The Online Journal of Writer Kate Sykes
A few weeks before I decided to delete my Facebook account, a good friend accidentally unfriended me while attempting to unfollow me. The whole debacle was quite comical, since unfollowing is supposed to be the easy way to remove an offensive, annoying, ass-displaying, or boring person from your news feed without them knowing it, but… it’s awfully easy to hit unfriend by mistake. So when I received a new friend request from her, with a sheepish plea to not ask too many questions, I understood immediately what had happened.
Not that I wouldn’t have figured it out eventually. Like most supposedly tactful social sleights, “unfollowing” never succeeds in flying under the radar. When you unfollow someone, they won’t get a notification about it, but they’ll sense a disruption in the force when suddenly you’re not commenting or engaging in any way with their posts.
I know that I’ve been unfollowed by several friends over the views I’ve expressed during this election cycle. I don’t take it personally. Everyone needs to make their own peace with their Feed. Some folks want meat and potatoes. Some want tofu. Others prefer a steady diet of Ding-Dongs. Lately, I admit, I’ve been serving up some very bitter medicine, straight no chaser.
We are in a precarious position in the US. Market forces now exert as much pressure on the media as direct censorship ever could. Our news, entertainment, social media, and product information, what we take to be reality, are all now largely driven by profit. Thanks to Citizens United, as well as to the leverage that corporate lobbyists exert not only in Washington, but also in State houses and municipalities across the nation, what we think is fact is mostly spin, information twisted and woven into a message that suits the political interests of both major political parties.
The brilliant novelist Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk, describes in this Guardian article, which talks about the ravaging of the American Dream by Republican and Democrats alike, how the corporate media has dropped the majority of Americans into a house of mirrors built by what he calls the Fantasy Industrial Complex.
“Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains. September 11, 2001 blasted us out of that dream for about two minutes, but the dream is so elastic, so all-encompassing, that 9/11 was quickly absorbed into the the matrix of FIC. This exceedingly complex event – horribly direct in the result, but a swamp when it comes to explanations – was stripped down and binaried into a reliable fantasy narrative of us against them, good versus evil, Christian against Muslim.”
As a writer, it is simply not in my wheelhouse to keep my mouth shut, and I’ve not held back much on Facebook over years. At the end of the day, social media is a form of publishing – one of the last free forms, though it is fast becoming more of a tool for corporate interests than for resistance to those interests. Everyone knows that when you find yourself lost in a house of mirrors, you should start throwing rocks, right?
When my unfollowing friend later messaged me to open a deeper conversation about why she had unfollowed me, I was both surprised and relieved. She’s one of least confrontational people I know, but also one of the most thoughtful and articulate. I wanted to talk to her about this; I wanted to hear her side of the story because I knew she would show me something I hadn’t seen.
She explained that she found herself being wounded over and over again by the accusatory and self-righteous tone of my political posts, which always seemed to hit a little too close to home. Her words were pretty harsh, and I was grateful that I could read the message and let my thoughts settle before responding. I’m not sure I would have been so gracious in person, and I doubt she would have been so honest and direct in her criticism either. In the end, we talked it out and came to the understanding that we have very different political values but that our friendship can, and should, rise above those differences.
This conflict didn’t make me want to leave Facebook. If anything, it made me think twice about leaving. Facebook makes it easy to be a coward, but it can also provide a safe space to have hard conversations that can deepen your relationships with others, as well as your understanding of yourself. At a time when truth is at a premium and hardly anyone knows what’s real anymore, it’s a good friend who will tell you that you’ve offended them and take the time to explain how and why. So it’s no surprise that she was the first friend to notice that I’d deleted my account.
“Is there a Facebook rehab facility that I can break you out of?” She asked me in an email.
Thank you, friend, but no. The food is pretty good here.