Facebook and “Friends” in the Wake of Ferguson

Maybe it’s time to decontaminate your feed.


Scene from last Wednesday’s protest march (top); detail from a controversial post on the Facebook page of a Central Bucks West guidance counselor.

As a 29-year-old woman, this is how my Facebook feed tends to look: baby picture, wedding picture, baby-at-a-wedding picture, Supernatural spoiler (that last one might be my own contribution).

But over the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed an even less appealing trend: racist rant, thinly veiled racist rant, confusing meme that I suspect is a racist rant.

To clarify, I’m from the Northeast.

This is not, necessarily, to say that my hometown is any more backward than your own hometown. (Unless you’re from Amherst — you guys are pretty squeaky clean.) There’s an ugly, dumb contingent in every group of humans, and most of the time, I love that place. But post-Ferguson, I find myself rethinking my Internet relationship to the (Often, But Not Always) Great Northeast.

To use a fellow Northeaster’s term, many of our friendships were forged out of “geographic convenience” decades ago, when living on the north side of Rhawn Street meant more than interests or ideas (or a lack of both).

We natives still tend to drink with the people we went to kindergarten with, and we’re Facebook “friends” with the entire parish. A strange obsession with where we’re from means that we’ll find you — whether it be through a neighborhood group, a tagged graduation photo, or a beef-and-beer invite — and we will friend you. There’s a good chance our moms will, too. We’ll likely figure out that we’re distantly related in the process.

And while there are plenty of upsides to being from a large, tight-knit community, they’re hard to remember in the wake of the untimely deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.

Whatever currency nostalgia carried, it’s suddenly null and void when vicious, hate-mongering threads are the majority of your “top stories,” when disgraceful teachers and neighborhood cops join the racist mob.

(Don’t even start with me, Mayfair. I appreciate and respect the majority of police officers who routinely put their lives at risk to make our city a safer, more peaceful place. But if you truly think this is an untouchable, pious profession full of selfless Good Samaritans, you are naïve — something I’ve never before called the Northeast.)

In the real world, I know how to deal with the Northeast’s darker side. If I’m at a party and the conversation takes a particularly ugly turn, I say my piece, find my coat, and take a finger-full of birthday cake icing on the way out the door (why yes, that was me).

I suppose I could do the same and call it quits with Facebook, but I am a civil person with a short attention span, and I want my cat photos. And so I find myself doing what I thought was only a last resort for attention-seeking exes: De-friending.

Whereas we curate our real-world friends, for some reason the tendency is to accept Facebook requests from almost everyone we know. It’s considered childish to de-friend for almost anything because, after all, it’s only the Internet.

But at some point — maybe this point — it’s not only the Internet. I work online, I shop online, I order food online. I have reconnected with decades-lost relatives online and watched some of my niece’s first perfect, wobbly steps online. I have been to OkCupid weddings and have e-mailed mass cards.

In many ways, the Internet feels as real as my office or corner bar — and the toxicity is real, too.

If I wouldn’t give you a minute of my time on Frankford Ave., I’m no longer giving you a minute of my time on Facebook. While I value a reasonable debate and think it’s important to share information, if you threaten to shoot protestors who interrupt your holiday shopping, suffice it to say that we have nothing to learn from each other.

This is not to say that I want to be surrounded with people who think exactly like me (a horrifying thought, actually).

I spent Thanksgiving weekend at tables with many friends and family members who support the Ferguson grand jury’s decision — some quietly, some less so, but all respectfully and intelligently. I am lucky enough to spend Christmas with the same group, and someday hope to retire to the Northeast wing of a Fort Lauderdale condo community with them.

But as for that sad, vocal little minority of the Northeast? Well, I’ll see you guys in hell. I’ll be the one with a tan, scrolling through cat photos.

Follow @IProposeToast on Twitter.

Previously: CB West Counselor Blames Child for Post About Eagles Die-In