Monday, May 21, 2012

Breeding Negativity: The Effects of a Facebook "Friend"

Change is in the air and it mainly seems to be happening on everyone’s Facebook pages.  Every day I log in, I see more and more people posting something along the lines of, “I need to weed out my friends.  There are too many people on my list who either don’t know or don’t understand me.”  And I have one thing to say about that.


Yesterday, Mike and I were sitting out on the back porch, enjoying the weather, when he checked his phone and said, "Huh.  I just got a friend request from someone I don't even recognize who says she's friends with someone I don't recognize."  And what did he do?

He friended her.

It's become almost a reflex, this whole friending business.  I've done my best to keep my list small and, when I receive a friend request, only accept it if I see other people on their list that I recognize.  But let's be honest.  I don't know that person and chances are I don't really know the person that I "recognize."  My friend list has grown to almost 500 people and I'm betting that I've only actually met half of them face-to-face.  In the past year, I've become really self-conscious about what I've put out there (and it's the stuff that I never think anyone could find fault with that someone posts something negative about.  Surprises me every time).

There’s no doubt about it.  Facebook has completely changed how we all communicate with each other and while most of those changes are positive – I can keep track of friends and family members I unfortunately don’t get to see often – some are on the negative side.  And I don’t think people realize how much it affects them.  One minute you're so excited, posting something about a nice guy you just went on a date with and the next you're getting blasted by someone you don't really know who really has no clue about your life and situation.  And that would ruin anyone's day.

It's easy to be judgmental about people you don't know.  It's easy to make a comment to a profile picture you don't really have a history with.  It's easy to be negative and roll your eyes at a status update when you've never even been in the same room with the person who is making it.

And it's easy to be hurt by it.

I know that there are some people out there who like that aspect of Facebook and Twitter.  They post their political or religious beliefs in a way that begs for discussion and thrive on the 30 comments that follow.  But most people aren't like that.  I believe that most people post things about their day or what's going on in their lives just waiting for an "LOL" or "That's awesome."  

And then are struck down when a virtual stranger says, "What were you thinking?" or "I would never do something like that."

The truth is, I do my best to let what happens on the Widow Chick Facebook page roll off my back.  I ask questions and post blogs, hoping that it will inspire communication in the widow community.  I don't expect everyone to agree with me.  While most people are "friendly" in that group, I haven't "friended" everyone and they join on their own:  It's an open page for anyone to see and take part in.

But my personal page...that's different.  It's personal.  It seems like everyone forgot what their mothers taught them about "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all."  On my personal page, I don't post things there for discussion.  I post things about my life.  Those people should be my friends, just as the people on your own personal page should be yours.  It's not a page for everyone to see.  It's a closed page so that I can keep track of the people I care about.  And for people who care about me enough to want to know what's going on in my life.

It's crazy how much power we've put into this whole "friending" business.  I was just talking to a friend of mine (yes, a real-life friend) about how she was thinking about unfriending someone.  But she was worried about how to do it in a way that wouldn't offend.  Because when you "unfriend" someone these're really making a statement.

I've had some people disappear from my personal page.  And do you know how I know that?  Because one day I'll be looking at the number of friends I have and it will be one less.  The sad thing is, because there are so many people on the list that I only kind of know or don't really know at all...I don't know who it was.  And that's terrible.  Because in "real life"...if I lose a friend, I know who it is and why.

I'm just coming to terms with how much this whole social media thing affects me and how easy it is to let the negativity of a stranger creep its way into my life.  It's something we should all be aware of.  I'm sure someone somewhere is performing some sort of study on social media and how it affects our outlook on the world around us.  And if they aren't, they should be.  We're giving it so much power, allowing it to take over our lives.  Not one person out there needs to be bombarded with negativity on a regular basis.

Because negativity only breeds negativity.  And then we're the ones ruining someone else's day.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.

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