Op-Ed

We’re all secret bullies on Facebook, that’s why I left

Associated Press

In the run-up to 2018, I wore out the delete key. I erased old addresses, unsubscribed from email lists and deleted contact info for people I no longer know, or want to know. Then I deleted myself, my whole account, from Facebook.

This obsession with the delete key, and my decision to leave Facebook altogether, started at my niece’s wedding in a refurbished old barn. Before the dancing started, my dad pushed back his metal folding chair and said, “Hey kid, come on outside for a sec.”

At 52, I am no kid, but my dad and I had not seen nor spoken to each other in almost two years. So I got right up, a little bit afraid, and trailed him out the door.

Our falling out happened in February 2016 when he posted a Facebook meme of the Ku Klux Klan, following weeks of posts where he’d posited that President Barack Obama was born a Kenyan monkey, that Planned Parenthood dissected and sold baby parts, and that he was waiting for black people to thank white men for freeing them from slavery. Then came the KKK.

I’d had enough. I demanded he take the post down. He first responded with a string of question marks (what? who? me?) then he simply went silent. And the next time I tried to pull up his Facebook page, I discovered I’d been blocked. Unfriended. Deleted.

I’ve always assumed my dad to be a conservative — he owns guns, listens to Rush Limbaugh, watches FOX News — but I do not recall him ever talking about his political or religious beliefs. I could not tell you if he has ever voted. I have never once seen him, with the exception of weddings and funerals, in a church.

But once Donald J. Trump threw his red, “Make America Great Again” hat into the presidential ring, it was like my dad had joined some political cult. And that cult’s name, with pages like “God Emperor Trump,” was on Facebook.

If you think calling Facebook the c-word sounds too strong, consider some simple questions:

Do you feel angry when a friend disagrees with one of your posts? Do you feel pressure to hit the “like” button to prove your loyalty?

Have you ever logged off or deactivated your account? How many days did you last? How many hours?

Do you sometimes wake with a panic, worried you’ve made a post or comment you’ll regret? How many friends have you stopped following, or have stopped following you, since the 2016 election?

We ridicule colleges for creating so-called safe spaces so students do not have to experience differing views, but what is your Facebook account if not the ultimate safe space?

In her essay “Why I Write,” Joan Didion wrote, “there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

On Facebook, we are all secret bullies. I tried to impose my sensibilities and bully my dad into submission, and lost.

Outside the barn door of my niece’s wedding reception, between a row of trucks and under flood lights, my dad lit a cigarette. I waited for him, frankly, to lie: to blame me, to call me a snowflake, to question why I haven’t called in so long, to rib me about how great Trump is doing and how thankful I should be that he hasn’t put “Crooked Hillary” in prison where, by god, she belongs.

Instead, he took one long drag and paused long enough for me to panic. “Oh, man,” I said. “You’re going to tell me something really bad, aren’t you?”

He half-chuckled before spinning out the latest family gossip. Had I heard that so-and-so is splitting up after 25 years of marriage? Did I know this one is having an affair with a married woman at work, or that that one has gotten some old gal pregnant down in Alabama? With twins!

Through the walls of the reception hall, we could hear the music start. Newlyweds’ first dance. Mother-son dance. Father-daughter dance. And the longer my dad talked, the longer he pretended like two years had not passed in punishing silence, my plan to let him have it in-person — to challenge his every racist, misogynistic, hateful post — faded like the smoke from his cigarette under the bright floodlights.

And I chose to simply stand there and listen, to see if I recognized us anymore without our Facebook masks, without the cult. To stop being a bully long enough to let him be my dad.

Reach Teri Carter, a writer in Lawrenceburg, at www.tericarter.net/contact.html.

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