Recently a former Facebook employee blew a whistle too loud to be ignored. She provided evidence linking the Instagram platform to the emotional troubles suffered by many of its teenage subscribers. Further, she asserted that Facebook was guilty of facilitating the spread of untruths that gave rise to the seditious acts we observed this past January 6.

Could futurists have predicted this outcome? Could futurists have drawn a line from an experiment designed by a few Harvard University students, and foreseen it permutate and become today’s tangled tentacles of communication? Where would those lines terminate? Where will those interlocking lines terminate?

Alarmed by January’s attempted coup and the big lie so many jelly-toed political sycophants continue to broadcast, I’m finding it difficult to justify “friending” Facebook. Ever conscious of the emotional pain endured by young Instagram users who are trying to navigate the rough waters of peer pressure and self-doubt, I feel a crise-de-conscience coming on. If I’m a Facebook user, am I an Instagram enabler?

Do you recall the first time you heard the term “Facebook?” I remember being curious, but at the same time feeling pretty sure that this Facebook thingy was designed for people a couple of generations younger than mine. Turns out I was right.

As the months tick-tocked by, the publicity surrounding Facebook coaxed the “F” word into conversations amongst my friends. We’d socialize, balancing our wine glasses and opinions upon the fulcrum of our hopes for marriage equality, or the election of the first Black president, when out of the blue a tech-savvy friend would ask, “Are you on Facebook?”

“Oh, no!” We’d answer with disdain. Then we’d speedily distance ourselves from the topic as if we’d been asked, “Would you like to be infected with leprosy?”

In those days our negative responses to communing with Facebook were clothed in an attitude of feigned wisdom and “we’re-too-intelligent-and-mature-to-join-a-social-network.” Our unearned arrogance assured us that we were supremely comfortable with the conventional ways of forming friendships and would not even consider joining Facebook.

Until… We had a “legitimate” reason to do so.

My legitimate reason? I needed to get the word out about my second published book, Breaking Jaie. How could I beat the positive results of typing a few words, pressing the ENTER key, and anticipating the up-raised thumbs, smileys, and comments of a few hundred “friends?” And all of that was gratis!

In the years that followed, I became a daily Facebook habituée.

Now I need to question my use of the platform. Why haven’t I quit my FB habit? What have my daily visits given me?

They have given me connections to a community of writers. The visits have provided me opportunities to exchange thoughts/opinions about the state of the nation. In this era of fear-fueled, lie-based anger, the discovery of like-minded allies is a soothing balm.

I’ve formed bonds with members of my high school class (Yay! #211,) whose names I’ve known since the 1960’s, but whose personhoods I’m only now appreciating. In some respects we’re much better women than we were girls. Through the daily photos and commentary posted by my friend, author Ann Aptaker, I’ve traveled to France twice in the last fifteen months. Along with other members of the group, “Memories of W. Mt. Airy,” I’ve viewed pictures and reminisced about the places that were the background of my formative years. There’s comfort in those memories. I’ve been able to post notices about my books, author events, and my monthly blogs. I’ve shared some of my my friends’ posts as well. During these difficult months of Covid-inspired social isolation, my connections to my FB friends have proved to be valuable.

So…I remain conflicted. Am I a tiny wheel on a giant communications vehicle that encourages young women to damn their body images or consider suicide as the only response to their discomfort? Through some secret algorithm, am I complicit in supporting fraudulent information that seeks to take down our democracy?

I’ve seen how easy it is to react to false info. One day this past week I read a post about a friend who was preparing to move to France. As quickly as my fingers could land atop the keys, I forwarded a French newsletter to her because it was filled with vital information all foreigners should know if they’re going to live in France. Before that day melted into evening, this friend responded. News of her upcoming Transatlantic move was a hoax. She and her wife were moving alright, from one side of their Nevada city to the other. No need for VISAS or pre and post-arrival Covid testing.

I just stared at the space above my device’s screen and then reached for my glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

As always Dear Readers, I welcome your reactions and thoughts.

P.S. Before launching this post, I learned of the death of Colin Powell. His loss is palpable, especially for those of us who are a certain age, who are Black, who understand his importance both symbolically and real. Thank you General Powell, for affirming who we are and for your service to the nation.

© Renée Bess 2021

Renée Bess is the author of five novels, and the co-story collector of the GCLS award-winning anthology, Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices From the Gay Bars. She is one of four winners of the 2019 Alice B. Readers Award. Her latest book, Between a Rock and a Soft Place, A Collection of Work, is available for purchase at Amazon.com, BellaBooks.com, Kobobooks.com, and can be ordered from independently owned bookstores everywhere.

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