O Facebook, my Facebook, you multibillion-dollar social behemoth critics love to hate, where would my pandemic-panicked soul be without you at 2 a.m. when I've woken from another world-is-ending dream?
Where would I be at 10 a.m. when I realize I've not only consumed my sugar allotment for the day, but possibly my RDA of caffeine and fat, I'm eyeing the alcohol and I don't even drink?
Or at 6 in the evening when I can't peel myself off Netflix to eat pasta again, much less cook it?
Where would I be at 4 and 8 and every other hour of the day when the only two people I directly engage with are off in the far corners of the house, and I'm starting to talk to the stuffed lamb my sister gave me for Easter?
Better than a therapist, better than a sister or a friend, each of whom will eventually roll over and fall asleep or demand a co-pay, my Facebook is an omnipresent blank canvas on which to express the deep underpinnings of my every-changing COVID-coaxed neuroses.
Zoom -- yes, wish-we-bought-stock-in-Zoom -- may have captured the corner on family meetings and tele-conferencing during these stay-home times. But for a whole lot of people around the world, right up there with food, clothing and masks that fit, is the brainchild Mark Zuckerberg's started in his Harvard dorm room.
No meeting ID, nor time limit, required, Facebook offers news, a marketplace, games and a hangout with a choice of 2.4 billion monthly users, 24-7 and free -- a full-service community that has become doubly important with the social losses created by the pandemic.
"For this person in solitary confinement, it's my lifeline," says my one friend, a poet and former Unitarian-Universalist minister who lives in Indiana.
"It's my coping mechanism," says another friend, "my main news source," says another, in Cleveland.
"I love seeing what other people are doing, thinking, how they are coping with all this," says my friend Becky.
"My organization, more active than ever with COVID, would struggle to find community were it not for Facebook," says my friend Abby who runs a TimeBank organization, where people exchange services with each other.
The Facebook platform, which quickly caught on when it debuted in 2004, attracting 6 million users within 18 months, becomes especially critical when the usual community as we know it is on hold, when we are yet desperate for reliable sources of global and local information, when we need to stay connected with family and friends, when we are looking to others to see how they are handling a pandemic, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Are you OK? Am I OK?
If one friend isn't awake, another one is.
In the weeks since the pandemic hit, messaging across the platform's services increased 50% in countries ravaged by the virus, says MarketWatch.com. Video messaging on Facebook's Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubled. In Italy, time spent on Facebook has soared 70% since it was hard hit by the crisis.
Even former Facebook deserters are on again, including those who supported a 2018 #DeleteFacebook campaign. The anti-Facebook movement was fueled by a scandal involving the political data company, Cambridge Analytica, which collected the personal data of 50 million Facebook users without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes.
Returning users include Scott Scott Erickson of Texas who got back on when he found out he had COVID.
"It really showed me that for a lot of people, Facebook is the only way they know how to stay in touch with people," Erickson told c/net.com. "So now I'm using it very resentfully."
Not everybody loves everything about Facebook. Besides the Cambridge-Analytica fiasco, people were turned off by Facebook allowing fabricated articles to be posted as if they were true. Both concerns have since been duly noted, with Zuckerberg testifying before Congress to be more diligent. In an effort to stem the tide of Covid misinformation, in April, Facebook enlisted the help of 60 fact-checking organizations to help weed out misinformation about COVID-19 and began warning users about liking and posting fake stories. The organization went so far as to create a COVID-19 Information Center, an evolving collection of facts about the pandemic that are allowed only after being checked by a news team.
Still, trust in a corporation, once lost, is hard to regain. There's also ugly politics on the site; disagreeing family members; "trolls" who get their kicks out of going on people's pages and spewing venom; and just downright mean-spirited people looking for a fight.
But for those who love Facebook, they really, really love it now.
Masters in the the art of scrolling past the vitriol, not averse to unfriending and unfollowing, Facebook aficionados have found a way to make their experience their own -- a cornucopia of soothing pictures, fact-based information, and solid connection with others at a time when we need each other more than ever.
"Today was a good day," I posted one day last week. "I raked leaves from the back of the garden, got my heart rate up and felt the sun on my face. My sons did restorative yoga with me in the living room. I texted with my daughter and two of my three sisters. I brushed my teeth."
The next day: "I am a sloth from Slothville," I wrote. "I ate an illegal amount of chocolate. My friend and I had a thing we had to work through. My dishwasher backed up. The drain in basement backed up. There were messes everywhere, including me."
Both times, most notably when I was a slug, Facebook reminded I am not alone.
"Mama said there will be days like this," said one friend.
"Right there with you," said another.
"I got you!" wrote one friend I only know from Facebook.
Facebook can be addictive, say some, a rabbit hole when there may be better things to do.
Meanwhile, for millions of people around the globe, like a good neighbor (used to be), Facebook is there.
Says my friend Allison, holed up in Columbia, S.C., with her husband: "How else would I play Word Blitz? Over and over and over again."
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)
(c)2020 Debra-Lynn B. Hook
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