The Ugly Face Of Facebook

Social networking is a necessary evil. As writers, it's one of the best ways to help promote our work. It's also one of the worst ways to promote our work. Lately I've become rather bored with Facebook. I enjoy using Twitter so much more. With Twitter there's a simplicity that is almost unexplainable. Basically, you write what you want to write in 140 characters. You follow who you want to follow. That's about it.

But Facebook? Where oh where to begin? First you send a friend request, or you accept someone's friend request, and then if they are new to Facebook, the system wants you to suggest friends to them. Of course, you don't have to suggest friends to them at all. But if they're new to Facebook, the system will occasionally try to get you to help them find more friends, or want you to write on their wall, or whatever. And then there are the groups and fan pages (I'm sorry, the like pages), and events and games and a whole bunch more bullshit. People posting links to articles and videos, people posting status updates like "is currently writing" and then fifty people "like" that status for some strange reason because, I guess, "liking" a status is confirmation of some kind of excellence in status writing. Then you have the people -- and the people in question here are writers, because that's who I'm mostly "friends" with -- who then say they need to start a fan page for themselves, because they've almost reached their limit of 5,000 friends, so they're going to be posting their writing news over on their fan page so everyone should become a fan (or like) if they want to be kept abreast of the latest news. (I don't know if anyone has actually ever said "abreast" though I think they should use it more.) But the thing is? Almost none of these writers who have almost reached their limit of friends are actually getting friend requests from people (either readers or fans, and yes, there is a difference between the two). Instead they're sending out friend requests, hundreds and hundreds of friend requests, because not only is having your status "liked" a confirmation of some kind of excellence, but apparently so it the number of "friends" you have. Oh, and let's not get into how your live stream is clogged with updates on who has changed their profile picture or who has decided to like such-and-such a page or who has become friends with who.

I've bitched about Facebook before and I'll probably bitch about it again, but my basic issue is that the place has become a black hole. You can't escape it, not if you're a writer or some kind of artist. Because, again, it's a necessary evil. But I'm starting to loath it. I used to post both on Facebook and Twitter, but that became rather redundant and time consuming so I made it so all my tweets from Twitter went directly to Facebook. But a few weeks back I stopped doing that. Why? I'm not quite sure. Maybe because I don't want to contribute to the information overload happening on Facebook. At least on Twitter, people who want to follow me can follow me and can stop following me whenever they want. But on Facebook? There are a lot more options. If they don't want to see my updates, they can either a) hide my updates from the stream or b) unfriend me. And oftentimes, people don't even know how to hide updates, and they don't want to unfriend me, because if they're a writer too and it comes to my attention that they unfriended me, then maybe there will be hard feelings and blah blah blah. Yes, Facebook has become much too political, which is completely and utterly ridiculous.

Recently I considered not quitting Facebook but at least unfriending all my "friends" who aren't friends. Making it a true personal account, for just close family and friends. But then that would lead into problems that David Pogue most recently described in the New York Times and which summarizes the problem quite well:

As a tech columnist, I’m bombarded by friend requests — mostly perfect strangers — which puts me in an awkward bind. Do I accept them all, just to show I’m a good sport, thereby defeating the purpose of Facebook as a network of real friends? Or do I turn them down, hurting their feelings and making them think I’m an unfriendly jerk?

As writers, we're often forced to walk on eggshells. We don't want to do or say anything that might lose us potential readers and, consequently, potential sales. Because if we piss off one writer/reader/person, that writer/reader/person is most apt to tell one of their friends, who is most likely a writer/reader/person, and then that could create a domino effect.

So for now I'm sticking with Facebook, like I even have a choice. Awhile back Neil Gaiman said that the best way to use social networks is not to simply promote but to connect, so that's why on Facebook I won't just post updates when I have a story published or something to sell. I'll occasionally post something, just to be part of the ongoing conversation. Because it's like you're at a party, and there you are, standing in the corner. If you only speak when you have something to sell, people will ignore you. But if you speak to say this and that, something that has some connection with others, then when you do have something to sell, people will listen. Hopefully.