Owning up to your Facebook codependency

Image: PXhere

I’ve characterized Facebook as an addiction. I think I was wrong. After yesterday’s outage, now I think the correct way to describe our relationship with Facebook is as codependency.

Codependency is “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition.” (Merriam-Webster). You, the Facebook user, have this condition. Facebook is controlling or manipulating you. And Facebook has a pathological condition — it is addicted to revenue, which comes from your engagement. It cannot live without you; you (perhaps) feel like you cannot live without it.

Symptoms of codependency

These are the symptoms of codependency. Which ones do you experience towards Facebook?

  • Intense and unstable interpersonal relationships. “I am going to quit Facebook. Now I’m going back because my friends are there. I interact with that guy all the time. Oops, turns out I disagree with him on something. I’m unfriending him.”
  • Inability to tolerate being alone, accompanied by frantic efforts to avoid being alone. “I was fine when Facebook was down. Yes, I checked it every 15 minutes, but I was fine. I just switched to Instagram, but that was down, too. It’s ok, I was fine. It’s back now, so things are fine.”
  • Chronic feelings of boredom and emptiness. “It’s just the same old memes. I just keep looking for something interesting.”
  • Subordinating one’s own needs to those of the [application] with whom one is involved. “The people on Facebook expect me to be there. It works better if I interact with it more. I know there are lots of ads, but they have to make money somehow.”
  • An overwhelming desire for acceptance and affection. “Here are photos of my kid’s softball game. Here I am with my Dad. I got a promotion. Here’s my new profile picture. Isn’t my wife/husband attractive? Like me, dammit!”
  • Perfectionism. “Just a minute. Someone is wrong on the Internet.
Image: XKCD
  • Over-controlling by the partner. “Wait. I’m supposed to highlight this text, copy it, and paste it in my own timeline. Am I doing it right?”
  • External-referencing — believing others control your life. “Should I take this job? Should I trust this new lover? Facebook friends, what do you think?”
  • Dishonesty and denial. “I can give up Facebook any time I want. It’s not controlling me. Really, I went out to dinner one time and didn’t even check it during the meal except when I went to the rest room.”
  • Manipulation by the partner. “I just read what people share — curated by Facebook’s benevolent algorithm — and know that it must be right. It helps me believe what I ought to believe.”
  • Lack of trust. “That phone number I gave Facebook — are they using it responsibly? Why do I keep seeing ads related to conversations I had around my phone?”
  • Low self-worth. “I just don’t feel right unless I’m connected with my friends.”

Now what?

Like all addictions, codependency is tough to quit. If yesterday’s outage didn’t spur you to consider giving up Facebook, maybe you should think twice about that.

But for some people (myself included), Facebook is a valuable professional and personal resource. I’m not giving it up.

Even so, I am trying to become more aware of its emotional hold on me.

If I can get serious here for a minute, I think the smart thing to do is to boost your immersion in real personal and professional relationships. Friends, clients, and coworkers can give you the emotional connection that supports your self-worth independent of how many likes you get. And as actual humans, they are more likely to deliver a diverse and balanced set of interactions, rather than one curated by a heartless algorithm that’s only interested in “engagement.”

Yeah. Humans. They’re not perfect, but they’re better for you than Facebook.

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  1. In Australia, there was a number of phone calls to the emergency number (000 here, not 911) and the State Emergency Services alerting the emergency authorities that they could not log onto facebook.
    My brain hurts just contemplating this lunacy, it ranks with a TV reality show (never watched but seen the trailers) of couch potatoes who are watching and commenting on reality shows on TV as they happen.
    The bar has been lowered to the point it is submerged!