For several years now, I have linked my blog posts to Facebook. I’ve decided to end that arrangement.
I’m not doing this because Facebook helped Cambridge Analytica meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. There is nothing new in that ongoing news story. We have long known that Facebook steals information about us and uses that information to make money. We have long known that as a corporation, Facebook has no moral scruples; if corporations were really persons, as the U.S. Supreme Court asserts, Facebook would be a psychopath. Psychologist Michael Tompkins of the Sacramento County Mental Treatment Center describes psychopaths as “skilled actors whose sole mission is to manipulate people for personal gain”; a phrase that accurately describes Facebook. Facebook lost 14% of its capital value in the last couple of weeks, astonishing that psychopathic corporate entity; and now that entity is trying to figure out how to pretend to be moral, thus allaying our fears so that it can continue to lie and cheat and steal even more from us. But this is a long-standing pattern of behavior; the Cambridge Analytica debacle is nothing new, and there’s nothing in that debacle to make my change my ideas about Facebook.
What has changed for me is I’m beginning to see clearly how Facebook makes its users mean-spirited, unreasonable, and rigid. Facebook reduces public discourse to meme graphics, rage porn, and incestuous conversations among people who already agree, worsening the political and social polarization of the United States. I’m particularly troubled by the effect Facebook has had on the thought processes of Unitarian Universalists.
In particular, I’ve watched Unitarian Universalist ministers re-post meme graphics that play fast and loose with facts; these are ministers who are careful to fact-check their sermons, and it troubles me that they won’t fact-check re-posted meme graphics. I’ve watched Unitarian Universalist ministers re-post rage porn — graphics, videos, or text designed to induce rage, rather than to promote dialogue — these are ministers who would actively resist inciting rage in committee meetings, or in sermons, or in pastoral counseling sessions, and again I am troubled that they feel it is acceptable to induce rage through a social media platform. And I have watched as Unitarian Universalist ministers expel from their Facebook “conversations” anyone who disagrees with whatever narrow conception of “truth” that prevails in that particular conversation; by so doing, they erase nuance, leaving behind only binary, either-or thinking.
It’s not just Unitarian Universalist ministers who do this. Unitarian Universalist lay people are just as bad. I don’t like what Facebook is doing to Unitarian Universalism. To me, one of the strengths of Unitarian Universalism is that it encourages tolerance of other people’s thoughts and feelings, even if I happen to disagree with them. Another strength of Unitarian Universalism is the insistence of the importance of reason, a human faculty that is disengaged by rage porn. Facebook is designed to get you to spend as much time as possible staring at it — that’s how they sell advertising — and to do that, Facebook disengages your reason and erases your sense of tolerance.
There are other horrible aspects of Facebook: it induces feelings of isolation; it is addictive, and interferes with other activities; it is destroying public discourse, and thus directly attacks democracy. These results are not side effects of Facebook; these are direct results of the way Facebook is designed. Obviously, other social media platforms, with socially-manipulative designs similar to Facebook, produce similar results. I abandoned Twitter some time ago. I stay away from Snapchat. And now it’s time to pull back from Facebook.
I’ll still use Facebook to find Sacred Harp singing events. But I no longer want to link my blog directly to what I can only describe as a psychopathic corporate “person” that turns otherwise reasonable people into mean-spirited, unreasonable, intolerant, ill-mannered destroyers of democracy. If you want to read my blog, from now on you’ll have to go directly to my blog.
(Something I should make clear: Amy, the Unitarian Universalist minister I work with, is a responsible user of Facebook.)