In the run-up to 2018, I wore out the delete key. I erased old addresses, unsubscribed from email lists, and deleted contact info for people who are toxic or whom I no longer know. Then I deleted myself, my whole account, from Facebook.
This obsession with the delete key, and my decision to leave Facebook altogether, started at my niece’s wedding in a refurbished old barn. Before the dancing started, my dad pushed back his metal folding chair and said, “Hey kid, come on outside for a sec.”
At 52, I am no kid, but until today my dad and I have not seen nor spoken to each other in almost two years. So I got right up, a little bit afraid, and trailed him out the door.
Our falling out happened in February 2016 when my dad posted a Facebook meme of the Ku Klux Klan, following weeks of posts where he’d posited that President Obama was born a Kenyan monkey, that Planned Parenthood dissected and sold baby parts, and that he was waiting, still, for black people to thank white men for freeing them from slavery. Then came the KKK.
I’d had enough. I demanded he take the post down. He first responded with a string of question marks (what? who? me?) then he simply went silent. And the next time I tried to pull up his Facebook page, I discovered I’d been blocked. Unfriended. Deleted.
I’ve always assumed my dad to be a conservative — he owns guns, listens to Rush Limbaugh, watches FOX News — but I do not recall him ever talking about his political or religious beliefs. I could not tell you if he has ever voted. I have never once seen him, with the exception of weddings and funerals, in a church. But a dyed-in-the-wool racist?
Yet once Donald J. Trump threw his red, Make America Great Again hat into the presidential ring, it was like my dad had joined some insular, political cult. And that cult’s name, with pages like “God Emperor Trump,” was on Facebook.
If you think calling Facebook the c-word sounds too strong, consider some simple questions:
Do you feel angry, personally offended, when a friend disagrees with one of your posts?
Do you feel pressure to hit the “like” button, whether you like a post or not, to prove your loyalty?
Have you ever logged off or deactivated your Facebook account, thinking you might need a break? How many days did you last? How many hours?
Do you sometimes wake with a panic in the night, worried you’ve made a post or comment you’ll regret, hoping you can delete it before your “friends” see it?
If you need proof we’ve become more cult-like, more tribal, look no further than your own carefully-curated Facebook page, where everyone is your “friend” and “like” every word you say.
Still not convinced? How many friends have you stopped following, or have stopped following you, since the 2016 election?
We ridicule colleges for creating so-called safe spaces so students do not have to experience differing views, but what is your Facebook account if not the ultimate safe space?
There is the cliche that Facebook displays the phony perfection of our lives, not unlike Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Woebegone, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” But there are stories of real misery, too. A good friend has not spoken to her very close family in over a year because they all voted for Trump. Another friend no longer invites those who disagree politically to Thanksgiving dinner. One person I know unfriends everyone who does not “like” his posts because he feels hurt, certain he is being singled-out, punished, purposefully ignored.
Facebook can be light and fun, but it can also put you one-click away from breaking your own heart.
In her famous essay “Why I Write,” Joan Didion wrote, “there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”
On Facebook, we are all writers. On Facebook, we are all secret bullies. On Facebook, I tried to impose my sensibilities and bully my dad into submission, and lost.
Outside the barn door of my niece’s wedding reception, between a row of trucks and under flood lights, my dad lit a cigarette, and I waited for him, frankly, to lie: to blame me, to call me a snowflake, to question why I haven’t called in so long, to rib me about how great President Trump is doing and how thankful I should be that he hasn’t put Crooked Hillary in prison where, by God, she belongs.
Instead, he took one long drag and paused long enough for me to worry. “Oh man,” I said. “You’re going to tell me something really bad, aren’t you?”
He half-chuckled before spinning out the latest family gossip. Had I heard that so-and-so is splitting up after 25 years of marriage? Did I know this one is having an affair with a married woman at work, or that that one has gotten some old gal pregnant down in Alabama? With twins!
Through the walls of the reception hall, we could hear the music start. Newlyweds’ first dance. Mother-son dance. Father-daughter dance. And the longer my dad talked, the longer he pretended like two years had not passed in punishing silence, my plan to let him have it in-person—to challenge his every racist, misogynistic, hateful post — faded, for the moment anyway, like the smoke from his cigarette under the bright flood lights.
As our family and the wedding party celebrated inside without us, the band’s music muted by the barn’s old wood wall, my dad lit another cigarette. And I chose to simply stand there and listen, to see if I recognized us anymore without our Facebook masks, without the cult. To stop being a bully long enough to let him be my dad.
The power of emotion in your last line makes my own heart brim over. Not because I’ve bullied my fading, Alzheimers’ ridden father, but for the moments of time between father and daughter, when we stand, wait and listen. Since you’ve left FB, I have also contemplated the interaction and reasons why I am there and what it does and doesn’t do, for me. Power on Teri. Happy New Year
I’ve never blocked anyone myself. On FB I was blocked by 2 people and one was a very long-time friend. This friend, was conservative which I knew. We had had face to face debates about politics with no problems. We were in contact due to he was a super friend of my brother. I once posted a meme maybe? He got really mad over this. It was something that he felt he really was disrespected. Instead of his normal vehement argument, he sent me a long message telling me why he was defriending me. I didn’t get mad. I just thought, okay, whatever.
I’m sorry you were estranged from your dad. That would be difficult I’m sure. I’m glad you were able to connect again.
Greetings! “Re: On deleting myself from Facebook”…Easily, in my humble judgment, the collection of words following your header, falls woefully short of the par you’d set in prior postings, where the relationship between the subject addressed, and the pleas set forth, left no margin for doubt, about your full engagement…be that as it may, Facebook interactions for all its shortcomings, mirror the interpersonal connections swirling about all humanity…juiced up from serving, to consumption, followed by a response… ” Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”…the scholarship you posit, is but an integral kernel that speaks to the human condition, illuminating the darkness with your views!
Happy New Year!
I came face-to-face with my own naivete this past year when the majority of my family members voted for and strongly supported Trump. How could they seriously spread false information about refugees, immigrants, previous presidents and candidates (on FB)? Indulge in the hate (on FB)? And continue having angry “conversations” with individuals holding different views (on FB)? Were these the same people I’ve grown up with and around, who I believed had strong characters and high morals? It was especially difficult to notice these things in my father, with whom I had never discussed politics with until after this presidential election. Now, he doesn’t have Facebook, which has made me reflect more on the encounters I have had with other Trump supporters. On Facebook, it’s frustrating to see the deterioration of debate and discussion. My conversations with my dad have been heated, but there’s something about being on FB that makes people throw their civility and critical thinking skills out the window.
Your cult and safe space points made me laugh a little at myself. After the election, and due to many of my “friends” (family and some old high school acquaintances) “liking” super-conservative and/or racist pages and posts, a page for a local conservative group was “recommended” to me, and I actually Liked and followed it for a while so I could maybe gain insight on what the other side of the political spectrum was up to or about. But I couldn’t go through with seeing it on my news feed day in and day out, so I stopped following the page. I closed myself off to that viewpoint to make space for more content and views that aligned with my own. Cult-like is a very good way to describe the actions and behaviors of people on Facebook, I believe.
Wow, this comment is longer than I intended. 😛 Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest post.
Thank you for sharing this, Teri. It was straight from your heart. It was emotionally hard for me to read. My father held similar feelings and attitudes, minus the smoking. Fortunately, a friend and peer helped him recognize his bigotry and racism shortly before Dad died.
I felt your sadness. I appreciated your very personal openness. I mourned the family separation with you. However, I couldn’t wonder if the “talk” with your father was more than reconnecting. Was it also an in-your-face control because DT won? By not mentioning the gap and just filling you in, what was his real purpose? I’ll leave that for you to ponder with no reply necessary.
I admire and appreciate your writing.
On December 29, I deleted my Facebook page. Feel lighter, freer, and have more time for more important stuff. Thank you, Teri.
I deleted my FB account in August. The past six months have been happier than the five years prior. You can’t reason with anyone on the site and you do tend to bully others (or be bullied). Life is too short to lose family. I have to keep remembering who these people were b/f I saw them on facebook: My BIL for instance, is one of the kindest people I know and got me out of an abusive family relationship – saved me, in so many ways. He also started watching FOX news seven years ago and is a different person in many ways due to the brainwashing of that station. And on FB he was horrible. Now, with us only having IRL conversations about real things – not politics – we are back to being family. Welcome to life without Mark Zuckerburg, Ms. Carter :-). Teh fact that most parents in silicon valley say they don’t let their kids use social media says volumes.
Powerful and painful post. I have taken a couple of Facebook vacations in the past year and a half. Like you, I have close family members who support Trump, and some of their posts – aside from promoting racist views – I took as a personal attack. The two posts that particularly stand out are a meme of Michelle Obama looking like a monkey (which was liked with an extreme happy face emoji by a fellow high school teacher) and a comment that any teacher who publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement should be fired. After a few weeks, I was back on Facebook mostly to keep with up with photos of grandkids, nieces, and nephews. Yes, I post photos of my travel adventures and check-in at concerts and fancy foodie restaurants, giving the appearance of a charmed and entitled life. I “like” my “friends” posts with restraint and feel guilt – at times – for not being more supportive. Up until very recently, I avoided liking anything political, in an attempt to keep the peace with said family members. In fact, one of the reasons I started my blog was to serve as an outlet for my personal remembrances and political views that are too complicated and nuanced for a platform as shallow as Facebook.
I have really positive feelings about Facebook. The only political views unlike my own are family far away whom I really have very little contact with. A nephew said something really crude, and I
“unfriended” and blocked him. He wasn’t someone I ever wanted to spend time with anyway. My friends share my views. I really have needed their support this last year with what I consider a most dangerous time in our country. I love finding friends whom I’ve lost touch with and have made some absolutely wonderful new friends, friends I have never met, but whom I feel close to because of what they share. My parents died long ago. We resolved to not discuss politics at all, because their views were terribly conservative. (My mother listened to Limbaugh. I always knew what he’d been ranting about, because she would hold court later in the day.) Many of my Facebook friends were people I only knew a little bit. We became much better friends once we shared our views on things. Your experience with your dad sounds traumatic, and that really
is a shame. Instead of giving up Facebook, I am giving up TV in order to lower my blood pressure. I am addicted to it – so it isn’t going to be easy, but I have to try. Good luck to you. I’ll be faithfully reading your posts as I always do…Happy New Year!
I think everything you said is so true. Unlike the war in 1861, our civil wars are mini, and take place over the dinner table, with those we have always loved and wished the best for. Facebook has stoked the flames of polarity, and in general, I don’t find it good for the soul. In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death:Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman, he discusses Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Here’s what he says. “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
As I type on this here computer, I also recognize that technology is something we must guard against.
Haven’t talked to my dad in a year and a half either due to many of the same things you mention. We are still not ready to bridge the gap though. It may sound trite but I do find it hard to feel real respect for people with such ideologies.
Teri, I totally agree with what you say, hence the continued following. I am off facebook the easy way.. I mentioned our dearly beloved President in the same comment or post that words like motherfucking, misogynistic, lying, rascist, bullying, demeaning, condescending, asshole and someone exited and blocked my posts… not that there is anything socially redeeming about anything I said, but I fact checked all my adjectives except the one about him doing things to his mother.. so ??? back to the real world for me. Shoveling snow, talking with my lovely princess and calling my kids.. What will seventy bring to my life this year? oldmanbill
LOVE YOUR WRITING – it grabs at my heart and sensibilities
Fortunately, unlike you and your Dad – our ages are probably similar – my daughter and I agree politically so we don’t have that separation. Certainly don’t agree on everything but in the area that causes you pain, we do.
Hope you can get it back together because it means everything to we “old dads”.
I would lose most of my relatives if I started unfriending right wing crazies. I mention this because I want you to feel good about your decision (not that you don’t already). In my opinion, the more important thing is that you still have your dad and you’re still trying, but so is he. Whatever or whoever he is in his heart, there’s a warm spot for one Dem and he’s doing what he can to reach out to her. Take it and run because time is so fleeting.
This was a great, well written post that really made me think. About a month ago I installed a Chrome plugin that blocks my Facebook feed, so I can still check messages, things that happen in groups and events that I want to be apprised of, but I have removed the element of the intrusive feed of crap, and I feel so much better, it’s like this whole layer of anxiety has been completely lifted away.
It’s incredible and sad how many people I know (including myself) that have had things like this happen on FB where the friends and family, you know, have bad disagreements. It’s so not cool for the soul, that sort of social media. Blogging is much better. Glad I found you today 🙂
People who hurt and abandon you and then pretend it didn’t happen … Oy, I hate that! It can be SO HARD to stay quiet, listen, see if there’s still someone there you recognize. I’ve been down that path a few times, with friends and family who matter to me, and I’ve learned that if I hold my tongue, guard my heart, and wait for “the right time to talk about it”, after a while I don’t want to “talk” either. Just letting it go isn’t only safer and easier – it leaves room for healing and new growth. I’ve found that a tough lesson to learn, though, and admire your willingness to give your Dad his way.
I never joined Facebook. It never interested me, but I’ve been tempted because for some people who I would like to reconnect with, it is their only form of social communication. Your post makes me glad I resisted.