How to Handle Facebook

More and more, it’s becoming clear to me that the free social media platforms we use ubiquitously come with a much higher cost than we initially realize. On the one hand, they do a great job of keeping me connected with people I don’t see that often. I have used Facebook and Twitter heavily for years. It’s the place where most people come across my blog articles, and I check it multiple times a day. But Facebook and Twitter are constantly making changes to the services they provide and what they choose to show you (or keep back from you). I’m more of a Facebook user than a Twitter-phile, so I’m going to focus on Facebook today.

Back in the day, Facebook seemed much simpler. You friended people you knew, and then you got to see their status updates throughout the day. Facebook, it seemed, existed primarily to connect people. These days, Facebook exists to make money, plain and simple. Judging simply from my blog statistics, the number of people seeing my blog each day has, on the whole, gone down on average, despite the fact that my friends have gone up on my primary delivery mechanism.

Granted, there are many different potential reasons for that. People could just not like what I write anymore. I’ve written my share of posts that have rubbed some people the wrong way, and it’s inevitable some readers finally decided enough was enough. It’s also possible that more people are just walking away from Facebook. I know I’ve seen a number of friends say this, so that’s definitely a number greater than zero.

But I also know a significant reason for this dip in readers is that Facebook makes sure people can’t just reach their friends easily. If someone could garner a following of loyal readers for free on Facebook, then why in the world would companies want to pay Facebook for ads? Instead, the company has a tendency to just limit the number of people who get exposed to your content, plain and simple. How do I know this? By talking to friends and family who want to stay up to date on my blog, and get frustrated that Facebook just doesn’t show them the entries. They’ve tried to favorite me. It just doesn’t work. I imagine this is because I share things so regularly.

By itself, this is annoying. What Facebook professes to do is the same as what I want it to do: let me see what my friends are saying. But what it actually does is show me stuff it thinks I’m going to like, which also happen to be stuff that’s in its best interest to show me. If that were the only problem, it would be more of an irritation than anything else. But it isn’t.

Where Facebook makes its real money is in developing profiles of its users. Hyper-targeted profiles it can then turn around and use to market things directly to you. If it knows you’ve got a thing for Magic the Gathering, then if another vendor comes along who wants to target Magic players, then Facebook can guarantee that. Add that to the ability to sell political “ads” that turn out to be nothing more than political gasoline designed to make people angry or afraid, and this place that’s supposed to be about friendship not only doesn’t deliver on showing you your friends, it has a tendency to make your friends your enemies.

So what to do about it?

Personally, I don’t think I can completely drop it. As I said, I’ve still been able to hash out some real relationships on Facebook, and I’m not interested in giving those up. Not to mention the communities I’m involved in on there. I’ll continue to post blog entries there, because I don’t think it’s realistic of me to expect people to just abandon their social media of choice in order to keep track of what I’m doing. (Though there’s a lovely technology out there that I highly recommend: feed readers. The one I use is Feedly, and basically what you do is tell it what sites you want to follow. They can be news sites, blogs you like, or anything else. You subscribe to those by entering in their website, and then it funnels all new stories to you as they come up. (For example, to subscribe to my blog, you’d enter this: ) With Feedly, I’m able to stay caught up on library news, tech news, movies news, my writing friends, personal friends and more. There are occasional ads stuck in there, but they’re identified as such, and they’re easy to ignore. And it pulls everything. It’s then up to me what I read and what I don’t. It’s lovely, and I highly recommend it over even simply subscribing for email deliveries of blogs.)

So there are ways out there to stay up to date on people and news in your life, as long as they actively post stuff to an independent page. For cases where you know people who don’t, then you can still use some Facebook for that. But as I’ve said before on my blog, I am quite selective about who I actually end up following on Facebook. I’ll friend anyone I know, especially if they’ve asked to be my friend. But I unfollow most people, based on a couple of criteria:

  1. Do I know this person well enough that I really want to know their thoughts and feelings about everything under the sun? Often I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt at first, but if after a while I find them posting a lot, and it’s content that’s just not relevant to me? Unfollow.
  2. Do the interactions I’m having on Facebook with this person help or hinder my relationship with them? If all the contact I have with an old friend is Facebook, and they’re constantly writing about things that do nothing but make me start to get judgey, then I unfollow them. I’d rather maintain what relationship I have with them off Facebook than let it devolve into a failed friendship. In other words, if what I see from them on Facebook is hurting our relationship, I unfollow. Yes, I suppose that means I’m still friends with people in real life who very much disagree with me on a bunch of issues. But . . . isn’t that a good thing?

And my final Facebook approach is to try to fact check anything I see on there, and not to rely on it as my one source of news. The reality you see on Facebook is a cultivated one, fed to you by a company who’s much more interested in making money off you than in actually informing you. Stay too long in Facebook, and you start to believe anyone either believes exactly what you do, or else they’re a blithering idiot. Neither one of those is true in most cases. If you see a news story that really gets your goat, consider the source, fact check it, and look into it on a different news site.

Anyway. For those of you leaving Facebook, I totally understand. I hope you still swing by now and then to see what I’m up to, but I wish you well in your future endeavors!


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