Facebook: Not what you think it is



It was like giving in to the enemy, joining Facebook.

My resistance lasted several years, turning down entreaties from various personages to “join the party” and be a member of the world’s biggest online pal club. It was my thinking that Facebook was merely a vehicle for narcissism (many holdouts still subscribe to this view), as evidenced by the proliferation of selfie shots and those “what I ate today” photographs.

But a very wise man convinced me that Facebook was the perfect partner even for a traditionally reclusive writer.

It facilitates the daily delivery of news, features, and other information from your favorite online sources straight into your box, as it were, but they call it the news feed. After some time, your Facebook becomes a portal or a depository of essays, articles, facts and figures that you’re interested in so that you don’t need to surf the Internet.

Unfortunately, this is also where you see the status updates posted by your friends, as well as photos, videos, links, sponsored ads, and other notifications that come with having a Facebook account. To the uninitiated, “post” is Facebook’s prime verb that means to submit or make available online.

So you may see that link to an interesting article about Israel and Hamas right next to a friend’s photo album of a fun party or clan reunion, or another’s envy-provoking travel abroad. There are always appetite-inducing food shots just when you’ve finished reading an online article about health and dieting. Oh, and an old friend has a young lover and new friend is very mad at someone (who is not identified, no reason given for the anger) and just wants the whole friendship circle to know.

This over-sharing is one aspect of Facebook that many people find distasteful and almost intolerable. But others argue that this is the heart of social media, the self-revelatory statements and visual, auditory aids that define who you are to the world. Some people take to it better than others and therein lies one aspect of the resentment.

It takes a lot of personal courage to put your self out there, whether it’s through another selfie, a “wacky” but unflattering photograph, an emotional confession, a political statement, or any cause that is not currently fashionable. But of course your love and understanding in these matters can only extend to friends and family, and not to strangers.

My big tip to the uninitiated: You don’t need at all to post any personal stuff on Facebook. You can devote your Facebook page entirely to non-personal stuff, may it be your gardening interests to your dabbling in yoga or expressing your anger at incompetent politicians.

The remarkable thing is that there are controls for these sorts of things. Primary are the privacy settings, which many people surprisingly don’t bother to tinker with, exposing their personal photos and information to the general public. Set it as private as you want, and you don’t even have to use your own name if you don’t want to be searchable.

If you are already part of the system, you can also adjust your settings to curate what enters into your news feed.

There are three very useful filtering systems to choose from, reflecting a graduated level of annoyance with your friends’ postings.

The lowest one is the “Unfollow” button, which means you are just irritated with your friend’s posts and do not want to see them for now (but they can see your own postings). Many people consider the next one, to “Unfriend,” as a rude gesture; it’s akin to cutting Facebook ties but you can still exchange messages. The person you “unfriend” though won’t be informed that you’re jettisoning him or her, and only notices that your status updates are no longer coming in.

The last is the real nasty one, usually the result of some online tussle or stalking incident: to “block” means you won’t see anything from this person whether these are posts, messages, or comments. It’s like the blocked person didn’t exist on Facebook, and neither will you to him or her since it’s reciprocal.

I appreciate these forms of controls over irritants because they can allow me to still enjoy the positive aspects of Facebook. Since joining in January this year, I’ve reconnected with several long-lost colleagues who are now living abroad; enhanced ties with family and old friends; and met some very wonderful new people online.

When I told a friend, an old hand in the media, that I was now on Facebook, her advice was: “Don’t get addicted.” Indeed, my first few months online were almost like having an illicit love affair. There was no need for food or water or sleep, there was only Facebook.

I eventually learned to restrain myself, having been helped by the fact that I was anti-Facebook for so long that I know all the arguments against it. “Facebook is bad for you: Get a life!” an Economist article seemed to scream, as it reported that the social network appeared to make people less satisfied with their lives.

Various studies have shown that spending too much time on Facebook causes people to be miserable and depressed especially those who are psychologically vulnerable. Interlinked here are the feelings of social envy when seeing friends who seem to have a richer, and more exciting lifestyle compared to one’s own dull life (or so we think).

There’s also the social tension and isolation that comes with too much time spent indoors and in front of an electronic screen — laptops, desktops, or mobile phones — instead of being out in the world seeing and touching real things.

Filipinos spend about 6.2 hours online, according to a study, the most intensive users in the Asia-Pacific region, and about four hours in a day occupied with some form of social media of which Facebook is but one example. Other people do multi-platform usage with Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

The Doghouse Diaries website created a very colorful global map showing what each country leads the world in, and for the Philippines, it said, “social media use.” That’s not bad at all, so much better than if they said we led in typhoons or traffic jams.



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