Goodbye Facebook or How I Learnt to Love Charlie Hebdo

As I read briefly about the killing of an entire newsroom in Paris this week, my initial reaction was one of surprise and one of the first thoughts which came to me was "this is big". Hours passed until I went back to my computer and read up on the developments of the day, when I realised how big it really was, as I saw it sprawl across my entire Facebook feed. Something about the whole thing irritated me - the immense outpouring of sympathy for Charlie. For some reason that "Je Suis Charlie" profile picture got on my nerves. It wasn't a particular person who irritated me by virtue of them changing their picture, nor was it the sympathy for the dead which I also felt in me. I just had the feeling that this profile picture was a sort of feel-good pat on the back and I detested it. I wondered who Charlie was - and learnt it was a satirical magazine. I looked up some of its covers, and found them distasteful.

Then I read this article, and found something to like in it. I'd have thought I would prefer to stick with the general outpouring of compassion and love rather than turn against it - yet almost from the very beginning it soured my mood. Why were people so passionate about Charlie Hebdo and why were they making an example out of it as a banner for the freedom of expression? Its satire was beyond crude, it's humour revolting, just the sort of humour I cringe at when seeing others laugh with. I find those people grotesque. But here's the whole world in some sort of trance about it.

The fact that the murder was perpetrated by muslim extremists made it even worse for me - another excuse for the world to attach itself to simplified, polarised, compartmentalised views of itself. If only it could have been a couple christian fanatics - then the world would have sat back in awe, and all this ruckus about 'freedom of expression' would have been a lot less pompous. I would have probably sneered at it and taken some sort of secret pleasure in knowing that Christianity had suffered another well-deserved blow - it remains in my mind the goody-goody, Islam being the underdog. Yes, that really is an insight into my simplistic psychology.

There's something interesting to be gleaned from that difference in reaction however - and I do still believe that the reaction was such because the tragedy was perpetrated by Muslims. I say 'still' because now it no longer seems relevant; all I was searching for was an opinion. My own opinion I could throw at my little world of Facebook, venting as it were my frustration with this profile picture "Je Suis Charlie". How idiotic it all seems. But first, I had to bolster up my opinion - one couldn't simply charge into battle without any ammunition. So I went looking for articles like the first I had come upon, eagerly picking up each new detail which lent itself to criticising this profile picture. Through this process my opinion altered somewhat, though nothing fundamentally changed. Of course, I read other articles, those I didn't find anything in, those of my 'opponents' - so I had the illusion that I was well-read and therefore perhaps in a position to voice an opinion on the subject.

So ahead I went, posting two pictures on Facebook - covers of Charlie Hebdo one of which appeared in 2012 and the other an incredibly disgusting piss-take of the deaths of its editorial team - in the hope that I would arouse some reaction from my little Facebook world. A debate I wanted, but also self-validation. I wanted people to 'like' my post, so although I was ready for a debate - ready to hear people tell me I'm wrong - what I really wanted was to win the debate on my Facebook wall, and have people congratulate me for successfully defending such an 'original' point of view. I mean, when it comes down to it, that's what I hope for in all of my Facebook posts: self-validation. If people don't 'like' my posts then that sucks. If they do, then hurrah for me! I'm not joking here. When I post something - say a new photo album of my time at Brockwood Park - each time I log on to Facebook my eyes dart up to that little globe in the top right corner expecting to see a little red figure. I gleefully click on it to see who or how many people liked the album and whether anyone wrote a comment. No little red figure, no point in lingering about, I just sign out feeling slightly disappointed (or worse still, monotonously scroll down my newsfeed as if expecting something to happen).

So my posts about Charlie Hebdo raised a little commotion - but not enough to satisfy my ego. A debate was present, but the material wasn't juicy enough to grip either side, which was also probably why the 'likes' didn't come in by the bucketload. And so I grew frustrated. So much so that my last comment to a friend who said that contrary to the New Yorker article I had shared, Charlie Hebdo was certainly not racist or islamophobic and that so long as journalists would fear for their lives when publishing a cartoon of Muhammed, Charlie Hebdo would have a raison d'être - was that regardless of that, those who claim "Je Suis Charlie" today do so in protection of the right to awful satire even if they believe it to be crass, but the rest of the year couldn't care less about our actual freedoms or lack thereof. Now that's a pretty big judgement to make - even if I still like to think it's true - and also goes to show what my actual opinion is based on: nothing. Bitterness. That damn profile picture. Scorn for the masses and the belief that they self-righteously mobilise at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

What would have happened if I got more 'likes' I wonder? Would I have deluded myself into thinking that I really was onto some great idea - that everyone was truly wrong to think they were Charlie, that the French government should retract the funding it just pledged to the magazine, that the select few (those who 'liked') would all scorn the media and could now embark on a 'real' conversation about freedom of expression and other freedoms we consider holy?

More likely I would have simply left it there - content with my 'likes' and flattered ego - just as I did with my Brockwood Park photo album, and waited for the next opportunity to throw something at my Facebook world in the hope that it'll feast upon it with relish (as I am doing right now). This is a very sad thought, yet it is so very real. And there are so many more sad realities about Facebook my mind succeeds so well to consistently forget, I wonder why I put up with it.

If I add a new friend to Facebook, for instance, and check out their profile pictures, I immediately think "they're probably doing the same with my pictures" and then head to my profile to go through my own profile pictures, imagining how they perceive me through them. Then I recall doing this a few months ago already when I made my last 'new Facebook friend'. At least my memory was functional you might say. Yet as soon as it exerted itself it collapsed and minutes later the misery of catching oneself wondering for a second time what someone else might think of their profile pictures was forgotten. Forgotten in the endless stream of stuff scrolling down my Facebook feed. Not that it scrolls down automatically, but that my own movements have become so synchronised with Facebook that it amounts to the same. How long I scroll down for seems to depend on some variable unknown to even me. Now, if that doesn't smack me in the face like a ton of bricks I don't know what will!

It is with great thanks then, that I leave my Facebook world. Thanks to Charlie Hebdo in particular, who made me realise how eager I am to assert my ingenious mind, how quick I am to form and doggedly hold on to an opinion, how carelessly I distribute my time, and how my usage of Facebook reflects my vulnerabilities while simultaneously veiling them with 'likes'. Not that Facebook is the cause of any of these problems. But somehow, life without it seems like bringing me a little closer to facing them.

Keeping in touch won't be made any easier - especially with those who live abroad - and I apologise for that, but I promise, emails are really very easy to send :)

Yours,

Pierre

Pierresk@me.com

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