy inflatable. Why is this in your News Feed, you think. You have already spent too long thinking about this party. Was the party imaginary? What is the point of your life?
Then, heaven forbid, something controversial happens in the political sphere. Someone you know likes a ranty post that makes all the points you disagree with. You feel a bit nauseated. Do they really think like this, you wonder. All the time? People – myself included – will like a post that says things that are more strident or extreme than anything they’d put on their own wall. Sometimes the posts that are liked are racist. Sometimes they are offensive. Doesn’t matter whether your Facebook friend said them or not: all of them appear on your News Feed, with their name attached.
The time this was a bigoted rant by Donald Trump, liked by someone I like in real life, something deep inside snapped in half. YOU ARE A TRUMP SUPPORTER, FRIEND. AND NOW HE IS ON MY NEWS FEED. IT’S LIKE YOU CAME OVER TO MY HOUSE AND SMEARED DOG FAECES ON MY FRONT DOOR AND THEN MADE ME COME AND SMELL IT.
I took a good look at my feed and counted the last twenty posts. Five of them were actual things my friends had written. Fifteen were posts they had liked, that had nothing to do with them or me. So I checked that I was following enough people on Instagram, and decided to jump the blue ship.
I tell you, it’s made me feel so much better. (I didn’t even mention the fact that I have zero self-control when it comes to social media, so I also have a zillion hours more free time.) I thought it would be difficult – and I was lamentably behind on the new Reading IKEA news – but it’s honestly been more of a relief than I imagined.
I kind of miss the Russian dude making his dog lip-sync Happy Birthday. Remind me to look him up on YouTube.