I joined Facebook eleven years ago when the site mandated a college email address to sign up. Logging in was yet another badge of honor for those high school seniors who had gotten into their “number one choices.” I did not – so when I finally received my address, it was thrilling to huddle around my classmates in study hall adding each other as “friends.” As I look back on those 11 years, many moments come to mind.
I face-palm remembering posting an “It’s Complicated” relationship in the early days of freshman year. Freakouts during sophomore year after the “creepy” minifeed emerged. Cringing when parents added me and going into full “Olivia Pope mode” frantically “untagging” every alcohol fueled photo where I was holding a red cup.
While these are all anxiety-ridden times, I’ve stayed primarily out of love for connecting with faraway friends and for nostalgia – the first photos of going out with new friends that became best friends, the first “wall post” conversation (remember those?!) with my now-husband in 2008, my semester in Rome, and of course, the baby pictures.
But throughout the election cycle, I came close to deleting Facebook. In 11 years, and in 11 years that bring as much change as ages 17-28 do, you accumulate all kinds of “friends” – your roommate’s cousin who visited junior year and you haven’t seen since, your best friend’s little sister’s ex-boyfriend, study partners, old co-workers. Many were requests you “had” to accept, lest they think you were cold, even if you weren’t all that interested in seeing their Miami photos or counting down the days till their finals were over (they were always so diligent about letting you know.) Yes, you can now “unfollow” people and still remain friends- for me, the “Facebook friend cleanout” felt a bit too callous.
But even with “unfollowing” – for me and for many, the last 16 months brought a LOT of opinions to their now staple Facebook minifeeds that were once “creepy.” Forbes shares that roughly 128 million people on Facebook across the U.S. generated 8.8 billion likes, posts, comments and shares related to the 2016 presidential election between March 23, 2015 when Ted Cruz first announced his campaign, becoming the first presidential primary candidate, to Nov. 1, 2016.
And that was one week BEFORE the election. Facebook has not released data on how much “unfriending” went on during the process.
Did I see all 8.8 billion posts? Of course not. But the deluge of thousands of political opinions brought me none of the connectedness and nostalgia I used Facebook for, and lots of shock, anxiety, and sadness.
Shock as many people I knew were voting quite differently than I expected (and the questionable sites both sides linked to.) Anxiety as I witnessed virtual brutal arguments in a posting’s comment sections between *actual* friends and family. Sadness as I saw the hateful rhetoric from both sides – pro-Trump posts that cruelly minimized the plight of fellow Americans and important social movements, pro-Clinton posts that preached understanding and acceptance in one breath, then dismantled differing voices with claims of stupidity in another.
Post inauguration, we remain in tense times where the only thing we can agree on is that we are heavily divided, and my minifeed still brings me frustration. But, there can still be many moments of optimism and connection- and that is the power of the platform. Last week’s post about the Women’s Marches across the world gave us an important reminder about the importance that this worldwide collaboration tool has – the ability to catalyze change that starts with just one person. So now, I’m trying to scroll without reacting to the nastiness that has become all too normal. And for the most part, now I’m just #hereforthebabypics.