Can we all agree that 2020 has been a rough year? It seems as if each week has brought more bad news. And it’s not even over yet. As an American, I’ve been bracing all year for November 3rd. Election Day. At this point, I’m ready to rip the Band-Aid off already and face the fallout, whatever that might be.
Normally I don’t think of myself as an especially anxious sort of person. I don’t tend to worry more than most people might. I prefer to be laidback and easygoing, a calm and cool-headed voice of reason. That’s what I would like to be, but lately, I haven’t felt that. Instead, I’ve noticed all my typical signs of stress.
One symptom happens whenever I open Facebook. Within a few minutes (or even 5 seconds) there rises in me a deep, unshakable sense of anxiety. I almost always regret reading my Facebook news feed and end up feeling worse than before. Despite this, I can’t help but check it day after day, somehow hoping that the next day might be better.
I have nearly 700 Facebook friends. I’ve moved several times in my adult life and made friends with people from many different backgrounds. They are diverse in terms of nationality, socioeconomic class, race, politics, and religion. Some of these friends are people I haven’t talked to in years. Others are people that I regularly contact or see. And several use Facebook to share their personal opinions, stances they support, and news they follow. For every viewpoint or claim one friend might make, another would share the exact opposite. Once in my news feed, I saw back-to-back posts that opposed and promoted wearing face masks in public (both posted by Christians, by the way). I also saw many posts this year that would support conspiracies and others that would debunk those conspiracies.
For a chronic conflict-avoider, it makes becoming a hermit an appealing lifestyle choice. Conflict resolution is an impossible task among 700 Facebook friends, and trying to have a meaningful discussion through comment threads is an idealistic fantasy that more than often ends with self-righteous barbs and wounded egos. At some point, all the opinions, shared posts, political commentary, photo frames, and everything else just become noise. It’s never-ending, mind-numbing static.
Actually, I’d prefer listening to static over this.
The obvious solution is to simply delete Facebook. A lot of my friends already have or barely use it. Some ignore the news feed entirely. For you, maybe Facebook isn’t as much of an issue as other social media.
Liberating Truth #1: You are free to quit social media.
Whenever, however, and whichever you choose. No questions asked.
So why haven’t I?
Like I mentioned, I’ve moved a lot. I have friends in many different places, and I might not see some for years at a time. Without Facebook, I simply wouldn’t know anything about their lives. Once, a friend without Facebook didn’t tell me she was getting married until two weeks before the wedding. The last time we had talked, she was single.
This is why I keep Facebook. I don’t want to reconnect with someone later and find out they’ve gotten married, had three kids, and moved to a new country. I keep Facebook for the engagement photos, baby announcements, funny pet or kid videos, and relatable memes. These are what I’m looking for while wading through the muck of the news feed. I understand that people use Facebook for different reasons, and that’s fine. My reason is to stay connected with people I care about.
So what else can I do if not delete Facebook forever? Another answer could be to remove friends. Some people on my friend list really were never friends to begin with. I don’t remember where we met or why we connected on Facebook. Or there are people I’m unlikely to see again even if we were friends at one time. Yet their posts often bury the posts that I really want to see.
Some people might feel like this is too harsh or “final”. However, there’s no reason we should feel guilty for removing friends. If your friendship in real life has already faded or never existed, then why shouldn’t your friend list reflect that reality? There’s always the possibility to re-add someone as a friend if you happen to reconnect later.
Liberating Truth #2: You are NOT obligated to stay friends with anyone.
Then again, there might be some people that I have good reason to keep but…I have no interest in seeing their posts on my news feed. Your online pet peeves may be different from mine. Maybe it is crude jokes twenty times a day. Maybe it is inflammatory posts only meant to start a debate. Maybe it is constant posing and pretending to have a better life than you know is true. Maybe it is just photos of what they ate that day…every day.
I only realized this year that it’s possible to stop seeing someone’s posts without totally blocking the person. It’s called “unfollowing”. You stay Facebook friends, but your news feed won’t be flooded with their posts. If that’s too much of a commitment, you can also “snooze” a friend’s posts for 30 days. (If you’re exhausted by election talk, to give an arbitrary example, this would be a good time to hit the snooze.)
Before someone tries to defend freedom of speech, let me explain that these steps do not prevent anyone from expressing any opinion they choose. Unfollowing and snoozing don’t limit someone’s freedom of speech any more than preventing someone’s organized protest on your front lawn limits their freedom of public protest. All it does is establish the boundaries of where, when, and how you choose to engage with their free speech.
Liberating Truth #3: You can choose what you consume.
Recognizing these truths has given me back the quiet and peace that I’ve been missing this year. At least online. I have chosen to reserve Facebook for personal connections and get news and political commentaries from trustworthy, educated sources devoted to those topics. If you’ve been feeling the same way that I have, I hope these truths will encourage you too and empower you to find freedom from social media.
You are able to delete apps. You can cull contacts. You’re allowed to unfollow. Or, if you just need a break, you can turn off the phone and go outside.