بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Click. Tap. Swipe.
That is all it takes nowadays for a random stranger to subscribe to your blog or Facebook feed.
To “Like” your page.
To “Follow” you on Twitter.
To “Add” you to their circles.
To “Pin” your photograph.
All over the world, people are now connected to each other with their intangible, virtual persona, profile, or ‘face’ that is supposed to reflect their actual, physical identity.
But does it?
Different From Real Life
Real life relationships are different online, and vice versa.
It is always fun to connect and interact online, in the world of social media, with someone whom we have known for years in real life.
However, in some cases, we might get to ‘see’ a side of them that we did not know of during the years of our ‘real life’ relationship with them e.g. their opinions about certain issues and how strongly they feel about them.
This is even more true if they are avid readers, writers, thinkers, activists, or active professionals in any field, who like sharing their thoughts articulately online.
We might get to see a new side of them, especially if we witness their frank online discussions and interactions with people from their other circles, which did not include us during the years that we knew them in person e.g. professional colleagues, family members, childhood friends, or spouses.
In some unfortunate cases, this new ‘epiphany’ of sorts regarding our perception/knowledge of them, might start to signal the end of our real-life relationship with them.
The Reverse Scenario
Now for positive/less depressing analysis. In many cases, online social media brings together people who have hitherto not known, seen or met each other before in real life.
Rather ironically, the gelling factor in these cases is, also, exactly the same thing that I described in the above scenario, which drew otherwise close friends in real life apart once they connected online: their impassioned personal opinions, views and thoughts about issues, which they openly share and express online.
These expressions of personal thoughts started to garner them the support, love and admiration of like-minded new individuals who responded to their tweets, viewed their writings on Facebook, or commented on their blog posts.
Real life meetups were the natural result, and lo and behold! They connected instantly in person almost as soon as they set eyes on each other.
And though they met in flesh and blood for for the very time, it felt like they’d known each other for years.
A Double-Edged Sword
Thankfully, alhamdulillah, the latter case that I have described above, has happened to me with more sisters than the former one, although the few cases of my ‘real life’ female friends drifting away from me once they connected with me online, and read my views through my blog and Facebook, have definitely left a bad taste in the mouth.
You see, some of these past ‘friends’ decided to publicly challenge my views. Nothing wrong with that, although as I reluctantly took the bait and disagreed with their counter-opinions, I found myself getting drawn into a useless back-and-forth dialogue, which was clearly wasting my time and theirs.
Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to find out that those who challenge me stop hearing from me for a while if they decide to argue with me about any topic, because I detest arguments and debates with every inch of my being.
I also leave i.e. walk away from, an argument almost as soon as it starts, either by remaining silent, or physically going away. Because I believe that this action – of being the first one to leave the argument – is what would garner me the pleasure Allah in such a situation.
As for my other personal reasons, I think debates and arguments are the biggest waste of breath, positive energy and time, and they never bring about any good results. One thing that they do achieve, however, is the unveiling of the true face (and intentions) of the one who first challenges another person. In public.
And Allah knows best.
Anyhow, while the end of those real life, so-called “friendships” began soon after I added a few such real-life friends as “Friends” on Facebook (ironically dichotomous isn’t it?), I nevertheless still continued to really enjoy having discussions on social media with other sisters, for a while.
I made many, many new ‘friends’ by connecting with some amazing sisters online, and eventually met a few of them in person, and continued to have fruitful discussions with them in the virtual world.
I got to know them better personally; I shared their joys and sorrows. I saw them get married and have their first baby. I made some great new professional contacts as well, such as with editors and other bloggers. Things were great!
Until Zuck made that IPO.
Dang. That was when my “happy bubble” burst — with a loud bang!
I have no idea whether the two are interrelated, but ever since Facebook had that IPO and then sent that conspicuously pointed email informing users about the change in their Terms and Conditions, and how the latter would affect their privacy, I have seen some decidedly creepy things that made my sixth sense tell me to cover my tracks online and proceed with immense caution whilst logged in to Facebook.
First of all, the sudden, unexpected increase in the number of ‘targeted’ ads and ‘Suggested Posts’ and pages!
I, like every other person, was in the habit of using the Facebook app installed on my smartphone. I, also like every other person, habitually browsed about something or another on my phone’s Safari browser.
That was all fine until I started noticing how the targeted ad of almost whatever I browsed about, would uncannily and almost creepily appear immediately in my Facebook news feed!
I mean, aren’t the frequent ads irritating enough as it is? I was beginning to get totally flabbergasted at how Facebook was tracking and cashing in on my browsing data from my phone!
The second thing that really started giving me the creeps because of Facebook, was about how it was tenaciously turning almost everyone amongst us, even the most humble and private ones, into unknowing narcissists, by keeping the default privacy setting for all their posts, links, status updates, and — cough — photos that they uploaded, to “Public”.
Now, that would perhaps be okay if Facebook informed them before they posted something online, that their privacy setting was set to ‘Public’ (and then asked them to confirm it before proceeding), and if it didn’t urge everyone to use tags and location data whenever they posted something online.
But it doesn’t. It also keeps throwing lists of “People You May Know” into everyone’s faces. And doesn’t leave them alone if they refuse to log in for days, by sending them email updates about what they have missed on Facebook.
You see, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Facebook thrives on a basic human need: social acceptance. The desire to be liked, admired and praised by other people. The need to fit in, be popular and considered ‘hip’.
Which is why Facebook wants every one of us to keep sharing our petty non-issues online, and it ensures that we almost always have an audience to “Like” what we share.
A LOT of (really dirty) laundry aired in public.
A LOT of occupied “virtual” soap boxes.
And a LOT of self-made narcissists.
Do I Know You?
There are so many people I used to know about, e.g. through common acquaintances at school or college. I never knew much beyond their name, or perhaps the number of their siblings. But I never really knew them.
However, as I sit writing this blog post right now, I now know (decades later) — courtesy Facebook’s “Friends of Friends” lists, tags, and location features — who these people are married to, where they live, where they work, what their (first or latest) child’s name is, where they went to vacation this year, what (or not) they wore on the beach while there, and what theme they chose for their last kids’ birthday party/cake.
Sigh. And you know what?
Having seen this kind of stuff makes me shudder and cringe with guilt. Because I do not think that these people would want me to see their photograph(s), or browse their online profile. And yet, all this information of theirs is set to ‘Public’, so what else can they expect?
You see, that is the other thing that Facebook thrives on; the other human trait that everyone of us is born with:
So That’s it?
Yes, without much further rambling, that is why I am sitting here cocooned in my shell, off my soap box, and no longer active on Facebook. I could not take knowing any more.
Knowing what people (who know me and whom I know) did at a certain place with certain people, during which they allowed themselves to be photographed in (*cough*) compromising positions.
I couldn’t take knowing any more. Because while Facebook didn’t yet turn me into one of it’s full-fledged narcissists, it was gradually turning me into a grudging but stealthy stalker.
And even if I unsubscribed from Friends’ feeds, I still got to see many things that I never intended to or wanted to see, whenever someone on my Friends’ list decided to comment on something.
Now, in the end, I just have a list of questions for you, which each one of us should ask ourselves:
For the “narcissists”:
- Can you pass a single day without sharing something online?
- Can you pass a whole week without taking a selfie (and sharing one online)?
- When you post pictures online, is it because you want others to praise you? Or do you want to share your happiness with them?
- Do you like (i.e. are fond of) all of your Facebook “Friends”?
- Did you add every Facebook Friend because you wanted to? Or because you couldn’t turn down their request due to some kind of social obligation, guilt, or pressure?
- Do you check back often to see how many people have liked your update/photograph, and who they are?
- Does it crush you when no one does?
- Do you still pursue the hobbies and interests that you used to, before Facebook/Twitter existed?
- How much time do you spend online, as compared to connecting with people in real life?
- Do your family members (especially your children) complain about how much you/your eyes remain glued to a screen?
- If you were to go on a vacation to a remote locale with your loved ones, would you be able to stay offline from social media for a week?
And these are the questions I have for religious Muslims:
- Do you post more photos of yourself online now, than you did before?
- Is your hijab gradually slipping, as you post more photos of yourself online?
- Do you believe that the number of ‘Likes’ on your Facebook page (or the number of your followers on Twitter) depicts your true popularity among people?
- If all social media were to suddenly shut down indefinitely, would it affect your current motivation level for your da’wah work?
- Do you like being called “hot”?
- Do you like being publicly praised for your looks, by members of the opposite gender?
- Do you like being publicly praised for your work? Do you always retweet such praise?
- Have your religious views changed a lot since you started your Facebook page/blog/Twitter profile?
- How well you do you take criticism now, as compared to before you became a social media personality/public figure?
- How often do you engage in debates and back-and-forth arguments online?
Conclusion: I’m Out For Now
Currently, the situation stands like this: I log in to Facebook when I have to share something that (I have been told) most people would like me to share publicly, such as my latest articles.
I do miss some sisters a lot, with whom I loved to connect on social media. I really do miss interacting with them.
However, I cringe from ‘stalking’ the personal information that more and more people are inadvertently or knowingly sharing publicly online. And I don’t want to reconnect with these sisters whom I still consider to be among my special friends, at the cost of my peace of mind.
There is so much that people are sharing that I’d rather not know.
There are so many people whom I will perhaps meet some day with a casual nod and a half-reluctant “How are you?” as we cross paths by chance, and they wouldn’t have a clue about what I’ve seen them doing in an online photo. Nor will I be able to tell them that I know about it. Nor will they want me to do that, because they never wanted or expected me to see that photograph, did they?
Because we don’t really know each other. We never have. We just happen to know two separate people, who are each other’s ‘Friends’ on Facebook.
And in today’s world, that’s all that is needed to have someone’s nocturnal social activities broadcast halfway across the globe, in front of eyes and ears that never intended to witness them in the first place.
So which one are you: a stalker, or narcissist?
Take your pick!