I am probably the only living American under the age of 90 and older than 3 who has never had a Facebook account.
It's impossible to say for sure, but I gather that what I have missed over the last decade or so amounts to a lot of lame political ads and dopey personality quizzes, links to articles about liberal bias in the lamestream media's treatment of Michelle Obama's hair from the scribes at Conservative Treehouse, a video game about farming, and thousands of pictures of people I barely knew in high school doing things I don't care about.
It appears that a large proportion of the Facebook-using population have been clicking away under the pleasing assumption that Mark Zuckerberg et al. are selfless benefactors of humanity who just can't stand to let their fellow citizens live in a world in which it is impossible to look up what that girl you went on one date with in 10th grade is doing at one in the morning. After an investigation by the BBC revealed earlier this week that Donald Trump's presidential campaign, like Barack Obama's before it, used Facebook to hoard data about American voters, everyone from Vox's Matt Yglesias to the founder of a thing called WhatsApp to the bassist from Blink 182 — really — announced that the social media platform was, in fact, very bad and not worth using.
To which the response is, well, duh. The whole point of Facebook is to get you to part with information about your consumption habits and those of your friends and family so that other giant corporations can use computer programs to figure out what worthless products to sell you. As if any of us needed more emails urging us to take advantage of Art.com's 10th 50-percent off sale of the month. Even if, as some have argued, most of this slick technology doesn't work, isn't there something objectionable on its face about having robots comb through the private and semi-private communications of vulnerable teenagers in order to trick them into buying things when they are depressed?
Even its own former executives think that Facebook is a wasteland. Chamath Palihapitiya, the company's former vice president of "user growth," told an audience at Stanford that his erstwhile employer is "ripping apart the social [sic] fabric of how society works," adding that his own children "aren't allowed to use that shit." "God only knows what it's doing to children's brains," said Sean Parker, the founder of Napster and an early Facebook investor, said recently. God does, and so do those of us who have met the pathetic — in the original sense of the word — phone-addicted demi-humans who wander the halls of American high schools in 2018. Their parents should know better, but so should the wealthiest and most influential people on the planet.
Did I mention that Facebook also gives its users access to the world's finest algorithmically curated selection of what we now call "fake news"? A glance at some top-performing headlines from late in the 2016 election is grimly revealing. "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement" ran one from something called Ending the Fed. Nearly a million Facebook users clicked on this. "WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS … Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News" reported Political Insider (notice how that almost sounds like the name of a periodical or website that could really exist?). The Denver Guardian was there too with the scoop that an FBI agent who had leaked news about Hillary's damned emails had been "Found Dead in Apparent Murder." Apparent!
It's easy to overstate the importance of millions of Americans consuming this garbage. Its effect on the 2016 election was probably negligible. Do we really think that anyone stupid enough to believe on the basis of an internet article that the former first lady and secretary of state is an actual honest-to-gosh jihadist would otherwise have voted for her enthusiastically? Besides, as Ross Douthat recently pointed out, Trump only did better than Willard Romney with those voters who never go online.
Facebook never made sense as a platform for news. People — experienced adult professionals — should decide what's worth reading, not a credulous mob. The New York Times doesn't ask anonymous strangers to vote on what stories make the front page, much less on whether their reporters should be covering what the Congressional Budget Office says about the GOP tax bill or Hildabeast CNNlinton's extensive email correspondence with ISIS. To make sense of how absurd it is, imagine if in the late '90s somebody had physically clipped stories from The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, Newsweek, the Weekly World News, and Ron Paul's famous newsletters and pasted their contents into a new free publication that you could get delivered to your house 15 times a day — as long as you filled out a form first in which you let their marketing department know everything from your date of birth to your six favorite ice cream flavors.
Thank goodness young people are already quitting Facebook in large numbers. For years now my own impression has been that the youth have largely moved on to giving away the most intimate details of their existences to Instagram or Snapchat and that Facebook itself is mostly a repository of boomer angst and incuriosity, like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. Five years from now the only people on the site will probably be two 75-year-old grandmothers in Oklahoma and Lincoln Chafee.
Maybe that's when I'll decide to join.