I used to love Facebook. To be more exact, I always had a love-and-hate relationship with it, but let me give you a little of the back story.
The first social network for me was MySpace, and I only joined it because in 2004 it was an important place of political conversations for the election campaign and my research supervisor was doing a project for which I was collecting a lot of data. While analyzing the messages, I fell in love with MySpace and the opportunities for networking and discussions it provided. However, I deleted my account in 2005 after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought MySpace in the hope of entering the new social media spaces. I was not going to contribute to enrichment of that evil corporation.
Facebook took everyone by storm in 2005, having surpassed MySpace in terms of number of unique accounts by 2008. I was holding out from it: I already had an account on Odnoklassniki, the Russian rough equivalent of Classmates, and it was taking a lot of my time. But my students both in the United States and back home in Kyrgyzstan urged me to join it, to stay in touch and to share my writing.
In October 2010, I finally budged and joined Facebook. Ironically, about a year later, many of my students started to move away from Facebook to other platforms because it was becoming too commercialized and rigid for them. Yes, I do remember the time when there were no ads on it and the exchange environment was lean and clean. My students were faster to catch the whiff of bad change coming. I stayed with FB because many of my peers were on it and because I liked the way the information was presented in my feed.
Until the 2016 election, that is. This is when strange things started to happen on Facebook. Nefariously smart political actors figured out micro-targeting and the way to brainwash the gullible by feeding them exactly what they want in the form of conspiracy theories and hyper-partisan messages. I highly recommend the documentaries about Cambridge Analytica and other political actors who may have swayed the results of the 2016 presidential election (we will never know for sure).
I stayed on FB, but cleaned out my circle of friends from Trumpers and MAGA folk. I lost a lot of friends who thought I was "too deep into conspiracies about Trump-Russia connections." My clean walled garden of friends helped me get through the Trump dark years, I felt connected and supported through Indivisible and women's groups. I don't know how I would have survived those years without Facebook.
I do not like the recent changes on Facebook, however. Every time I find out something new that suggests it becomes more commercialized and less democracy- and people-oriented I want to delete my account. I felt particularly strong about it after I watched the Social Dilemma documentary and realized how FB sucks users in through the engagement algorithms in the hunt for advertisers.
But then I wouldn't know where else I would go: I had to quit Twitter after Musk's takeover (I still write about my Twitter frustrations in the form of haiku here) and all the other platforms just don't work the same. But especially after Frances Haugen blew the whistle on FB's own data on how Instagram negatively affects self-image of teenage girls and contributes to general isolation and detachment of GenZers from real life, I wanted to quit it again.
I've always used FB more as a diary. It can be fun to go deep into my timeline and remember what I was doing two or three years ago. When I joined Vocal, I started to use FB as a tool to promote my writing among my friends and followers. But then about a year ago FB quietly changed its algorithm to favor original FB content and suppress posts with the outside links because they were taking people away from the platform. I noticed that change almost immediately after I saw how reads dropped on my Vocal stories. To compensate for this, I joined several Vocal-related FB groups, but unfortunately with my demanding teaching job I never have enough time to contribute to them as much as I'd want to.
Meanwhile, Facebook only goes from bad to worse. There are more ads in my feed now than actual posts from my friends and content providers I follow. Sometimes I see 10 ads to one post, and all the ads are the same. I spend a lot of time reporting scam ads and deleting them from my feed. But...
Two little tricks Facebook introduced recently to encourage people to use fleeting Stories rather than permanent posts (all for the sake of saving space on FB servers) annoy me to no end:
1) you have to make an extra step of pushing the “next” button to be able to post;
2) the default line under the posts that appear in your feed now is not “comment” as it used to be but “message” which sends the comment to the author via Messenger.
The second "innovation" also creates an impression that no one wants to comment on anyone’s posts any more, except for blue checks and advertisers.
C’mon, Facebook, I’d rather quit you altogether than use stories you'll delete in hours because I use you as a diary more than anything else, and as a poster board for my writing. But if you want to continue turning into a non-engaging desert full of ads everyone hates, keep at it! And one day, I may just quit you after all.
Thanks for reading my rant. If you still use Facebook, I'd love to read about your happy and frustrating experiences with it in the comments.