THE FACEBRAG PHENOMENON

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A Social Media Crushing

By /  Kimberly Gyatso   All Pictures Taken From The Author’s Facebook Wall

I am what the modern world would refer to as a “social media mutant.” I’ve never had a MySpace or Tumblr account, I’ve never “tweaked” (or is it tweeted?), and I don’t have a Facebook page. Gasp! A recluse, an out of touch freak! No, I’m not a social pariah, but I do happen to be very private about personal matters. In fourth grade when I had to sing a solo as the mermaid in our school’s production of Peter Pan, I hid in the maintenance closet backstage. Sadly, I was found and condemned to seven minutes of torture in a polyester scallop top and sequined fish tale. So to me, Facebook seemed like a spotlight I had zero interest standing under.

The first time I heard about Facebook was from British friends I met while traveling in Vietnam circa 2007. We’d spent a few weeks trail blazing together and when it was time to part ways they assumed we’d keep in touch via Facebook (at the time, it was all the rage in Europe). The horror! A global citizen such as myself away from home for an indefinite amount of time with no cell phone and no Facebook?! How did I keep everyone abreast of what I was doing? How did I show off pictures from my adventures? I must have a blog, they cried, but my answer was simply that I didn’t. I believed in living in the present and allowing things to naturally and organically cross my path. I’d show everyone what I experienced when I got home. I’d keep everyone’s email addresses that I met along the way, write often, and send pictures.
 
Then the first monsoon of the season destroyed the email addresses scratched in the margins of my rice paper journals. As for being a good pen pal, the lack of electricity in the Himalayan town I lived in hindered that. I’ve now been back in the States for a few years and most of my close friends and family haven’t seen my pictures from those three years in Asia.
Okay, so maybe the Brits had a point.
By the time I came back to the States, the Facebook explosion was in full frenzy. Everyone was constantly talking about what they saw on Facebook and the random people that it connected them to. The excitement and fixation of looking into other people’s lives seemed to be edging dangerously close to Restraining Order City. The exhilaration was like a tsunami and I held tight on high, dry land.
My older sister, however, would tell me what my friends were doing Friday night in San Francisco, even though she lived in Los Angeles. My best friend in Chicago told me who my ex-boyfriend in Uruguay was dating- talk about too much information.  But I had to see it for myself, so one night I logged on as my sister and had my social media innocence officially tarnished.
Since when did the entire world become ZOOLANDER with their profile pictures? Was this like a digital yearbook that quantified popularity based on how many “friends” one had? Did I really need to know that you just ate pancakes, person who was in my sister’s junior high English class? This wasn’t Facebook it was Facebrag. Did the social world revert back to high school and I didn’t get the Event Invite? And how could I? I didn’t have an account.

Then the backlash began. At first, it was in the form of people getting caught in lies about plans; instead of being at your friend’s goodbye party you said you had to go to your Grandma’s 80th birthday, which must have been wild since you were tagged in photos downing Irish car bombs at a bar. Go Nana.
Next, its tentacles reached the relationship world. Exes started coming out of the woodwork and current significant others were less than amused. Pictures commented on inappropriately, incessant posting of superfluous information, possible secret chatting and messaging…the gates had been opened. Two of my best friends received their first Facebook relationship stings and each of them is no longer with those boyfriends.
At first, I will admit, this initial Facebook melodrama devilishly entertained me. All that self-righteous documentation got what it deserved. It was like celebrities complaining about fame- if they didn’t want it then they shouldn’t keep shoving their faces in front of the cameras. The same principle applied to Facebook. All of this further solidified my stance towards Facebrag; nothing was going to get me on that website. In fact, I took pleasure in being one of the last people to not join because it represented a preservation of integrity to me. I maintained this stance for years, all the way up to January of this year.
And then somehow, a small country controlled by a thirty-year-old dictatorship under the guise of a democracy, overthrew their government. How was this possible in a region that didn’t have high levels of Internet users, let alone literacy? North Africa has been plagued with long standing dictatorships that hope to retard their societies from modern progress by keeping them locked in the dark from the rest of the world via poor Internet access and extreme political censorship.
Tunisia, however, happens to be the most active North African country online and clearly this worked to the protestors advantage. In a sense, a generational gap was exposed and exploited; the dictators that seized power in the 1970’s were now being thrown out of their countries with thanks to the very modern, virtual force that they had worked so hard to control. The new generation ironically mastered the power of the internet and the more the Tunisian government suppressed web access, the more hackers attacked the censorship- eventually the government gave up.
Facebook continued to broadcast pictures, videos, and locations of the protests until they ultimately won. Ben Ali fled the country with his shame plastered all over international media and the world watching. Hope from Tunisia’s social media success spread throughout the region and now change has swept through the Arab world all because of the same online community I had refused to join. What if a revolution started here (a girl can dream) and I didn’t know where to go for the protests? I could potentially lose out on playing a part in and contributing to history.
That’s when I realized that I had been looking at Facebook from the wrong angle. I had been too fixated on the possibility of frivolous ghosts from my social past and traumatized by this neo-exhibitionism that I had completely failed to understand the scope. Facebook didn’t need to be about random people desperate for attention, but about joining forces with likeminded groups that I wouldn’t normally be able to reach. It was about surpassing the connections the material world has to offer and merging forces with a larger community in order to make a bigger impact.
But I still resisted the idea at the risk of never hearing the end of it from my friends. Until Murabak was ousted. And Bahrain began protesting. Then Yemen, Syria, and Libya– a country that had virtually been frozen in the seventies except for its insane ruler and his modern extravaganzas- all lit up the screens. Anything aimed at getting an evil dictator with forty female virgins trained for combat as his personal security had my attention. So I shelved my pride, braced for social awkwardness and joined. I just couldn’t stand the idea of missing out on a revolution.
And so my social media activism began. Thanks to a few highly political friends and my own searching, I was able to connect with organizations and groups that I am truly inspired by. Being able to read new reports from Amnesty International, follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and support The Global Soap Project with a click of a button was beyond efficient and surprisingly exhilarating.
So this is why people post and like and share – Facebook can be a catharsis. I decided to post a heart-breaking, but incredibly important U.S. study that figures at least forty-eight women and girls in DR Congo are raped every hour (mind you reporting a rape in DR Congo is as easy as lifting an elephant with your pinky finger). I felt oddly satiated that everyone who is friends with me was forced to face that hell of a fact and it inspired me to horrify, I mean educate, them with more.
It took me five months to get into my Facebook groove, but I’ve finally achieved it. I still retain my thoughts on the ever-willing exhibitionism on the site, but I’ve learned how to navigate around it (“Hide All Posts By ____” is pure genius). I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I’m a cutting-edge, contributing member to progressive change! It’s official: I have a crush on Facebook.

Then Google+ came out.
 
 

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