Many people keep asking me why I deactivated Facebook two days ago. “Is everything ok” they ask? “What happened?”
Nothing happened –per say, but something hit me a couple of days ago. Like usual, I woke up and turned on my computer and immediately clicked on the small globe on the bottom of the screen and of course opened three tabs: Gmail, Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes I do that while I’m still in bed.
Once on Facebook, I scrolled down and read the list of status updates, from personal life issues, iftar photos, to mostly, political opinions and smear campaigns. As usual, I read some negative and sad information about Yemen. Some of it of course exaggerated. Rumors fly around Facebook, faster than the time it takes you to load a video on YouTube (if you live in Yemen that is). A sound of a firecracker in one’s neighborhood becomes “heard bombs near my house today”… “I heard it too” responds another user. “Can you confirm it?” someone asks “Yes, the shop owner’s cousin who works in the military hospital 5 kilometers away confirmed it”.
Reading Facebook statuses one assumes that Yemen is doomed and tomorrow we will all wake up to a war. These rumors of course not only relate to politics, but also to personal life. People can and have started lots of smear campaigns based on lies and spread it all over Facebook.
Another irritating aspect of Facebook is the “bragging” component. (don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about). While I believe it’s natural to want to share our successes with friends and family, and to seek their input, it feels like sometimes it’s not simply about sharing accomplishments or even information sharing, but rather it’s just to brag. This becomes so irritating when people don’t realize how much work others are doing just but because they do not have the 20th century “bragging” skill for social media or they are not connected online; so their work goes unnoticed.
Worse, is the fact that most of what I read on Facebook these days are hateful comments between people or about other people. Political differences between groups appear so intense online yet in the national dialogue for example, the same people are more diplomatic with each other. People feel freer to bash others behind a screen, and while you can get caught up in this political soap opera of who bashed whom and what did they say, it is purely a waste of time and energy.
Another aspect of this is how much you think you are doing by being “politically active online”. Of course there is a lot you can do, but when many activists are on facebook rather than on the ground, something is missing, especially in a country where the majority are illiterate and Internet penetration is about 14.9 percent (up from 5 percent in just one year!).
Of course Facebook has some advantages, such as connecting with family and friends at an instance, and another interesting advantage in the Yemeni context is reading what officials say. Many high level officials are on facebook, and sometimes what they write on their FB walls becomes official decrees, and sometimes it doesn’t, but you can often assess a lot by what these top officials post. (Of course this does not apply to one former official who loves to post photos of himself in interesting attire or locations. This we follow for purely entertainment value).
But the entertainment value seems to be shrinking. The amount of informational intake is exhausting, as it seeps the energy out of you without even realizing. The amount of short sentences you read, the links to articles, the videos, and the comments are time consuming as well. Of course you will say just stop reading everything, but Facebook makes it hard to filter what you read. You are bombarded with information whether you like it or not. You wont know how two hours just passed! I found myself addicted, always checking if I have comments, and pressing that re-fresh button too many times in one hour. I used to have Internet on my phone and my bill was super high because I was always checking it from there too. I eventually deactivated Internet from my phone.
But what made me stop is not necessarily the time consuming nature, rather the amount of hate that I have been exposed to, which got me down. I don’t want to be consumed by hate, sadness or bitterness. Lately it not only sidetracked me from doing my work, but mainly adds to my negative feeling about the current situation in the country. I’m trying desperately to hold on to hope, and Facebook does not help. I need positive energy around me. This is why I decided to de-active my account. Not sure for how long, but the Facebook detox process has to begin.
Months ago, I de-activated my Facebook page and in the amount of time I was away, I was able to finish writing my fist ever play script. Lets hope this time around I can do something similar, and lets hope this detox process lasts.
I think I partially wrote this post to make a public commitment, and by so doing, I will think twice before returning to Facebook . So if you find me on FB in the future, do remind me of this post 😉