I find Facebook frustrating. As storyteller, the Facebook algorithm creates a logistical dilemma. In some cases, I like to use the first comment as a, for lack of a better term, the punchline, or, in most cases, a secondary punchline. Sometimes it is to give further comment to what I’m posting, other times it is to beat my readers to the obvious joke. I am not always successful, but narratively I find that first comment area gives me the necessary “beat” before a nice aside. It’s is the “Ching” to my “Ba-dum, dum.”
Unfortunately, when enough comments appear, Facebook shifts the order around, placing the “Top Comment” in this coveted spot, erasing any of my intended narrative flow—a small example of the Facebook news feed as a whole—shifting the narrative flow from a temporal progression of my Facebook feed to one decidedly non-temporal. Were I to view my feed in the default view, I would find posts from the day before at the top of the list because that one friend is a particularly prolific poster, or due to the apparent closeness of our “relationship.” As one who developed her online narrative style on bulletin boards, forums and IRC chat rooms, this presents a neverending mish-mash of content. More importantly, from a reader’s perspective, it completely undermines the immediacy of social media. This is also why I find Twitter much more useful, though not without its own narrative obstacles. (Snapchat, for what it’s worth, is useless to me, since I was never comfortable with the app’s user interface. Snapchat understands this and has been working on redesigns, but that ship has sailed for me.) The immediacy that social media promises is rendered moot within the confines of Facebook, a platform that was never interested in keeping its users in touch with their friends, but only interested in keeping its users on Facebook. A high-walled garden where all your friends play is still a prison. Yet Facebook’s greatest illusion is how it has completely obfuscated the temporality of human storytelling.
Typically, our narrative history progressed from one white man to another, creating a canonical trajectory. The present is easier to deal with if one can see a straight line leading up to a moment. Yet we have been and will continue to expand that canon, introducing and recovering new voices adding breadth to that timeline, or, more accurately, adding parallel lines of narrative, creating a multiverse of voices and stories. Though parallel may not be the accurate description, because these narrative lines dip and cross and intersect, changing the vectors of other stories, shifting perspectives and, in the worst instances, ending narrative lines altogether. How then do we find the time (in a tactical sense) to make sense of all the intersecting twists and turns that make up our present? What is the defining feature common among this tangled mess of narrative?
We are temporal beings, therefore the stories as we write them tend to flow forward, not necessarily from one action to another, but in enough of a recognizably linear fashion that we, as reader, find some sort of progression in narrative. Even stories that break timeline rules still follow a version of linear progression even if that movement is not past to present to future. So our stories are created and consumed temporally, by necessity of the mortal time boundaries of their creators. Yet, the stories as entities do not. They exist out of time, in a sense, from the first moment we were able to record an idea in a semi-permanent manner. Our stories exist as delineated moments along a our timeline, if not reflective in the narrative itself, then reflective of the fact that it was created at a particular time by a temporally-bound being.
Facebook essentially shifts our narrative from time-based to topic-based, disallowing users to see stories develop from one moment to the next in favor of feeding users similar stories hoping to keep users on the site and deliver sponsored content. By creating these new lines of narrative, Facebook (and those that use a similar method) disrupt not only our natural ways of telling stories, but our natural ways of consuming stories, creating less of a network of ideas that touch and influence each other, but a sticky web of stories that envelope a perceived desired narrative. The news feed does not damage us by hiding stories that are in political opposition to our own worldview, it damages us by disappearing the existence of other worldviews entirely. Our ignorance is actively curated.
For all of our discussions about Facebook and politics, we sometimes forget that we are creator ourselves. Facebook should be approached as just another publishing platform, one with its own rules and quirks, yet something that should be manipulated by us instead of the other way around. While many of us create with a rhetorical mindset, we must learn to consume in the same way: looking at dates of publication, looking at sources, reading critically even the most innocuous post. We must remember that we are temporal beings, stuck in a mortal timeline, all with the same end. Only our stories survive, unless the algorithm pushes it off the page.