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Facebook Has Weakened Us

October 7th, 2021 by dk

Facebook and Instagram went dark for several hours on Monday, giving us a chance to imagine our lives without ubiquitous social media. Did you enjoy it? Did you panic? Maybe you didn’t notice the outage at all. Those three responses sum up society today.

Was it a pure coincidence that the sites went down just hours after Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, was interviewed on 60 Minutes? She pleaded for people over profits and then poof!

I blame Mark Zuckerberg for the fragility in today’s young people and also the sense of entitlement that is spreading across our culture. Nothing new there, except this. I’m less concerned with the enveloping ecosphere Facebook has become than with what Zuckerberg thought he was building from his Harvard dorm room in 2004.

The Facebook was originally conceived as a dating site. So was Youtube, by the way. Our society has been shaped by what teenage boys fantasized about. Maybe societies have always been shaped the same way. Facebook and Youtube have grown to unimaginable  scale, but hundreds of sites continue to start where these two began.

Dating sites always solve the same “problem.” Their business models differ widely, but they always offer a voyeur’s dream. You can see who is “available” without risking rejection. Zuckerberg’s original idea was to assign a rating to each face, producing a user’s own private book of faces — their own face book.

It quickly became apparent that these instant judgments could be done more instantly. Swipe right to accept; swipe left to reject — all anonymously. Only after two people have each approved of the other is the connection revealed and facilitated.

We know Facebook today as a place where people share their moral, societal, and political imperatives. But the engine that started it all was deeper. It was the biological imperative to find a mate, but without the pain that comes from rejection. You can see why this is an attractive option for users. But stay with me here.

Rejection hurts us, but it doesn’t harm us. In fact, it strengthens us. Every survived snub gives us important information — first and foremost, that it didn’t kill us. Positive connections are more meaningful because the fear of rejection was the cost of engagement. Overcoming that fear makes us hardier, individually and collectively.

Every digitally arranged marriage tests the wisdom of the algorithm, but the partners are never tested. They’ve taken fewer risks. They don’t know what it takes to survive. They are like farm-raised salmon, losing their instincts to spawn and return, whatever the cost. Protections have made them safer, but also more fragile.

I’m not sure you can teach creatures that rejection is not a mortal blow after their spawning urge has subsided. Only that biological imperative (aided by social pressure) makes that risk worth taking. We may be losing an entire generation of wild caught creatures, all to fulfill a 19-year-old boy’s dorm room fantasy.

Talk to those who might not accept you. When rejection stops feeling like death, you’ve accomplished something for yourself and for society.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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