“Facebook is to mental health, what fossil fuel is to climate health.” ― Abhijit Naskar, Handcrafted Humanity: 100 Sonnets For A Blunderful World
I like “likes.” I admit it. I guess I have always been a bit of a pleaser. Who among us doesn’t enjoy or sometimes need affirmation? Or maybe it’s the release of dopamine, the chemical produced by the brain and associated with pleasure, that I am feeling. Facebook understands this. But the more I learn about how the algorithms Facebook employs are designed to work, the more conflicted I am about using that social media platform at all.
My millennial children and many of their contemporaries have already figured this out. In my experience, most of them have simply abandoned Facebook to us Baby Boomers.
At first, it was just plain fun to reconnect with friends I may not have seen since grade school or college. Facebook made it easy to find out where former girlfriends ended up or how other old friends may have aged. It also allowed us to put the best versions of ourselves on display — the vacations we go on, the nice restaurants we frequent, the one picture out of dozens that best shows our smile or hides the weight we recently gained.
I believe that I have a pretty good eye for an amateur photographer. I also think that I have a better than average sense of humor. For years I have tried to be judicious in regard to the things I posted. Either the image had to be outstanding in some way or my caption had to be clever enough to buoy it. After all, I was going for likes.
Then my first granddaughter was born and I quickly learned that posting one simple picture of an adorable infant more than doubled the amount of likes I might have received from even my most iconic photograph and wittiest caption. Now, I was really in trouble. It was just too easy to generate likes for pictures I typically did not take and where captions were seldom required.
Then Netflix’s documentary, “The Social Dilemma” made me reconsider everything I thought I knew about social media.
Many studies have now shown the negative effects of Facebook and other platforms. These include stress, feelings of jealousy and even addiction to social media. The heat on Facebook has been particularly acute since Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, testified before Congress about how Facebook and Instagram harm children, sow division and undermine civil society in pursuit of profits.
I would like to think that I have conditioned myself to avoid the pitfalls of Facebook. I have learned to ignore the algorithmic ads that show up in my feed mere minutes after navigating away from a particular website. Neither have I ever considered Facebook a source of journalism; I would treat any purported news dropped in my feed as propaganda or worse.
When my older son made me a grandfather for the second time, he laid down a very simple edict: Feel free to share any pictures of his daughter with my friends, just not with Mark Zuckerberg. My younger son was not so doctrinaire. I am permitted to post a picture of his daughter if I get prior approval (on both image and caption). While I have never been denied permission to post, it has taken all of the spontaneity and a lot of the fun out of the act.
I am not making moral judgments about anyone else and their relationship with social media. I’m just trying to work things out for myself. Personally, I have promised myself to at least think twice before I post anything on my Facebook wall. Perhaps this will allow me to pursue some other ways to truly connect with others. Maybe instead of posting to the world at large, I will think of someone from my past who I imagine would particularly enjoy the shot or wit and text — or even call — to let them know they were on my mind.
I still enjoy taking photographs, so I’m sure I will feel moved to share a particularly interesting picture from time to time. I can also imagine coming up with a somehow astute or wry comment that I will feel compelled to put out into the world. If and when I do, I hope you’ll like it — just don’t feel compelled to like it.