Where Are All My Friends, Facebook?

Living alongside a Spanish Navy base with a large American population for all these years has turned me into “the friend who always stays.” I meet amazing American military-affiliated friends, we bond for the time they have here, and then they move on to their next duty station.

This summer marks my 16-year anniversary of moving to Spain. I have officially lived here longer than any other place in my life. In that time, I’ve said goodbye to some amazing friends.

I keep in contact with many of them to varying degrees. A couple of them I speak to monthly, others quarterly, and still others maybe yearly. Even though these relationships sustained me for a period of time and vice versa, each of my gal-pals has moved on and undoubtedly made new friends at new duty stations or in their civilian lives. Likewise, I have picked up new friends looking for a local companion here. It’s a fact of military life that you must create “framily” wherever you are stationed, so you have a reliable support system while you’re so far from home.

Some of these lovely ladies remain on my friends list on Facebook and we never interact except a like here and there and an annual birthday message. Others I’ve lost contact with completely. But I keep them in my heart, always.

Our shenanigans may prove good book material someday too! Similarly, our shared tears may be shared with future readers via various characters in my fictional works to come.

I love the saying, “God sends us friends for a reason, season, or lifetime.” It also makes me sad, though. I wish I had enough time and energy to keep up with all of my girlfriends, equally. We had some really amazing times together.

Summer is traditionally a high-transfer season for military families. This year, a treasured church buddy moved to the other side of the world.

Even with social media, it’s hard to check up on all my peeps, because Facebook keeps getting noisier and noisier. It was once a place to really connect with family and friends, share life stories, display photos of our latest happenings, and really comment (not just drop an emoji and a word or two and move on).

Have you noticed that social media is barely social these days?

I have to sift through political posts, get past sponsored garbage, climb over individual soapboxes, connect with causes, read newsworthy articles, and check out what some of my favorite pages and groups are up to occasionally. It seems like all these things vie for my attention daily and I forget to visit the people who actually enrich my life.

Most of us are still posting photos and life events, but I get the impression that the majority of the interaction around these posts has become so surface… so superficial.

Aren’t these the sorts of posts for which Facebook was designed?

I mean, it’s become so impersonal that Facebook even gives me suggestions on how to respond to posts by showing me meme options and text/emoji combos and such.

Instead of talking and connecting, I feel we are shouting and subdividing. Instead of sharing our lives with an intimate group, we are sharing our time with strangers on third-party sites. And when it comes time to interact, we are offered rubber-stamp options by an aggregate.

These distractions are only going to get louder and more attention-grabbing as advertisers inundate social media. I know, because I’m learning about social media marketing. There’s a whole field of study into how marketers can target, entice and attract you, and then get you to pass on their message. I think social media marketing has a place, but I also think it should not be given the center stage it has been given in my Facebook feed.

I feel like I’m being smacked with all kinds of ads. They pop up after looking at a friend’s story. They are peppered into my newsfeed. They show up between videos. They top the right side of my computer screen. They even show up in Messenger.

The fact that the ads all relate to things I’ve viewed or discussed with my Facebook framily is creepy. Like… stop monitoring me, please!! Also, stop selling to me while I’m trying to say hello to my fam.

Maybe I’m weird, though. Maybe you like to be sold to all the time. Maybe social media is your one-stop shop for everything: news, entertainment, shopping, and socializing.

If so, you’ll be glad that Facebook has been taking notes for years from various other social media platforms on how to better market things to you. I get the impression from the social media giant that people are no longer viewed as users, but consumers.

According to a study done in Strategic Social Media, Brazil’s former number one social media site, Orkut, shut down in 2014, because other platforms were offering more social features in addition to satisfying the country’s advertising market. With a bit of digging, I learned that the majority of Brazilians switched to Facebook. The platform had apparently successfully merged marketing with social networking, for the perfect online experience.

But why is online marketing so important for Brazilians?

Photo Courtesy of BuzzFeed

In Brazil, outdoor marketing is banned. Bye-bye roadsigns and billboards. No more posters and publicity. How beautiful their country must look, free of advertising! According to an old BuzzFeed article, people actually started taking notice of Sao Paulo’s architecture, while the advertising industry was forced to move online or indoors.

Sadly for me, the successful fusion of marketing and social networking–as Facebook continues to find ways to monetization my online experience–is really taking away from the social experience the site once offered.

If only there was a way to opt-out of social media marketing, or relegate all that sort of media to a separate feed I could tap into when I have extra time.

If you think that the mixture of social media and marketing doesn’t have an effect on you, I’d beg to differ. If we weren’t being conditioned to absorb advertising constantly, we wouldn’t have started “marketing” our own messages to each other and trying to sell each other on certain issues, people, ideas, movements, products and messages.

I can’t even call up my parents anymore without getting into a debate over something they saw or read on Facebook. I want my family and friends back! I want to talk about the weather, what new recipe they’re gobbling up, what milestones my kids are reaching. I want to find out how their relationships are going, what they’re struggling with, and how I can help. I want social media to enhance these relationships by reducing the miles between us, helping us “see” each other, and engage intimately.

I’m tired of all the “squirrels” that are snagging my attention. I’m weary from all the debate. I’m sick of social media not being social. I want a friendly Facebook experience, and I can’t remember the last time that really and truly happened.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Friends Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

Facebook Groups: Community or Conditioning?

Post updated August 9, 2020

Have you ever felt like virtual groups you joined to lift you up and support you were actually having the opposite effect? When I was pregnant with my first child and struggling as a first-time mom, I found amazing support on Facebook from breastfeeding groups, to cloth diapering groups, to local parent support groups, and numerous pages and blogs in between ready and willing to answer all my questions.

Navigating the waters of motherhood would have proved a lot more difficult without them.

Lately, however, I’ve been searching for connection and not just information—what with the current world situation and finding myself at home with two small kids more often than ever before.

This virtual sisterhood that I’ve come to cherish over the last five years has recently been bringing me down, and I wanted to share my struggles with you.

One particular Facebook Group that I joined a few years back, which I believed would help me create the type of homelife I desire, has turned out to be a scary place to hangout. Whereas the group’s title is exactly what I thought I was seeking, the conversations held there—especially this year—have not reflected the group’s name. It feels like the group is being shaped or molded by the moderators and admins. More and more, I’m beginning to wonder if this is because it’s an American election year.

The group is a “moms” group. It is international, with members from around the world, but its membership is predominately American. It’s supposed to support spirituality and the crunchy kind of lifestyle I dabble with in different forms.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen this group’s message become more and more narrow. Diverse voices from women of color were being silenced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent demonstrations and riots, and Blackout Tuesday. Sadly, many women left the group during this time.

Contrary opinions by group members in response to politically persuasive posts were being deleted by moderators, even if the comments were backed up with facts. In various posts where a mom would ask for honest opinions from fellow members regarding specific public figures, any criticisms that differed from the majority opinion were immediately addressed by the group admin or moderators with sugary sweet aggression. Basically, “agree or be quiet, please.”

At first, I felt like this was being done to help keep the peace. We’ve all seen these sorts of groups get out of hand with drama at times. Unfortunately, I kept seeing certain voices silenced and other voices amplified, certain messages promoted and other messages removed as the conversations were clearly being steered. All this within a moms support group.

Right now in my MFA studies, I’m taking a Communications class and a Marketing class in addition to my Creative Writing studies. Both classes outside my core curriculum address the social media landscape. The COMs class is teaching students how to identify “fake news” and judge various content on the Web for hidden bias and overall accuracy. With the help of this course, I can easily put a name on what has been lost by this moms group little by little this year, and that is objectivity.

“Objectivity is the extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases.”

-M.A. Tate in Web Wisdom, 3rd Ed., 2018.

The Marketing class is teaching students how to sell a brand or message online and engage readers, especially via social media. It also extrapolates on the power of social media as a social change agent, if a business or organization can foster a sense of community. This class helps me to see exactly the type of member shaping and conditioning that is taking place within the Facebook Group I’ve been discussing–and it’s disturbing.

There are studies of Facebook Groups being created or infiltrated specifically with community shaping in mind, because Facebook is where people hangout most online and can be influenced. 

This moms group is large–a couple thousand followers–and new members are added daily. I’m distressed by the fact that, amid the childcare and faith dialogue, these unsuspecting members are being (very politely) force-fed a politically-charged message by a seemingly benign group, which flaunts a name that in my opinion does not reflect the hidden undercurrent being peddled.

When I wrote to a moderator concerning her deletion of a few comments in a thread promoting a controversial figure in the news today, she was unreceptive and could not explain her moderation actions, which were not a reflection of group established rules. When I then turned to the group administrator asking about these censorship tactics, I received no answer at all.

Here is a small excerpt from my private message to her: “I have offered differing opinions in the past on certain issues and never been censored. This [new] practice is not conducive to open and honest discussion and I find it disturbing that this group attempts to steer group opinion [in] a very singular direction. I agree on so many topics and support so much of what this group stands for, but I don’t let any one group dictate to me how I shall think or feel. Are you attempting to create a safe space here, or not?”

The truth is, I’m not looking to be politically persuaded by a Facebook Group of moms that is supposed to be trading in motherly and spiritual support. I understand the need to vent frustrations over current events, but the political stance held by the administrator and the moderators is getting so apparent, I’m beginning to wonder if someone is getting paid to spin the message.

There are plenty of Facebook Groups for politics. There are Facebook Groups for professionals to network. There are Facebook Groups for learning a new trade, or new diet, or new hobbie. Facebook even opened an avenue for businesses to create groups that could foster customer feedback and can help determine the future of the brand–you know, since mall surveys are pretty much a thing of the past. 

When we join those sorts of professional or business groups, though, we do so freely with a good sense of what to expect, since the message is more straightforward. I love some of the new writer’s groups I’ve joined recently.

However, in friendly support groups regarding personal topics like these moms groups, it begins to feel more like a meet up with confidants. We get really personal sometimes. If the group fosters a supportive vibe, sometimes it’s the only place some mothers can open up about private issues. I can’t believe this group that I cherished could become so skewed so quickly.

Is it a reflection of a politically polarised society at large? I don’t know.

From now on, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of these types of groups and their thinly-veiled ulterior motives. The world is divided enough without a support group of Christian mothers being conditioned to take a side.

Seek unity, friends! …and continue mothering humanity.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Is Cyberactivism Real Activism?

Today, everyone has a cause. Mine is mothering humanity through carefully constructed sentences of social commentary and contemporary fiction. The latter, you’ll have to wait and read to decide for yourself. The former, however, is under fire. Do words—thrown out into a giant worldwide web that is interwoven with truth and lies daily—really make a difference?

It is a very noisy web.

Let’s take a look.

My first thought when discussing cyberactivists was Vani Hari aka The Food Babe. You might be like, “Come on! Her?” I bet you thought I’d hit some of the harder topics ablaze in the media today, but Hari was one of the first people I heard of to create real change with the use of nothing more than a blog and a relentless and optimistic heart.

Evidence of The Food Babe’s amazing lifestyle change. Photo Graphic Courtesy of FoodBabe.com

According to FoodBabe.com, Hari’s unhealthy lifestyle, which landed her in the hospital, inspired her to make big changes to her diet. She didn’t go to nutrition school to “get healthy.” She simply wielded the power of the Internet. In her switch from processed foods to “real food” she also began to investigate hidden or harmful ingredients in the American food supply. She drastically changed her own life for the better and decided to share her story and her new knowledge online with friends and family, using her platform to speak out against the lack of transparency within the American food industry.

Nearly a decade later, her personal blog has become a powerful change agent, helping to influence multi-billion dollar food giants like Kraft, General Mills, Subway, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and more to address the concerns of their consumers and make very real changes to their products.

The Food Babe is a cyberactivist. Her tactics have sometimes come under fire. Her writing has taken serious hits. Her critics are numerous. Her claims can’t always be 100% substantiated by science. And the Food Industry refuses to name her as the catalyst for their product modifications. That still doesn’t change the fact that her blog has lead to real-world awareness and action.

I think Hari was one of the original influencers of social media. She did, after all, garner a spot on TIME’s very first “Most Influential People on the Internet” list, which has now become an annual thing and a coveted label.

The term influencer may induce eye rolling from older generations, but it’s a very real aspiration for a lot of tweens, teens, and twenty-year-olds. Talking to friends the other day, I compared it to my generation’s “I want to play video games professionally.” Basically, the unicorn of job possibilities.

You may still be naysaying, but people get behind faceless causes with little-to-no usefulness all the time. Influencers just personalize an idea by giving it a story.

In my MFA studies this week, old Breast Cancer Awareness memes on Facebook came under scrutiny as being little more than a frivolous bandwagon for quasi-supporters to jump aboard. Facebookers shared and shared again obscure or sexualized, coded messages in the name of “awareness,” but didn’t bother to participate, donate, or educate, according to a case study in the book Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change. It made me think of the recent “Blackout Tuesday,” which saw millions of people throwing up black squares of solidarity all over social media, but did little to promote real change for the Black Community. To make real change, like The Food Babe, you have to put your money (or resources) where your social media mouth is.

I will, however, argue that awareness is sometimes the first step to social change. Perhaps, when people jump on these somewhat misguided bandwagons, their online demonstration of alliance can be a catalyst for later change. Vani Hari’s efforts have also been criticized as “misguided,” but her bandwagons crashed full-bore into real walls of resistance in the food industry and mac-n-cheese is now a safer, easy weeknight meal option for kids across America.

If you still think cyberactivism isn’t a thing, check out TIME’s “Most Influential People on the Internet” list for 2019. Some of them hurt my peepers, yes, but I could also see Mothering Humanity getting behind the message of more than a few others.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Social Networks Feature Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Teen Influencer Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

VisionSpring & Warby Parker: A Clearer Vision

In my studies last week, I came across a non-profit organization that resonated with me as a group leading the type of change the world needs, and it reminded me that I hadn’t done a changemaker profile, since relaunching Mothering Humanity in May. This global social enterprise fits the bill as caring for humanity in a big way. The organization is VisionSpring.

According to VisionSpring’s website, Jordan Kassalow was 23 years old and on a “volunteer medical mission in the Yucatán Peninsula,” when the overwhelming need for eyeglasses for the poor and underprivileged became abundantly clear to him. In 2001, Kassalow founded the organization that later became VisionSpring, and to-date has helped in “changing millions of lives across the globe, one pair of glasses at a time.”

In addition to providing free eye exams, the organization offers ridiculously cheap eyeglasses for people around the globe who wouldn’t normally have access to optical services. As of this year, VisionSpring’s website boasts, “6.8 million glasses sold.” They also work with myriad entities around the globe training women and providing loans for them to start their own businesses providing eye care to their communities.

A decade after its founding, VisionSpring teamed up with the socially conscious company, Warby Parker, a carbon-neutral eyewear company that donates one pair of glasses to the VisionSpring mission for every customer-purchased eyewear.

CNBC offers a great in-depth spotlight on Warbly Parker and its founders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal.

“We also want Warby Parker to influence the way business is done. If we can demonstrate that we can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world, without charging a premium for that, then hopefully that will influence the way that other executives and entrepreneurs run their businesses.”

-Neil Blumenthal, via interview with Lucy Handley, CSNBC

Although Warby Parker is a for-profit company, they have been hailed by Forbes, Inc.com, and more as a business with a conscience—focusing great attention and energy on their global impact and paving the way for other socially conscious businesses. Warby Parker claims, “Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work,” (Disruptor Awards) and they say their company and their partnership with VisionSpring is dedicated to changing that.

In my opinion, Warby Parker stands as a wonderful example of a business that doesn’t put profit over people.

When I first read about their partnership with VisionSpring in my marketing class, they were being hailed as innovators and marketing gurus, having basically invented on-line eyeglass shopping and creating an entire direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business that expertly deployed social media to interact with customers and adjust their business and operations models to fit client wants and needs. Their online engagement with customers via social media was a big factor in making their business a success, and fast.

It’s a marketing class and I’m a creative writing major, so basically what I really heard was, Blah, blah, blah… They care about customers and doing social good on a global level, and you can connect with them on Facebook. For some reason, it also brought the business model of TOMS shoes to mind. Brands that care. Brands that listen. Brands willing to take a chunk of their profits and give back to humanity. Essentially, brands that are changemakers.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise that paying attention to customers’ praise and complaints online and responding appropriately helps shape a successful business—but, apparently, many businesses haven’t caught on to this just yet. It also seems that companies taking social responsibility into account as part of their business model are faring better than others… So, hooray for that.

If Warby Parker is an example of the type of Millennial business—innovative, environmentally aware, customer responsive, and socially conscious—that we can look forward to in the future, then I’ll take my hat off to the generation that butts up against mine. As a matter of fact, I might even warm up to the label, or at least embrace “Xennial” fondly.

If you need a new pair of glasses and you’re trying to practice social distancing responsibly, Warby Parker is perfect. Check out their Facebook page for more info. They also just announced a refocus on “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” and a desire to combat systemic racism as part of their brand and business structure. What’s not to love about this socially woke company?!

According to the CNBC article, Blumenthal actually started under VisionSpring founder, Kassalow, as he built the pilot program that would eventually become VisionSpring, proving that great ideas of philanthropy and social awareness are contagious. Change inspires change!

Check out VisionSpring’s commitment to a better world in other areas such as equal employment (all the way up to their Leadership Team and Board of Directors), empowering women and girls (training women especially to perform eye exams in developing countries), offering women of color paid internship opportunities that include paid-travel for work, and their inspiring vision statement.

NOTE: I don’t receive any sponsorship on this blog whatsoever at this point in time. I’m simply highlighting these two organizations as part of my own learning process and in an effort to bring awareness to people who are putting humanity first and paving the way to a world in which I’d be happy to raise my children.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured image courtesy of Binti Malu via Pexels.com

Millenial/Xennial image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.com