Originally appeared on Inquirer’s Young Blood on April 3, 2018.
I have a terrible habit of browsing my Facebook feed first thing in the morning. Even before I brush off Sandman’s dust from my eyes, I will have read all my friends’ updates on my news feed and all the news articles on issues I don’t even care about.
Like so many things that I know are bad for me, such as sugar, processed foods, and supermall sales, Facebook is just something I can’t remove easily from my life. After all, I’ve been on this platform for more than 10 years. I literally start and end my day with Facebook, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does.
In a 2017 report by Hootsuite, a social media platform, and We Are Social Ltd., a consultancy based in the UK, Filipinos were found to be obsessed with social media: on average, we spend 4 hours and 17 minutes every day browsing social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.
In the Philippines, Facebook is basically the Internet. We rely on it as a source of our news and entertainment. We use it to reconnect to friends and relatives whom we don’t even see or speak with anymore. We constantly use it as an alternative to SMS and email. All our lives – our personal and professional circles – conveniently accessible in a little blue square app.
So what happens if our safety within this virtual space is compromised? In March, I read about the staggering data breach made several years ago by Cambridge Analytica. More than 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested and used in psychographic marketing techniques that may or may not have influenced the 2016 Elections in the US.
And I think it’s disturbing how there’s not enough outrage here. For someone like me who relies on Facebook for almost every aspect of my virtual social life, this news was shocking. It now begs the question: is it time to #DeleteFacebook?
It’s not that simple. Facebook has become an integral part of my everyday life, and, dare I say, has actually transformed the very way by which I experience life.
When I share stories with my friends, I supplement it with photos – pics or didn’t happen – and because of this habit, I’ve grown to trust easily digestible pieces of content. No thanks to Facebook, I’ve become more susceptible to propaganda presented in a visually appealing manner.
And because of my over-dependence on Facebook, I believe that I’ve failed to establish deeply rooted connections with friends and family. Since everyone is just a private message away, I took my relationships for granted.
I read somewhere that you can’t consider your network to be valuable unless you can do business with them or ask them to help you build your house. I wish I could say that my relationships are like that, but they aren’t. When I’m asking for support for my advocacies, at least four or five people would respond to my call for donations, and that’s about it. (Not complaining; that’s usually more than enough. My point is I have more than six hundred “friends”, but only a handful of people share my values.)
Facebook has made me and the people around me less critical. I’ve seen good people become susceptible to fake news and groupthink. We’re quick to hurl insults at those who disagree with us, and we’ve become more intolerant of those who don’t share the same views. I’m always triggered, as we millennials say, often rightly so. However, I’ve now become less inclined to engage someone from the other end of the political spectrum in a conversation than I was ten years ago, all because I’ve grown used to seeing ideas on my news feed that are not dissimilar to mine.
One my friends in college deactivated his Facebook account in 2015. He hasn’t logged on since, although he still uses Messenger, a chat application by Facebook. One of the things that he enjoys about his Facebook-free lifestyle is that he has more time to himself. He can genuinely enjoy get-togethers and reunions because when someone tells them about a major life event, it’s something he hasn’t read about yet online. I envy him for that.
So why am I still on Facebook?
I used to tell myself that exchanging my privacy for the convenience of staying in the loop and never missing an update about my friends’ lives was a bargain I’m willing to take. Now, I’m not so sure anymore.
But quitting it will not solve anything.
I believe that social media is a tool: sure, it can change us as guns do to their owners, but we can also use it to effect change in our communities. And there’s so much work to do.
Right now, almost everyone in the Philippines is on Facebook, and that’s something we should not take for granted. It’s something we can capitalize on when it comes to community development efforts.
How else can I tell my friends that there’s a free seminar, art exhibit, benefit concert, or cultural events in my neighborhood that they might want to check out? How else can I spread the word about my brother’s fund-raising efforts for the public school where he’s teaching? How can I promote my other projects?
Yes, Facebook is addictive. So are Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. But at the end of the day, it’s up to us how we want to use these platforms. Maybe, if we could police ourselves and limit our usage to a reasonable degree, we can maximize it and use it to make a positive impact in our communities.
I’m willing to try that in the coming months.