Facebook and I have been in an abusive relationship for years. The site treats me poorly, then does something oh-so-sweet, like remind all my friends to wish me a happy birthday. All it takes is a single photo memory of my kids looking adorable in Halloween costumes from 10 years ago and I close out those how-to-delete-my-account instructions.
I’ve stayed even though the site failed to protect my private data repeatedly, fed me fake news, and hounded me with ads filled with lies. But faster than it would take me to look up how to spell Cambridge Analytica, I always end up jumping off the #DeleteFacebook bandwagon.
Why? Well, while I’m embarrassed to admit it in the current Facebook-is-evil climate, I actually enjoy the site. I use it for both pleasure (staying in touch with people I actually know — and a lot I don’t) and work (as a writer, I use it to promote my stories).
Plus, I’m lazy. Though I get multiple invitations every day from friends to join them over on MeWe.com, a new private social network that says it doesn’t own, track, or share information that users provide, I think it would take years for me to rebuild my Facebook community elsewhere.
A meaningful part of our lives
Let’s face it, for those of us who are old enough to be Mark Zuckerberg’s parents, Facebook can be a pretty comfortable place. We are not unaware of the site’s very serious misdeeds, nor is our reluctance to leave about disliking change or being unwilling to learn our way around another platform. It’s just that Facebook has become a meaningful part of our lives.
Using the site, I have reconnected with old high school chums, been able to stay in touch with real-life friends who live far away, and, yes, even become new and fast friends with people I didn’t know before.
Several Facebook groups full of total strangers have been my crutch through multiple life events. Don’t underestimate the lure of a safe place to vent. I survived caregiving for my late husband because of the supporting arms of the Caregivers Hub Support Group. When my husband died, I graduated to the groups for those grieving, and eventually found my way to the Dating After Loss group, a lovely collection of widowed men and women who understood my readiness to move on and, in a way, gave me permission to do precisely that.
Long before my husband’s illness consumed my life, I brought issues about raising my two kids, both adopted from China, to Facebook groups of parents in the same boat. Now, I have friends around the world who are also parents to adopted children from China. Where else would I have found them?
One, in Australia, kept a real-life eye on my daughter when she studied abroad. During most school breaks, I become home base for Chinese adoptees visiting Los Angeles. I may never have actually met their mothers and our friendship may have been formed through a collection of photos and updates posted to a feed on Facebook, but we know each other well enough to entrust our children to their care.
Whether they’re IRL (in real life) or not, Facebook has allowed me to make real friends. Friends whose opinions and thoughts I value, whose character impresses me, who make me laugh, and who are seemingly always awake and available to me at 3 a.m. in any time zone. Am I supposed to just walk away from Facebook and, with that, all of them?
Yes, Facebook is a time suck — although that’s not why people are fleeing the site. According to an early 2019 report from Edison Research, Facebook has 15 million fewer users in the United States now than it did in 2017. As I would suspect, Edison also found that the exodus is mostly of younger people who prefer Instagram (which Facebook purchased in 2012) and other, newer sites.
My Facebook friend and fellow China mom Lynn Sturgeon may have the perfect solution. “Let’s start phoning each other and meeting up in person,” she said. Now how wild would that be?
Ann Brenoff was a staff writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, where she won a shared Pulitzer for coverage of the Northridge Earthquake. Most recently, she was a senior writer and columnist for HuffPost based in Los Angeles.