The social media bubble
A recent programme on Radio 4 explored the concept of the Social network bubble – the fact that our Facebook timelines show us only a limited number of posts, using algorithms to determine the information it thinks we would most like to see. These same algorithms are responsible for bombarding you on any web page you ever open with adverts for a product in which you have shown a passing interest, or suggesting books or films you might like based on what you’ve just bought. It has a sinister undertone: we are being fed by machines rather than our own minds, and those machines create a bubble for our lives, presenting us only with the things in which we profess to be interested and thus perpetuating our existing values.
But surely our entire lives are lived in a bubble? We surround ourselves with people we broadly agree with, and with whom we have something in common. We watch the TV channels and buy the newspapers that align most closely with our values. We might have little concept of the worldview and beliefs of others because we have the capacity to separate ourselves from them.
The difference is that, though I live in my own bubble, I choose it myself. I am at liberty to pick the people with whom I want to hang out. Yes, Facebook edits my social circle in a similar way to the editing I already do. But it’s Facebook that chooses, not me.
Long before I heard Bobby Friction’s radio show, I had decided that this kind of choice was not for me. I had been one of those people who used Facebook every day, telling myself that I needed it to stay in touch with my friends, and to remove myself would mean missing out on social occasions. But there remained an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with the platform. The people I saw on there seemed to be having a much better life than me. My group of “friends” included people in whom I didn’t have much interest, from pupils at my primary school to random people from gigs. These connections cease to exist in real life, through age and geography, evolutions that are completely bulldozed by Facebook, whose platform insists you have a perpetual relationship with everyone you have ever met.
Looking at lives we cannot possibly emulate, seeing what all our friends are up to, gives us an unhealthy sense of inferiority (the ‘you’ that is presented on social media is only the ‘you’ that you want others to see – you at your best, your funniest, your most attractive) and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It was a moment of realisation at a party of my best friend that finally made me question why I was on Facebook. Sitting in her garden, enjoying a glass of wine on her birthday, I overheard some of her other friends talking about the Facebook invite they had received to the party. Hang on, I thought. Where was my invite?? Then I realised, Anna, you are AT the party. You received a real life invite, in person, from your friend. It’s Facebook that instills FOMO in us. I had ultimate FOMO for the very fact that I was on Facebook. The time had come to hit ‘delete’.
Facebook tried really hard to keep me. “Are you sure?” messages popped up repeatedly. “If you delete your profile you won’t have access to …” I had to give a reason why I wanted to delete, and once I’d given the reason, they tried to answer the reason in order to keep me. Example: I don’t find Facebook useful. ”You may find Facebook useful by connecting with more of your friends. Check out our friend finder.” Example #2: I spend too much time using Facebook. “One way to control your interaction with Facebook is to limit the number of emails you receive from us. You can control which emails you receive here.” I thought about merely deactivating, the half-committal way of feeling good about yourself but still keeping one toe in the social media pool. Until up came a NOTE. Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events, tag you in photos or ask you to join groups. Read: Big Brother is still watching you.
The process to successful deletion was rounded off by listing some friends who would MISS ME if I were no longer on Facebook. Among them was my best friend (who I only ever interact with in real life), someone I met once, and my ex-boyfriend. I doubt any of them would even notice.
Even so, I hovered over the ‘delete’ button for a long time. What if what they were saying were true? Facebook wasn’t all bad. It contributed to a large part of my social activities. I did have a network of friends that I enjoyed interacting with. There was definite social pressure to be part of it. Even my dad was on Facebook. Did I have the courage to remove myself from this?
As I confirmed my deletion (in about five separate steps, each reminding me there was no going back), I knew I had made the right decision. My life instantly felt more simple. I breathed a sigh of relief. No more pressure. No more wasting hours scrolling through a timeline just to see if the next post would be interesting. I haven’t missed it for a second.
And yes, I continue to live in my own bubble, one I’m unlikely to burst out of any time soon. But at least I am the one to choose it.