For the last several years, I’ve been mostly absent from Facebook. I posted very rarely and checked it almost never. This wasn’t because of any particular choice so much as a lack of desire. The folks I wanted to check in with, I already text with. Twitter provides me with instant information and plenty of lulz. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is awful, the content it served up was crap, and it’s a scummy company to boot. So I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and did not miss it for a second.
But recently, I’ve begun to slowly re-engage on the platform. A couple of factors have driven this. Penny is a big one – the grandparents love those baby (now, toddler) pics. She’s what kept me on the platform at all. But a bigger driver has been my increasing community involvement. Here’s something I’ve learned in the stage of life I’m in: when you get involved in coordinating communications and activities with a non-trivial number of people, you need some kind of common coordination platform. More often than not, Facebook is that platform now.
Just a few examples of what I mean:
- Local-level organizing relies on Facebook. I’m involved with a bunch of organizing efforts: our local Democratic Party organization, HOA board elections and a group of folks in anti-racism activism. We’ve got email lists, monthly meetings and more, but what people really engage with is a social space to chat, share news and easily find information. Standing up a whole website for this kind of thing is overkill, but a Facebook Page & Group is perfect.
- Our local parents group has almost 700 members, and it’s entirely run through a closed FB group. There are more than a dozen posts every day – it’s very popular. School and PTA info, clothing swaps, playdates, questions about everything kid-related – you name it. If you don’t have kids, you might not know this yet, but versions of these groups exist everywhere. “Moms groups” in particular are basically a ubiquitous feature of modern parenthood, and every single one I know is on Facebook (some are on WhatsApp too, though that seems less useful?).
- A few months ago, I became an Admin for the Elizabeth Warren campaign Facebook group for North Carolina (“NC for Warren”). Like any political campaign, sharing tasks, events, information and news is critical, and our Facebook group really hits the mark for that. There’s no substitute even close to this. The group is doubling in size every month.
I’ve been thinking about this reversal of mine in terms of Facebook’s evolving place in our society, and what limits make sense to place on it. I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that Facebook is becoming – or, probably, has become – a permanent fixture of how our society works. It is just never going away. It is not going to die on the vine like Friendster. Conceivably, Facebook’s many platforms could be eclipsed by competitors (though that would require competition, which Facebook ably prevents), but the nature of social networking it provides itself is here to stay. It’s how information circulates in our society and how we organize our communities.
The end results have positives and negatives, but debating them is sort of beside the point. This is the world now, and the genie isn’t going back in the bottle. As such, it makes sense that our society should have a renegotiation, as my friend Hassan said, of its power over our society. Facebook isn’t sovereign. The people are. And if Big Tech digs in its heels, maybe we should have a renegotiation over them, too.