“I don’t know how to quit you,” the famous line from “Brokeback Mountain,” reverberates in my mind as I stare at my pandemonium-strewn desk. I have an intense lavender-scented candle going to soothe my nerves. My Pomodoro task timer uses a babbling brook sound, which is probably why I often have to pee. Finches land on the outdoor bird feeder like yellow-breasted commercial airliners to scarf up their food. And I can’t get onto Facebook because it’s down. What?! This must be a mistake. I try to log on, over and over.
Like a smoker who automatically lights up whenever there’s a break in the action, I reach for Facebook. I scroll and post daily, although I don’t consider my usage excessive compared to other people I know. However, not being able to log on feels like I have a cigarette but no lighter.
I wonder if the outage is due to the “60 Minutes” segment with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen or merely a coincidence? (It was the latter.) Ms. Haugen confirmed what most of us already suspected, backed up with over 10,000 pages of Facebook’s own documentation. The bottom line: Facebook’s algorithms consistently fuel hatred, violence, racism, sexism, misinformation, disease, even genocide. As much as I despise Facebook, I also love it like a nicotine user loves her cigarettes… and I can’t quit.
I have been a hardcore feminist for decades, professionally, personally, and culturally. A purist I am not. How do I know that for sure? I have stayed on Facebook despite its deplorable genesis as a virtual catalog for horny college boys’ hotness ratings of unwitting college gals. Zuckerberg and his cronies had no moral compass. None of them ever said, “Wait. We are objectifying other human beings at Harvard with ratings akin to a livestock show.” I continue to be surprised at how many people, including other feminists, have conveniently forgotten or ignored that the social platform so many of us use for socializing and business was built on the backs of objectified women.
When I initially decided to write a column about Facebook this week, it would primarily focus on the deleterious impact that Facebook-owned Instagram has on young women. How young female users exacerbate their already fragile self-esteem when looking at influencers. These Instagram stars make their living via their (often-photoshopped) bodies, complying with so-called Western ideals of cis-feminine beauty. When I first joined the women’s liberation movement, I was determined to not live my life based on impossible beauty standards. I have been somewhat successful; not entirely. That was decades ago, and we’re still dealing with this crap? Girls are still killing themselves, either spiritually or actual suicide, because of beauty while advertisers make billions based on the insecurities of women of all ages.
We now know the problems with Facebook go far beyond Instagram. And yet… Facebook enabled me to connect with other feminists, ending the loneliness and isolation that has often kept women apart and downtrodden for centuries. This community has been dramatically transformed and galvanized because of Facebook, and that keeps me hooked, guilt pangs be damned. We coordinate actions, protests, make ideas contagious and foment rebellion — all on a platform that is rooted in sexism.
On a personal level, the service also transcends geography. I communicate with people worldwide, including my third grade teacher, plus friends from grade school, high school and college. I talk with my sweet cousins’ families. I’d hate to let go of all that. I am weighing the idea of leaving for good, yet I probably won’t.
We can and should regulate Facebook. We know that promises of “we’ll regulate ourselves” rarely pan out. Whether it’s insider trading, pollution, cancer, heart disease, lead in water, the oil industry, expecting Facebook to police itself is akin to politely asking the fox to stop raiding the chicken coop. And I’m a mostly happy chicken watching her dreams of democracy swept away by Facebook’s profit motives.
Product liability is generally used as a tort theory regarding hidden defects in cars or physical items. What about Facebook liability? What if we were to sue them for intentionally amplifying dangerous and deadly ideas and helping to foment the Capitol Riot? Can they be held liable for killings or suicides? What about inciting damage to young women, seen and unseen?
I can draw a direct line from ancient misogynistic customs to current trends on Instagram. Customs like foot-binding, deadly Elizabethan white lead-based makeup, rib-breaking corsets to achieve ridiculously skinny bodies, genital cutting, child brides, etc. These are practices designed to enslave girls and women to deadly fashion dictates promoted by social media. Do I really equate genocide with behavior/beauty standards for females? In a way, yes. I consider the loss of female talent tantamount to a form of extermination. But that’s for another column.
I do an occasional “geezer” check to see if I’m sometimes rejecting social media because I’m a cranky older person over a certain age; I don’t. At any rate, I will stick with Facebook for now while I contemplate not knowing how to leave it.
Ellen Snortland has written commentary for decades. She also teaches creative writing and can be reached at ellen@