By Geoff West
3:19 PM PST, January 15, 2013
Hello, my name is Geoff, and I'm a Facebook addict. That's how I recently began the process of assessing my participation on Facebook — the most popular social networking site in the world.
Some of you know that I've been a regular contributor of commentaries and letters to the editor here for more than a decade and that I've published a blog, A Bubbling Cauldron, that addresses mostly local political issues for more than seven years. I joined Facebook to expand the market awareness of my blog activities by posting links to individual entries. It served that objective well, with the readership increasing dramatically since I became a "Facebookian," a term my nephew uses to describe those of us who participate. Of course, much of that increase was also probably due to the contentious nature of our local politics for the past couple of years, and the frequency of my posts covering it.
I also found Facebook to be a useful tool for staying in touch with friends and relatives, some of whom are in remote locations and use the social network as their only means of communication. As time passed and I accumulated more "friends" — folks I wouldn't know if I tripped over them — I found myself learning way, way too much about the minutia of their lives. And, during the past couple of years, Facebook has been a forum for much political discourse — some of it pretty darn heated at times. I became hooked.
However, the intrusive downside of Facebook has finally become too much of an ordeal for me. When this fine newspaper and the Orange County Register finally threw in the towel in the battle of editing comments on their articles this year and chose to require every commenter to be on Facebook, it became the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. By doing so, they abdicated any control over the comments that appear on these pages online to Facebook. No longer do the editors of these newspapers get a vote — beyond that of any other Facebook user, who can block someone and prohibit their participation.
Now, if someone claims a comment has somehow "abused" them, an algorithm in a Facebook server farm decides if an "abuse" has actually occurred, and what the punishment might be. Facebook controls the game, decides who gets to play, and for how long. Facebook decides if your comment will be deleted, whether you'll be required to "stand in the corner" for a day, or whether you'll be banished for life.
The result has been that some commenters with particularly thin skin, and perhaps others with a more sinister plan, have begun using the Facebook algorithm as a way to quash criticism in the online pages. That's a real shame. Not that some of us have not stepped over the line from time to time and deserve a word of caution — we have, and do. However, the big algorithm in the sky is a soulless, heavy-handed entity that appears to be easily manipulated.
So, on Jan. 1, without the benefit of a 12-step program, I decided to cease participation on Facebook, knowing full well that I will be losing a lot by doing so. I, for example, will no longer be able to comment online on any article in the Daily Pilot or Orange County Register — even those I authored. If someone posts a critical comment on this commentary, for example, I will not be able to rebut it here. Nor will I have that conduit of communication to real friends. And I will probably never forgive Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies for devaluing the word "friend" in our society.
Now my problem will be finding ways to fill the hours I spent plowing through my Facebook page every day. I'm confident I'll find something constructive to do with that time. And I suspect there will be cheers around Newport-Mesa because, thanks to Facebook, the voice of a critic has been muted. That's a real shame.
GEOFF WEST, publisher of the A Bubbling Cauldron blog, lives in Costa Mesa.