My niece Amanda posted on her Facebook site this morning her disappointment with the decline of Facebook over the years, from the time she was in college in the early 2000’s when you needed a college “edu” email address. The site we know as “Facebook” took its familiar form on February 24, 2004. I was 56 at the time [a depressing thought in itself] but as soon as the “edu” requirement was dropped, I signed on, went off around 2010 because the site was getting too crazy, and returned in 2012 to stay connected with family, friends, and book publishers. And, in 2014, I started using Facebook to plug “The Catechist Café.”
That said, I strongly agree with Amanda’s description of early Facebook. “There was zero talk of politics, religion, fighting over differences of opinion, tagging your exact location, buying/selling groups, marketing, personal businesses, commercials, advertisements, and posts from strangers that show up on your feed because one of your three-hundred Facebook friends was tagged.” Or, as my nephew Ryan summed it up nicely, “Facebook now is just a joke.” I think he is speaking generically, in the sense that the site is misused, often dangerously, on many levels.
This may sound like a strange concept, but personally and morally, a Facebook user must decide what his or her “brand” is going to be when it comes to posting. As a mental health counselor, I can see some of my family and friends using their Facebook posts as streams of conscious, running commentaries on their unvarnished feelings. I wonder at times if Facebook subtly encourages too much self-revelation with its “add to my story” option. It is not a good idea to live your life as your Facebook “inner circle model” because  Facebook is not reality world, though many believe it is, and  every moment on Facebook is a moment wasted on connecting with real people face-to-face or in different formats—a letter, perish the thought--for supportive encounters, i.e., true friendship. Again, my nephew Ryan tosses a pearl to be considered when he described his infrequent visits to Facebook thusly: “I use it solely for mindless scrolling,” though I know that he follows the rest of us to stay collected.
Those who take Facebook too seriously for personal support will always be hurt. This accounts for the many posts that go something like this: “I have 500 friends, but I never hear from anybody. So, I want to see how many people just look at the photo on a post and move on. Type ‘copy’ or some other equivalent to prove you read my entire entry.” Close cousin to this post is the post on behalf of a troubled population, say those contemplating suicide. It generally begins with “97% of you won’t do this, and I know which ones won’t, but if you care, prove to someone contemplating suicide that there are sympathetic people out there by sharing my post.” Aside from revealing a significant anger, the poster never considers that a better use of the Facebook space might be to provide the source where genuine professional help is always available, Suicide Prevention on Life Line, which has a website and a national phone number, 1-800-273-8255. Ironically, the original post might get, at best, two shares, hardly an encouragement to those in depression and despair.
On a religious note, nearly all of us were brought up with the Commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In Sunday school or Catholic religious education, we were taught that this commandment forbids lying. All my adult life I could not help but notice that this commandment vacations in Aruba during election season. There is not much we can do about political lying except in the election both, but I would call out those who perpetrate misinformation on matters of health and safety. Those who post “health information” about Covid-19, for example, are obligated to provide their source so that we, the readers, can assess the source and its credibility. It takes me several days to write a 1200-word post, with most of the time spent documenting any information I introduce. In the case of medicine, a discovery must be repeated successfully in other independent labs in a process called peer review. Truthfulness on-line falls under the Eighth Commandment.
To go back to Amanda’s point, I think that we can retain an element of fun and concern for our family and friends by judicious management of our sites and avoiding, in Amanda’s phrase, “crap, anger, and personal agendas.” Some posts—especially the lives behind them--are truly inspiring. My seminary buddy has been working with troubled vets for years by introducing them to fly fishing. I hear regularly from an old deacon friend working under challenging conditions for the Church in Honduras. I have tried over the years from a distance to support family and friends with humor, congratulations, and messages of prayer. Do I have agendas? Yes, but that is why I established The Catechist Café, blog, my opinionated niche off the Facebook beaten path. Anyone can block that with their controls, and I would not be the least bit offended. At my age, I need family and friends more than I need to be right.
On My Mind