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The Vanity of Facebook

Just by logging into your Facebook account, you get a whole load of tips on how to live. For free! That’s life in the 21st century — a totally new spin on the Swahili proverb: Asiyefunzwa la mamake hufunzwa na dunia. Indeed, have you ever noticed how Facebook brings out the best in us?

All is Vanity, by Charles Allan Gilbert (1873–1929) Image | Wikipedia

I dare say this with some certainty, Facebook makes people wiser.  How else to explain the wisdom of our friends that pours out on their timelines? From quotes, jokes, unsolicited opinion and inspirational dogma. Musings so ingenious in their origins, so timely in delivery and yet, still so freely given. All that in an age where motivational speaking, personal coaching and other products of the multi dollar ‘self improvement’ industry are highly valued commodities.

Synonyms of  vanity:

Egotism, complacency, vainglory, ostentation, pride, emptiness, sham, unreality, folly, triviality, futility.

Debatable it is that the wealth of knowledge so freely traded within this social media behemoth surmounts any ever known to man. Not even the chatter of the tower of Babel can match the talk here on Zukerberg’s streets. Caution. On these streets, it is easy to get fed by bull by way of algorithms, machine learning, big data mining and outright skewed personal judgement of news curator.

Then there is my favorite, and the focus of this article: something that’s Facebook equivalent of street knowledge. Tribal wisdom that can only chanced upon on Facebook through the unique shared experiences of our different lives. With the social media giant closing on the 2 billion user mark as at February of 2017 — accounts that at some point in their life cycle  broadcast precious tit bits of narcissistic wisdom, fake news, trivialities and other forms of vanity — the undue power of Facebook is colossal.

The Facebook Society

When we first wrote this article, the power of Facebook was only just being realized. Even the example chosen then to represent this power –the use of Facebook by prospective employers to dig around the lives of prospective employees — is a triviality now.

When we first explored this subject, it seven years before such things like Facebook’s alleged role in Russia gaming the U.S Election of Donald Trump. And eight years before Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt at reclaiming the soul of Facebook by saving it from itself.  In a Facebook post announcing changes to Facebook News feed, in there somewhere was an admission to how vain Facebook really was.

At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.Mark Zukerberg

People Will Always Be Who They Want

Though Zuckerberg shifted the blame to brands and publishers, it should be viewed for what it really is : A PR spin to slide out of the mess of the Russia-Facebook-Trump threesome. Because let’s face it, the threat of bias of internally conducted research — especially the ethics of it all.

A business in crisis is no less different from a nation battling an emergency epidemic in the manner of Sierra Leone with Ebola or Latin America with the Zika virus. Will Facebook save itself from itself by ‘ changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions’?

Vexation of spirit is a waste of time
Negative thinking, don’t you waste your thoughts
Verbal conflict is a waste of word
Physical conflict is a waste of flesh
People will always be who they want
And that’s what really makes the world go ’round
Unconditional love is scarce

~ Damian Marley ~

When I first started this journey, my antenna then had been raised by the play out of  high school level sociology: that the input of society into the socialization of an individual through norms and laws and is acknowledged. The individual through their lived experience as part of a  society, develops personal ideals, beliefs, thoughts, virtues and vices that are largely crafted by the prevailing wisdom of the day.

At a reported 500 nnnn Facebook accounts then, coupled by what I considered to be almost pathological use of the app and website among my friends then, I had come to appreciate the irony of the word ‘social’ in social media. What I wondered then, was what kind of society Facebook was and would evolve into. Early signs were scary.


In the colloquial sense of the world, a wise person is one who understands the society they live in. So much that they can offer solutions to its problems and quagmires. Wisdom is ideally thought to be gained via a cumulative process. By this thinking, society is a live being which sires by passing on the deeds and knowledge of one generation to the next. The wisdom gained through out the lifetime of previous generations, forms a pedestal upon which future knowledge that will inform the life of generations to come is built.

This phenomenon: of information or knowledge being cumulatively acquired and then systematically disseminated was already evident in the workings of Facebook the society. Going viral is/was the holy grail of the Zuckerberg world and it held no prisoners. Compared with the working of the world of our parents, it was different in how fast information moved and how unchecked it largely appeared to be.

Of Vanity by Michel de Montaigne

Contrast that with how notions moved before. French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592),  in the book The Essays (Les Essais), bk. III , through his composition “Of Vanity,”  succinctly describes the society borne out of billions of status updates on Facebook :

The corruption of the age is produced by the individual contribution of each one of us; some contribute treachery, others injustice, irreligion, tyranny, avarice, cruelty, in accordance with their greater power; the weaker ones bring stupidity, vanity, passivity, and I am one of them. Michel de Montaigne

That said, the Mark Zuckerberg led army at Facebook chose to call places where friends can make their ‘individual contributions’ as described by Michel de Montaigne, such unassuming names like ‘Wall’ and ‘News Feed’. Soft names, I say because reading a friend’s status update on Facebook, a lot is conveyed in those few characters. In my world, if it were remain a Wall, it would have to be fitted with a mirror.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

The words of this German philosopher, classical scholar and critic of culture, say it best

Whether a man hides his bad qualities and vices or confesses them openly, his vanity wants to gain an advantage by it in both cases: just note how subtly he distinguishes between those he will hide his bad qualities from and those he will face honestly and candidly.Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

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