After Six Years Away, I’m Back On Facebook

After Six Years Away, I’m Back On Facebook

I hate Facebook.

I don’t really know why. I like the idea of it.

I like talking to my friends and hanging out with people, and Facebook makes that happen. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

But I never liked the way that Facebook made that communication happen. It was an ugly place, and invited superficial, banal, crap posts, self-indulgent rubbish. About five years ago I just gave up on it.

I’ve had six perfectly happy years without Facebook. I didn’t need it.

When I left, I deleted almost everything — old posts, old photos, any evidence of a social life. Entire albums, family holidays. I didn’t even bother saving them. Old status updates, the public record of Campbell Simpson’s life throughout his time at university and into the first years of his life as a (vaguely) professional writer — gone . There’s still photos of me on old friends’ pages, but my Facebook was — and still is — almost blank.

I left before Farmville was a thing. I left before cover photos. I left before Like buttons on the web and before Facebook cracked half a billion users. I left before emoji reactions. I left before The Social Network.

For a long time, my Facebook had a profile picture that was just the words “I don’t come here often.” And that was true. I never deleted the account entirely — although sometimes I thought about getting it over and done with — but I went 99 per cent of the way there. I’ve had to use Facebook for work, but it was always reluctant, and I was never really tempted to take part on any deeper personal level.

In the last five or six years, people that I was friends with learned to invite me to events over text or Whatsapp or any of the hundred other ways to get in touch with me. My high school reunion was organised over Facebook. I learned about it through a school friend who saw it on Facebook and knew that I wouldn’t have seen it. I’ve never felt like I missed out on anything, which I’m fortunate for.

But a couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to come back in. I still don’t really know why.

It started with Messenger, Facebook’s standalone-but-not-really instant messaging app. It was quick and easy to install, and it was the only way that a group of work colleagues were keeping in touch on a trip to Vegas for CES. I complained about it at the time, but I installed Messenger, and it worked really well for keeping in touch with everything that was going on. It makes perfect sense, of course — everyone uses Facebook except me — and it made me think, hey, maybe Facebook isn’t so bad. It snowballed from there.

From there it was a slow but inevitable process. I never installed the app — that would have felt like some kind of obscene defeat in the face of my stubbornness. Thankfully, Facebook’s mobile site never pushes you to. When you’re in a club in the early hours of the morning and you want to drunkenly pester someone from the other side of the world, the mobile site works well enough. And it works well for that pestering because Facebook is universal. You can leave a post on someone’s wall timeline and they’re going to see it, and other people are going to see it, and they’re going to comment.

That’s what drew me back in. I’ve used Twitter as my main social network and point of interaction with friends and acquaintances and strangers for the last half-decade, but it doesn’t have the same sense of intimacy. It’s not as granular — you see a bunch of notifications, and they’re all treated in the same way, either as a like or a mention or a retweet. You don’t have that sense of “oh, someone replied to my comment, what did they say?” on Twitter as you do on Facebook. That slightly-more-personal sense of interaction and importance is what got me back to Facebook.

Of course, re-joining Facebook was an invitation for some of the more socially-savvy members of Gizmodo’s staff to dig through my profile, commenting on and liking a bunch of cringe-worthy old posts and photos from my uni days — posts that I actually thought I’d deleted. No-one really likes the person that they were nine years ago, but the posts are interesting even if they’re a me that no longer exists (and that I’m happy no longer exists).

I can’t complain, because I do deserve it: one of the few times that I ventured onto Facebook in the last few years was to bully — extremely effectively — my old boss. While disgraced former Gizmodo editor Luke — a good mate of mine outside of work — was on a 15-hour plane journey, I took the opportunity to dredge up dozens of photos of him from a decade ago. Nothing awful, but just the kind of fresh-faced memories that were probably better left forgotten. I laughed then — so did he, eventually — so I have to grin and bear it now.

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t remember doing on Facebook. Apparently I’m a member of the Cool Dog Group. I’m finding all of this out like someone who’s awoken from a coma with no memory of their past life. There are a few things about Facebook that I remember, though, like Cow Clicker — but like most of the things I remember, nobody cares about Cow Clicker any more. The world has moved on.

And honestly, it’s not so bad. Facebook still looks ugly and is populated mostly with superficial junk, but there’s also a few diamonds in the rough.

A few minutes after I made my first proper Facebook post in six years, an ex-girlfriend sent me a message. “You’re too good for Facebook, what are you doing back here? See what happens when you engage with social media? Your annoying ex will send you unsolicited messages…”

That was the first interaction that I had with her in six years, almost precisely since I stopped using Facebook. It was almost poetic.

Mates that I haven’t talked with enough for too long have posted on my timeline to invite me to events and meetups and have popped up in Messenger to say hi. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone back to Facebook to take part in a world that I’ve been ignoring.

Talking to friends of friends is something that Facebook does really well. It’s very easy to see your mate commenting on someone else’s post, and feeling like it’s OK to chime in with your thoughts without feeling like too much of a dickhead. It’s easy to make friends online, really, and it’s easier on Facebook than it is anywhere else. The threshold for “hey, you’re not a terrible person, let’s talk” is really low.

I’m still walking on eggshells though, because there’s six years of implicit Facebook etiquette that I don’t know. Is it creepy to like a post and not leave a comment? Is it weird to comment without liking? What are reactions? I’m a quick study, though. I’ve gotten to the your-weird-aunt-posting-memes stage of Facebook in just a week, so by next month I’ll probably be just as expert as everyone else already is.

I’m still learning how to use the Facebook that exists in 2016. If you asked me to stalk some random person’s photos, I probably couldn’t — back in my day, you clicked on the Photos application. But I’m leaving comments and liking posts like a man possessed — even if I can’t make a GIF reply happen without accidentally posting a still image first then desperately trying to delete it before anyone sees. It’s fun, for now, and even if that changes, at least I’ve tried.

I hate Facebook a little bit less now. Not much, not yet, but a little bit. I understand it more, and I get why people use it — even if they don’t really like it.