Much has been written about how social media, and Facebook in particular has contributed to the echo chamber effect. I’m not going to write about that. I’ve experienced it, and you probably have as well.

What hasn’t gotten as much attention is how this echo chamber is affecting our mental health — at least, I haven’t seen much about it — perhaps because my particular echo chamber is uniquely curated by an algorithm to me.

All I have to do is look at how my Timeline has changed since I got sober to see that. My timeline was once filled with posts and images from my oldest and dearest friends in my life. But once I started liking pages about sobriety, and making friends online with some really great people, my feed stated to become overwhelmingly slanted toward my latest likes and connections. My oldest friends started to show up less and less.

I also know this because my timeline has become increasingly overwhelmed with political news, because well, I post a lot of news articles that are related to politics. Facebook has correctly identified me as a Liberal and has fed me other articles posted by other liberals, while hiding articles posted by my more conservative friends. To be fair, I trained Facebook to do this, by hiding things that made me angry or uncomfortable over time from my timeline.

Under the covers, Facebook has a massive AI (artificial intelligence) infrastructure. If you’re not familiar with what AI actually is or if you think AI is a humanoid robot butler, you might want to have a look at this article which does a decent job of explaining the basic concepts. Basically, Facebook’s computer algorithm learns about us based on what we post, what we like, who we interact with, etc – and then feeds us similar information in an effort to keep us on the site by lighting up our neural pathways.

It’s basically the same as an addiction.

In recent days, my Facebook feed has become increasingly angry and fearful. I have many friends who are genuinely afraid of what the outcome of the US election means for them personally. These are friends who have listened to bellicose rhetoric for two years that has targeted them personally. It is understandable that they would be afraid. I am afraid and I’m a straight white male who happens to occasionally attend a Christian church.

Now, I’ve fed this algorithm. I’ve posted about my outrage. I’ve liked things. I’ve used the little sad indicator, and the little angry indicator. I’ve argued with people. I’ve called people out for their insensitivity. I’ve done all this in the name of my beliefs. But you know what, I’m not changing anything. I’m just pissing off my friends and making myself sink further and further into fear and anxiety.

And guess what?

Fear and anxiety were the primary triggers in my drinking days.

The past few days have been hard. I’ve tweeted about how hard its been:

Both of these tweets were in direct response to things that happened in my personal echo chamber on Facebook. The second one came after I got into it with a friend who posted about a harrowing experience on a plane. He contrasted his experience with the fear that people are expressing about the next four years saying that his fear was real — and implying that theirs was not.

Now, I slept like shit last night because of this. I went to bed angry and I paid the price. I woke up on my 44th birthday feeling frustrated, angry, and hurt. This is not how I want to spend my birthday. This is not how I want to spend my life.

I’ve written before about my struggles with social media. I’ve experimented with deleting apps from my phone. I always get pulled back. One reason is that I’ve kept my Facebook account active to keep this blog active on Facebook. Another reason was that I couldn’t deactivate the account without also deactivating Facebook Messenger.

I’ve decided that for today, I will not check Facebook. This morning I announced that I was stepping away from the echo chamber. I’ve deleted the apps from my phone and my tablet. After a few days, I plan to disable my Facebook account.

Facebook has made it so that you can disable your Facebook account without disabling Messenger. I’m kind of happy about that. Since I don’t get a lot of noise in Messenger, I plan to keep it active, that way I can stay in touch with some people who I would otherwise not be in touch with. I’ve set up a second account to manage the Facebook page of this blog.

See, I can’t make the echo chamber quiet down. I accept my responsibility in it, but by simply stopping my posting about these things, I can’t fix the AI in the Facebook Hive Mind that keeps feeding me fear and anxiety.

It’s a digital room full of noise that I can’t bear anymore. In real life when I can’t bear the cacophony in a room, I leave.

Why wouldn’t I do that in the digital world?

19 thoughts on “There’s Only One Way to Silence the Echo Chamber

  1. I deleted my facebook app awhile back and never installed messenger, though it’s easy enough to go on my phone browser and check it. This week, I haven’t much because there’s nothing for me there. Nothing I need or want anyway, though I did get an email that a dear friend posted something that brightened my day. It takes while to find the right balance and it changes and that’s totally fine. Thanks for the links on AI, etc…interesting stuff.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, I may go back sometime. But for now it’s a train wreck that I’m having trouble looking away from. So I think it’s best to put some distance and time between me and it. People, places, things.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You know, I actually feel your pain. I was fairly freaked out when Obama was elected. There are a lot of things that turned out worse but many either didn’t come to pass or were blocked after the first two years. It could have been a lot worse is what I’m trying to get at. I don’t think you have a whole lot to worry about either. Don’t forget, Trump was a Democrat before he put an R next to his name. My wife was seriously pissed too. We finally made up and nice again yesterday afternoon!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am a recovering Republican. I lost faith in the party after we invaded Iraq. My time with my wife has certainly had an impact on my world view as well.

      I am not concerned so much with genuine conservative policy but with the rhetoric that’s been so prominent. I am concerned that he will not conduct himself well on the public stage. I’m also concerned that he has riled up a great deal of hate and discontent that isn’t going to serve our country well.

      I would love to have the opportunity to vote for a moderate republican in a future election.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Like Mit Romney and John McCain? They lost. I won’t bother with the rest of what you wrote, to save time for me and consternation for you.

        I’ll just remind you of our principles. Anyone can rile up hate. We still have to choose to hate for that to work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great post. Thank you for the FB info, very informative. We do not have to sit around and be spoon fed by anyone. Choices belong to us alone! I hope you had a great birthday and have a blast camping next weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. FB has only made me feel worse about things, including the election.
    It feeds on all my fears about everything.
    I haven’t been able to pull the plug yet, but you are giving me hope that some day soon I will be able to.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great post, Damien. I can totally identify. I don’t use FB very much, other than to promote the Buzzkill pod, and sometimes I respond to other recovery or silly tweets from the posse, but other than that…I don’t venture much. And after the election…wow. I saw some stuff there that turned my stomach – from both sides. Lots of hate and vitriol, so I stayed away. I don’t know what the real answer is – I can’t hide, but I know that I can do what I can in my own world. I think the serenity prayer is vital here – what I can control, what I can’t and the wisdom to know.

    I don’t have the answer fully completely, but I can certainly do my best to surround myself with positivity and informed people and those who I can lean on.

    Thanks for sharing this, Damien.

    Paul

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s exactly why I created the separate account for managing the Facebook presence of this blog. I have people who get their notifications of new posts only via Facebook.

      I’m already feeling like I’m missing out on things from friends. I may need to just clean house and unfriend/unfollow the people who are creating the chaos. I also need to resist multiple urge to post chaos or my reactions to it.

      I need to find ways to be active in my beliefs and my desire to see change rather than being passive aggressive in my online rants.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Fantastic post. Two comments: heed your own advice dude! 👊 Also: today begins my FB hiatus. Who knows how long. I’m also taking a break from my twitter news account. Talk about echo chamber. Several pundits literally got me through the election, but they are not helping me move on. I’m a very early riser but if today (day one) is any indication, not checking either has done wonders for how my day has started. Have a good week man. HD

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Interesting post on the echo chamber from another perspective, and something I’ve been thinking about too. I had to remove fb from my phone in the past few days also. Watching others process their emotions loudly and erratically was not helping me to process my own or figure out a productive way to respond to the situation. I still find myself wanting to check it frequently, but just as a way to waste time, which in itself seems telling.

    Liked by 1 person

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