Living in China as a foreigner helps one to appreciate social media and the connections that can be maintained across the globe. Being able to casually glance at a WhatsApp group from friends at home and get a glimpse into the daily conversation that is happening in my absence makes the 5000km gap between here and home feel significantly smaller. Similarly, being able to see photos of what my family and friends have been doing on various social media platforms makes life in China that little bit more comfortable. The added importance of connections maintained via social media helps to highlight some of what I see as the flaws of many of the social media platforms, particularly Facebook.
When Facebook first became popular, it was a great way to keep up with friends and family. If you ever wondered, what your old classmates were up to or how long distance relatives were doing it was great. It lived up to its name – Facebook – a book of faces.
The Technical Bit
As many people are aware, Facebook is behind ‘the great firewall’ of China as so is not accessible to most. However as any foreigner will tell you, all you need to do is connect to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which can tunnel your internet traffic via a third party country and so bypass the great firewall. VPNs are great but are not always reliable and often slow. Your true connection speed is capped by the speed of your VPN server and disconnections are fairy frequent. This means that checking Facebook can be a bit of a hassle, especially when using mobile data where the reliability of VPNs drops even further.
The Facebook Rant
I mention all these technical details as it is a part of daily life here for foreigners and so when I check Facebook it is very irritating to see what it has become. Instead of getting an insight into what my friends and family are doing, I am bombarded by data eating ‘funny’ videos, viral posts and political activism. All of these things have a place on web but I personally don’t want to see them on Facebook. Of course watching a cat doing a backflip is very entertaining but if I want to see cats doing backflips there are many places I could do that.
The thing that annoys me the most though has to be politics. I have my own opinions about things and looking down my Facebook wall I feel like I’m being treated as an empty headed minion. People post and share dubious facts and figures to try and project their political opinions on to others. Whether or not I agree with their sentiment doesn’t really matter to me. Why would I trust some Facebook post made by a random person with no sources quoted when I could just read the news myself? Regardless of that, I’m on Facebook to see what friends are up to, not a pawn waiting to be convinced to take some stance on one issue or another.
At the time of writing this article, all media focus is on Donald Trump. After his recent inauguration, he has caused great controversy with his stance on refugees. I like many others think what he is doing is wrong and I formed this opinion after reading news from various well-established media outlets. So when I check Facebook do I really want to see my feed full of anti-Trump propaganda? Not really. If it were up to me the ‘share’ button on Facebook would be removed. Unfortunately it is not up to me.
WeChat is by far the biggest social media platform in China. Western media describes WeChat as sort of WhatsApp and Facebook combined but it has some significant differences. The chat feature is similar to WhatsApp and was the program’s core function. The ‘Moments’ feature is sort of like a Facebook wall but feels far less congested and has become incredibly popular. When I check WeChat moments I can immediately see what my friends in China are up to. There is no option to share a post. The only videos that can be uploaded are ten second clips that must be recorded with the poster’s phone or tablet. There are no backflipping cats unless someone you know miraculously recorded their cat backflipping. In my opinion it is what Facebook should be like. Of course like any company, Facebook is in the business of making money by increasing traffic and I’m certain that removing popular features would not be on their to do list.
Clearly I must be in the minority when it comes to Facebook. Most people probably enjoy sharing all the viral images and videos. I’m also sure many would argue that Facebook plays a crucial role in politics and activism and that being able to share and debate information is makes it a useful tool for democracy and raising awareness of issues. Personally I wish there was an opt-out button for all of it.
So what is the point of this article? There isn’t really any point. I’ve just really wanted to go on a rant about Facebook for ages and for the sake of not offending half my friends I think here is a better place than there.