I joined Facebook in 2009 and, like most people, became instantly hooked. What was this shiny new blue wonderland to explore? Do you mean to say I can spy on people and pass judgment without them knowing? And what the hell is poking?
I quickly began adding friends and searching for people I hadn’t seen in years. Oh the joy of seeing someone you absolutely hate piling on stone after stone, or coming across an ex boyfriend who still lives at his mums house. Shallow? Yes. But this is the world of social media, and modern life hasn’t been the same since.
At the start it was all so lighthearted. Pictures of people’s cute pets, holiday snaps and YouTube videos. My friends and I used to post a lot of music. I loved it.
My ideal Friday night was a bottle of wine in front of my laptop. We would all have an armchair disco, each posting tune after tune, revisiting our youth in the comfort of our own living room and for the price of a cheap bottle of vino.
Being so far away from my family and friends meant that Facebook was the ideal way for me to keep in contact with everyone (I hated talking on the phone at the best of times). I couldn’t get enough of it.
The dark side
For me personally, things began to change when I was trying for a baby. My new favourite hobby was now a cause of stress, with each photo of a scan or a new pregnancy announcement just blow after agonising blow.
Infertility is by far the worst thing I have ever been through (I will get round to writing about it one day), and I believe Facebook made it ten times worse. I tried to quit. I deleted my account but, like any addiction, my detox didn’t last long. I stupidly thought I was missing out on something.
As the relentless journey for a baby continued my depression worsened. I took every happy baby-related post as a personal attack.
Why are they doing this to me?!
Don’t they know what I’m going through?
But of course, no one did. I have never been one to display every single detail of my personal life on Facebook like some do, and even if all the people on my friends list did know what I was going through, what could they do?
I couldn’t stop people from getting pregnant or sharing photos of their babies, after all, that’s what social media is all about. But I wanted to. I never wanted to see another baby or pregnant belly again, not until I had my own. It sounds so selfish now, but that’s what infertility does to you, it changes you into a different person.
Reading between the lines
The danger of reading words on a screen instead of actually talking to a person face to face is that wires get crossed.
I could read a sentence and interpret it in a totally different way to how you would. And therein lies an infinite amount of problems.
Depending on whatever narrative your brain is following at the time your mood could go one way or another after reading a certain post.
I’ve been there. I’ve had to stop myself writing a snidy comment on a friend’s post, reminding myself that I was just having a really bad day and it wasn’t her fault.
A few years ago I had ‘liked’ one of those sarcastic memes, it said something like “do you ever just want to whisper in someone’s ear ‘shut the f**k up’?” I was thinking about a really annoying work colleague that it related to at the time.
However, my activity just happened to appear under one of John’s mum’s posts about some soppy baby thing, and she instantly thought it was about her (never mind the fact that I was going through the worst time of my life with being infertile, but that’s another story for another post).
Cue a load of text messages from his mum, sister and niece accusing me of wanting to ‘punch her in the face’! Yes really. How it went from liking a funny picture to wanting to punch an old lady in the face is anyone’s guess.
I had to trawl through my news feed to find the offending meme and send it to all three of them in a private message, asking them exactly what I had done. They apologised but blamed eachother. It’s the modern day equivalent of Chinese whispers.
As much as two thirds of how we communicate is non verbal. Things like body language, hand gestures and tone of voice all play an important role in how we get our message across.
This is completely lost when we are sat behind our phones or tablets tapping out our thoughts, hoping that the reader understands what we are trying to say.
Yes we can use different fonts and italics to emphasise certain words, but a lot of the time it gets lost in translation.
Emojis have made conveying our emotions slightly easier, but to be honest I don’t even know what half of them mean.
Making mental health worse
Not only have I experienced a change in my mental health as a direct result of Facebook, I also watched in horror as an extremely close family member declined rapidly, and it was displayed online for everyone to witness.
This person has bipolar disorder, and for those that don’t know what it is, it is a mental health disorder that affects your mood. They can experience extreme highs and lows.
During a manic phase the symptoms include being extremely active and not sleeping, speaking very quickly or not making sense, saying or doing things that are completely out of character, losing social inhibitions, misusing drugs and alcohol and experiencing psychosis (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there).
As a family we started to notice things weren’t right as their behaviour on Facebook became very strange.
For a start they were on it pretty much 24 hours a day. I would wake up in the morning and my entire news feed would be filled with random posts throughout the night. And as soon as one of us would post anything we would get a ‘like’ or a comment immediately.
I noticed that they would leave really strange comments on people’s posts. Once I saw a comment saying ‘me and my partner are going away on holiday soon’ (they didn’t have a partner, and certainly weren’t going on holiday).
Then the paranoia set in…they started publicly accusing friends of stalking them, and even stealing money from their bank account. None of this was true. We had a few messages from concerned friends asking if they were ok, and we just had to explain that they weren’t well at the moment.
The problem when they are in a manic phase is that there’s not much you can do about it, you just have to let them ride it out.
We couldn’t physically stop them from going online and logging into Facebook, just like you can’t lock a heroin addict in a room to go cold turkey, it doesn’t work like that.
We called the doctor and the mental health team did their assessment. Medication was prescribed, and eventually they returned to normal (after going through the heartbreakingly low phase). And now when we talk about it, they can’t remember any of it.
According to studies, Facebook addiction activates the same part of the brain as cocaine. So while our dear family member wasn’t going out and getting pissed or snorting line after line of the white stuff, they were doing just as much damage sitting at home in front of their computer.
The worst thing about it is the embarrassment and shame they now have to live with, as their breakdown was publicly played out for all and sundry to see, and some people just aren’t that understanding are they.
Facebook is now cited as a factor in a third of all divorce cases. People are igniting old flames, openly flirting or being a bit too friendly with people they shouldn’t be.
Understandably, relationships are suffering because of it. We’ve all been there. How many times have you been a bit suspicious of your partner’s Facebook activity, or noticed that one person who keeps commenting on and liking all their posts with loads of kisses at the end?
I’m sure the majority of the time it’s completely innocent, but I wonder how many affairs have been started as a direct result of Facebook?
It’s not just romantic relationships that are being affected. In the post Brexit/Trump era I have seen so many arguments between friends and family, my own included.
A friend messaged me a few days after the June referendum to ask me if I was upset with her with what she had written on Facebook (she was a leave voter, I was remain).
Because I never commented on her post, she thought I had fallen out with her. The truth was I just didn’t want to get into an argument, which is what would have happened.
A few weeks ago I had practically a week long row with my own uncle on Facebook over Trump. He actually supports him, and I most certainly do not.
The problem with that was I was actually presenting factual arguments with supporting evidence, and he was just calling it bullshit and fake (it was like I was arguing with the orange man child himself). I was exhausted by the end of it, and I’ve made a conscious effort not to post anymore political posts or comment on any others (I’ve had to really bite my tongue at times).
It has saddened me to realise that a member of my own family is a full blown racist, there’s no other word for it. And if it wasn’t for Facebook I would never have known.
It really does bring the worst out in people, and their true personalities shine through. It makes you wonder why any of us participate in it in the first place…to show off? To boost our egos? Or just to be plain nosey?
You can tell a lot about a person just by the pages they like (have a look at the Britain First page as it will tell you which of your friends likes it…prepare to be shocked). It seems that at the moment with the country so divided, everyone is trying to outdo eachother with one sarcastic meme at a time.
I love a good satirical post, but I’m just so depressed by it all now. I spend a lot more time on Twitter and Instagram, they’re much safer and friendlier environments I find (although you do get the odd Twitter troll).
If it wasn’t for the fact that my family and friends are miles away I would delete my Facebook account immediately. I have absolutely no plans to create a page for my blog.
The plain truth is though that, underneath all the shite, it is a really good way to keep in touch with people. If it wasn’t for Facebook no one would see how fast Molly is growing up, and vice versa with my niece and nephew etc. Like it or not, Facebook is here to stay, but my love affair with it is most certainly over.