I’ve put up with it for a long time now, this nagging feeling that I need to make a change. Every time I’m on Facebook, I leave feeling a bit worse than when I started. It’s like an itch I can’t reach or a mild toothache, a low-level irritation that never quite rises to the level of something actionable. I’ve justified it by telling myself that everyone is on Facebook. Leaving it would cut me off from my friends and family, a genuinely serious concern.
The political climate has contributed to my decision, but it is not the determining factor. I have no trouble accepting people who don’t share my political opinions. But I’ve grown tired of having to always be on my guard, not against lies—that’s easy—but against vitriol, sarcasm and ridicule. Not that I am often a target. Indeed, I’m a mild-mannered, inoffensive guy whose interest in political subjects is mostly academic. No, it’s the negativity spewed toward politicians, government officials, and public persons that I find objectionable. Derision is one of the easiest modes of disagreement because it requires no evidence, no support. All you have to do is find something ridiculous and exaggerate it. Since mockery makes no argument, you can offer no rebuttal but to deride your accusers in turn. I’m tired of it.
I have argued vehemently against many of the President’s policies from his dismissal of environmental protections to his cruel and inhumane immigration policies, but I am tired of seeing him constantly pilloried by liberals. I’m equally tired of seeing the same treatment meted out to Democratic candidates and politicians. I’m tired of making the constant effort to see the good in people who make no corresponding effort to see the good in those with whom they disagree.
I’m tired of the self-righteousness. Of course, we all have a little self-righteousness. How can we help it? We want—sometimes desperately—to be right. We forget that there is a little bit of what we hate in the purest among us. Facebook somehow encourages moral myopia, magnifying the misdeeds of others while blinding us to our own. It feeds and justifies our sense of outrage and presents us with a community of like-minded people who will agree that what we believe is good and right and that what they believe—it matters not who they are—is stupid and wrong.
It is my own weakness, however, that has made me realize that Facebook is not for me. I have a weakness for intellectual debate. Facebook both feeds and frustrates this proclivity, making it seem that debate is possible, and then showing me time and again that most people mistake vituperation and abuse for debate. Moreover, I am arguing with people I can neither see nor hear, so there is a disconnection from their humanity that makes it easy to be less sensitive to them as people than if we were, say, arguing over coffee or debating in a study group. Despite being fairly aware of the humanity of my interlocutors, I sometimes say things that unintentionally give offense. Our debates lack context, becoming just so many words aimed at winning in some pointless contest while onlookers cheer and boo.
So I’m leaving Facebook. It is the only social media I’ve engaged in, so it will leave me with no social media presence. I will miss the friends I can’t visit, but I think I will gain something in having more time and less struggle against Facebook’s algorithms. I haven’t even mentioned how Facebook spreads misinformation or how people often mistake satire for news. Those are good reason for leaving, too, but they are less personal.