Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Facebook Detox

Facebook, as most people know is a global phenomenon on a par with wireless internet; the possibility of a manned flight to Mars**; and Trump’s presidency. Begun in 2004 by Mark Zuckerbug (sp?) it has grown into a huge, planet smothering behemoth that currently has over 2 billion users. 

Not 2 million.

2 billion.

I first heard about it in 2005 when an acquaintance sent me a Friend Request. I accepted and thought it was simply like Friends Reunited*** or MySpace or any of the other myriad social platforms that existed even in the dark, Hyborian age of 12 years ago.

Facebook quickly swamped out all other social media and made Mark Zuckerburtons a multi millionaire almost within an afternoon…and before he was 30. In the present day of March 2017, it is nearly impossible to avoid even seeing some reference to Facebook in daily life. Vans for shops and companies will have “Follow us on Facebook” on the back, just under the logo and phone number. Websites such as AirBnB, Couchsurfing or BackPacker and hundreds of others will offer you the option of logging in via Facebook to save you faffing about creating a new account and then getting a confirmation link via your email. TV shows have plot points involving people using it and it is second only to Twitter for daft twats getting into trouble for saying something they shouldn’t on it (as far as I know the US President only tweets, he’s not a Facebooker).

All in, Facebook is a very useful and highly adaptable tool that allows people to stay in touch, join groups of like minded individuals and fulfil that basic, human desire which is to be noticed by our peers. Posts you make on your Facebook page will be seen by all your friends (or potentially all 2 billion members if you click ‘Public’ on who can see the posting) and they can ‘Like” what you’ve written or even ‘Love’, ‘Hate’ or ‘LOL’ over it. If they’re feeling especially generous they can leave a comment.

The positives of this particular social medium are many. I have re-established contact with many people I haven’t seen in years due to searching for them via Facebook. I have resolved long unresolved issues with friends and former friends. I have formed relationships via this website, both sexual and platonic or both. I have expanded my writing and run a blog dedicated to Krav Maga that has over 1800 members in its Facebook group. I can advertise my books on it. I can ask someone on the other side of the world for their opinion. I can see photos of people that I care about and let friends know what I’m doing. They even have a “Let Them Know You’re Safe” thingy now where, if you are in the vicinity of a natural disaster, messy train crash, or terrorist atrocity…you can tell people you are OK.

The positives are many.

But, oh dear Lord…there are a shit load of negatives.

I have also lost relationships. Me and a friend of 19 years stopped speaking in 2009 after an “argument” on Facebook. We haven’t spoken since. Also in 2009 while living in Italy, I was dating a Romanian woman who commented “No mate, you’re single!” after I changed our relationship status to “It’s Complicated” following an argument. We split up the next day.

In 2008 while still a serving police officer, I saw on “People You May Know” a friend of my second cousin’s who had the same surname as me. I ‘Friended’ her and our conversation consisted of “Are we related?” and “Do you know what the Manley family motto is?”****. Three days later my phone rang and it was my aunt who, after 20 minutes of chit chat then asked in an embarrassed tone why I wanted to be “friends” with a 16 year old girl seeing as how I was 37. My explanation of us having the same (quite rare) surname; that I hadn’t known how old she was; and that at no point had I asked “Can I see your tits?” didn’t cut any ice. She used the expression “predatory stalking”, asked “Why would you think she was older than your cousin’s daughter?” and was adamant that at the very least it “looked” odd. I replied that, as a Police Constable, if I was going to act like a nonce I wouldn't’ be doing it on trackable media and that further, the person in question was 16 so even if that had been my intention in establishing contact, it would have been legal anyway. After several minutes of metaphorically banging my head against a brick wall I hung up and rang my cousin who said “I knew there was nothing in it. It was embarrassing for us because no one wanted to tell you and it fell on her to do it. She’s old and she doesn’t get Facebook”.

In 2015 I wrote this story about the behaviour of travellers at the Kenilworth horse fair and how the local constabulary did not act appropriately with regard to overseeing it. Due to having ‘tagged’ Warwickshire police in the posting I got a phone call a week later to come in for a ‘voluntary interview’. The cop on the phone replied “I know. I’ve met you and I’ve got a copy of your book. I don’t like this any more than you do but you know I’m going to have to nick you if you don’t come in willingly” after I mentioned being both an ex cop AND someone who’d published a memoir about my time as a  Bobby. It all boiled down to my use of the word “Pikey” in the posting. I was offered a Caution (which I refused) and went to court 3 months later to find out that the case had been dropped by the CPS the week before…and they had neglected to tell me. 

There are many, many other examples of this type of thing.

The time I used a photo off Facebook of my friend for an article I had written for the local paper, but neglected to ask the permission of the photographer who had taken it. 

The time I had my account shut down without explanation and then reactivated three months later…without explanation.

Getting booted out of a Facebook group dedicated to my old school…due to constantly telling stories on there about how brutal and thuggish the teachers were back in the 1980s.

The time I uploaded a load of photos off my memory card to Facebook but didn’t check them first. Within two hours I got an angry message from a woman I knew, due to one picture being of us kissing in public. 

Not being considered suitable to be a press officer for an organisation I occasionally worked for, due to my “flamboyant public views on Facebook”.

The same organisation not wanting me to work for them any more due to THIS Facebook April Fool’s Day prank from 2016.

The main problem with Facebook is that it is open to the interpretation of the user as to how and why people have posted something. A simple “OK” or even “K” can be taken many different ways. Are they being cold? Are they ignoring me? Alternatively it is possible to read positives into things that just aren’t there. Text is flat, emotionless and there is no intonation. A simple “I’m not sure” can be taken one of about 4 different ways if you are uncertain as to the motivation of the person.

This type of reaction is acceptable in a teenager (officially you have to be 13 for a FB account) but kind of desperate in a 40-something. 

Most social media taps into a a vey basic urge…which is to be noticed. 

The word “Friend” is something that has a very deep resonance for most human beings. When I first got a Facebook account at the age of 34 I remember ‘friending’ friends of friends just so I would have some friends. It’s only typing this now that it becomes apparent just how fucking sad that was. When I post something and it gets a lot of “Likes” (be it FB, Instagram or Twitter) it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something. I am profound, witty, erudite or just plain amusing. It is the McDonald’s to the home cooked Sunday roast. It is a partial fix to a vacuum within my soul. 

I know I’m not the only one who gets hurt and upset when someone unfriends me. There’s also that extra step of the dreaded Blocking that means that person cannot see you any more and vice versa. That little voice goes off in my head gabbling “What did I do? What have I said? I’m not a bad person”.

I know this works the other way around because someone I made a birthday video for last year (at the request of a mutual friend) was later quoted as saying she was hurt that I had unfriended her on Facebook a few months prior, and was why she hadn’t refriended me. I pointed out that I “purge” my Friends list at least once a year and she probably got caught up in that without me meaning to. Click, confirm. Two steps that can lead to someone thinking you don’t like them any more. I explained the situation and we are now pals again. Thing is…I’m 46 and she’s 50.

A few days ago I read something on a Facebook message that caused me anxiety and stress and a day of wandering around worrying like Willy Worry from Worryville. It was only the next day that I re-read the message and realised there were at least two other interpretations to what the person had asked me.

Facebook is like eating at KFC. It’s like drinking lager. It’s like listening to AC/DC full blast. In mild doses it’s fine. But in larger ones it can become detrimental to health and even dangerous. 

The desire to be liked is something that has ruled my existence for a very long time. That in itself is normal. However, when that desire is partially sated by virtual reality…it’s time to step back.

Nuff said.


** One way trip apparently. 
*** Now defunct. Due to Facebook. Oh the irony.
**** Manus Haec Inimica Tyrannis. Roughly translated "This hand is hostile to tyrants". BADASS!!!

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