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Media Commentary: Fickle Facebook

By December 8, 2011Uncategorized

by Kati Smith

[photo credit]

Recently one of my male Facebook friends updated his status to read: “Two things I don’t get about girls and social media: 1. Pinterest. 2. Why girls constantly, temporarily delete their Facebook.”

While I don’t understand boys not appreciating the magical world of Pinterest, I couldn’t help but laugh at his recognition of the fickleness of girls and their Facebook pages. I’d venture to say it was a pretty keen observation on his part—we all have regularly disappearing girlfriends, right?

So what is it about fickle females and Facebook?

I posed the question on my own Facebook page and asked some ladies who’ve erased themselves a time or two from the social media scene to weigh in on the motivation behind it. The responses were both interesting and heartbreaking, and there seemed to be two key underlying factors: The desire (and need) to be engaged in real life, and the realization of the vulnerability of putting your life on the internet.

The first—desiring and needing to engage in real life, sans computer screen—is an issue of practicality for the most part. One young girl commented that she occasionally deactivates her Facebook when she’s facing finals week or has a big project to do. Another college-aged girl commented that she sometimes just wants to actually get out and live life instead of constantly telling others what she’s doing.

With the average person spending 12.5 hours per month on Facebook*—a rather conservative estimate, in my opinion—there’s a certain realization that much else could be accomplished in that same amount of time. It begs the question: Exactly what other things in our life do we consistently devote at least 25 minutes a day to doing, every single day of the month?

The internet is both a great wealth of information and knowledge at our fingertips, and a time-wasting trap that can keep us from being our most productive self or from really investing in real life. Social media takes it to new extremes by both connecting us to other people we might have never known otherwise, yet fostering sometimes shallow relationships with acquaintances and even strangers.

There is truth to the idea that the internet is simultaneously connecting us and driving us further apart. Through Facebook I might connect with 20 “friends”—a.k.a. casual acquaintances—per week, but what would my relationships be like if I spent that same 2.9 hours in face-to-face conversations with friends over coffee? Or what if I spent those same 2.9 hours each week volunteering at my church and really investing in community?

Like almost anything, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. For many girls, it’s just easier to quit Facebook, even if only for a while, to regain some balance in life or finally write that long paper that’s due next week.

The second underlying issue—realizing the vulnerable position you put yourself in when your life is on display—is entirely more devastating.

Recently one of my friends entered into a particularly painful season of her life. Shortly after much of it began surfacing, she disappeared from the Facebook scene. She later re-emerged under a fake name so she could be friends with a select few. When I posed the question about Facebook, she sent me a message with some sobering words. Here’s a snippet:

I found that Facebook became a window for the people in my life who I thought were my friends and support system, to gawk at the car-accident my life was becoming. They would peer in, occasionally make a small comment, but they were lurking to get info that they could manipulate and construe for their rumor mill.

In her case, I can absolutely attest to the truth in her words. I’m even willing to step out and admit that I have used social media in the same way—when you hear a rumor about someone, it’s easy to find their page and get some or all of the details. Putting details of your life on a social site is inviting all of your “friends” in, and depending on your use of privacy settings, it sometimes goes beyond that.

I’m sure we’ve all had those awful Facebook moments—the times when we’ve had to let everyone read that we’re “no longer in a relationship” or see the bad photo we we’re tagged in. I’ve learned on Facebook that I wasn’t invited to a party all of my friends were going to, and even that someone said something mean about me. I’ve found out friends were pregnant or up to no good, that divorces were happening, and the list goes on and on.

My point is that when we put it on the Internet, it can go anywhere. More and more girls are realizing that sometimes it comes with hurt or embarrassment and, worst of all, it’s a gas to the gossip flame.

The best way we can approach Facebook is to remember to limit our time spent and our information shared, and always consider others first. Don’t spend too much time staring at your screen. Call a friend and meet for coffee in person, or pick up the phone and call. Limit the information you put out there—your casual acquaintances don’t need to know all of your business. And most importantly, take great care in not using and abusing social media to get the latest dirt and to spread gossip. Remember there are real girls behind every polished profile picture—be kind.

*Data gathered from this article.

What are your thoughts on this? What’s your approach with Facebook and other social networking sites?

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