Disclaimer 1: In this column, I will describe some of my personal choices; the column is descriptive, not prescriptive. If you should choose to follow suit, welcome. If you do not, grace and peace be with you.
About a year ago I took a three-month break from Facebook and Instagram. The primary driver behind this decision was my seemingly perpetual frustration. In the midst of a raging pandemic, as I said, “not this year,” to cherished family traditions and favorite activities, I saw pictures of friends and family out and about, maskless, and in close social proximity. Not only did I fear for their safety and the safety of their friends and relatives, I felt anger at the disrespect shown to those essential workers who had to be out, risking their health; I felt a betrayal of those of us who were doing what was asked of us, making the small sacrifice of staying home to protect our neighbors, waiting for the day a vaccine would be approved so we could get in line, roll up our sleeves, and get back to our lives.
After my social-media-free quarter, I had a realization—I didn’t miss it. The angry echo chamber, the uncivil rants, the scrolling through my phone because there was a 30-second break in my day—I didn’t miss it.
Disclaimer 2: I know there is good coming from social media: pictures of grandchildren, keeping up with the life (albeit curated) of friends around the globe, getting local business information out to the community, etc. Please see disclaimer 1.
It was about that time, early 2021, that the first reports of Facebook Inc.’s choosing profit over the health and well-being of users, especially teen girls, began to be reported. It was also about that time that I watched a documentary that had a line that has stuck with me to this day, “If you’re not paying for the service, you are the product.” Facebook’s scoffing at social responsibility combined with the idea that they were selling me convinced me to download more than a decade of pictures I had posted and to delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The decision was not and is not intended to be holier than thou statement, it just felt like the right thing to do on two fronts. First, I didn’t want to continue to be a product for Facebook Inc., especially in light of their social irresponsibility. Second, I am discovering that online engagement gives me a much shorter fuse. When I might listen and treat others with respect in person, online I am much more likely to dismiss people as stupid, or worse. In my quest to grow into the sort of person who loves his neighbor and does unto others as I would have them do unto me, I am learning that social media do not help me on my journey.
Last Monday, amid much negative media attention, Facebook Inc.’s major platforms went dark for six hours. Did you miss it? Whether you did or not, you were given an opportunity to reflect on why you felt as you did. In a world where most people are regular social media consumers (and, as it turns out, social media products), let me encourage you to pause and consider what social media practices, posts, likes, comments, and clicks help you on your quest to love your neighbor, furthering the peace, love, unity, and justice of our community, country, and world.
Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.