I found him sitting on my couch late the other night, red-eyed and hypnotized, his face illuminated only by the harsh glow of the laptop. When he finally looked up at me, I expected the usual explanation for breaking-in, but instead, a single tear trickled down his freckled cheek, and I knew something terrible had happened. My lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, had discovered Facebook.
I poured my midnight bowl of Fruity Pebbles and an extra one for Toby, and we sat in the dark, silent except for the crunch of cereal. After his fourth bowl, he finally spoke. “Tommy,” he whispered, “why are they so mean?” But before I could respond, he began a two-hour monologue about the terrors of social media: “I can’t believe she said that – about her sister! My hair is not the color of a traffic cone, is it? I think Russians have created fake accounts for people we know . . .”
As Toby Dawn wrestled with the effects of Facebook Fever, I considered my own Facebook account. It still has the same 5 friends that I added in 2009: one of my daughters, Cherokee Trading Post, a niece, the man who helped me start college, and a guy from Brazil I met 15 years ago. Whenever I need a good deal on moccasins or to practice my Portuguese, I check my page; otherwise, I am good. I don’t dislike Facebook at all; I just like to be happy. Unfortunately, Toby Dawn wandered into the dark side of social media, where trolls and creepers lurk. “Someone started a secret group to talk about me!” he sobbed at one point. “Who does that?” (Other than a “Russian spy” claiming to be his cousin, of course.)
A wise person once noted that posting terrible things on social media is the modern equivalent of writing trash on restroom walls, the primary difference being that stalls offer people more privacy. Decent, everyday people now publicly publish things they would never say face-to-face, driven by delusions of anonymity or impunity. Trusting Facebook with one’s privacy is risky enough, but less risky than trusting juicy Facebook fodder to friends and family who invariably forward your secrets under the same delusions. Toby fell into this trap, too, but he assured me that all those bald jokes about me were “told in confidence and just more proof of Russian hackers.”
Facebook Fever overwhelmed Toby, and it broke my heart, but I knew the fever broke when he began punching the keyboard: “My mother is an honorable woman!” He broke his laptop over the corner of the coffee table and stomped out of the house without saying another word. And although I was glad to see Toby Dawn getting back to normal, I wish people had left Mrs. McIntyre out of it. She really is a sweet lady.
As I lay awake in the dark, I could not help but think about Facebook, “friends”, and the changing nature of human relationships. Some people think that social media brings out the worst in people, but I disagree. It simply opens the bathroom stall so everyone sees who is holding the sharpie. We have only added kissy-faced selfies to the practice to feel better about it. And while many of us have been tempted to go Toby-Dawn on our devices, we recognize that true trolls are rare. Most people who catch Facebook fever recover and resume normal, productive lives connected to social media. We learn to accept that terrible things are written in restroom stalls, but we learn to close those doors and move on with our lives. I just hope we are mindful of our children. In an age when cyber-bullying is rampant, what a pity if children learned their tricks from us adults. Perhaps we should be mindful of them the next time we catch Facebook Fever, and perhaps we should remember that the restroom stall doors are wide open.