Home / Features / Facebook: Bulldozing the Social Landscape?

Facebook: Bulldozing the Social Landscape?

Facebook isn’t meant to replace real life or actual social interaction, and I don’t think many people think of it as an alternative. Everyone realizes it’s an addition, a plus, something to support everyday interactions. And I’m not even going to get into the “is it even Halal, is it a bad influence?” situation right now.

Social interaction is so delicate in real life. We have a hundred different selves in real life, different levels of professionalism and formality, different attitudes on things depending on the kind of crowd we are with. Cultures have intricate rules of etiquette and social norms that control situations and interactions with people before we even begin talking. They say body language is more than 50 percent of what we communicate to someone else.

I know when my mother says it’s ok if I don’t clean the kitchen, it really means I better clean the kitchen or I’m going to feel guilty the rest of the day. I can see in my friend’s eyes that she is not ok when she smiles and tells me she is doing fine. I talk quietly around those I don’t know well, but I’m loud and talkative around those I am close with. I know what jokes are appropriate for which situations, though I am usually socially awkward.

These intricacies are hard to translate online. Real life is a varied landscape, with mountains and valleys, crescendos and cliffs, as well as deep caves, wide trees, and open plains of meaning. It is so rich and textured and different for everyone who experiences it.

I feel like Facebook flattens out reality. As I said, obviously it’s not meant to replace real social interaction – but it kind of distorts truth and one’s way of thinking of the world. People you never talk to and those you are super close to show up equally on your NewsFeed. Everyone’s words sound neutral and monotone, without that landscape of emotion and range that it would have if said in person. Every mountain and valley of differing social experiences, social circles, perceptions, and biases one has for others is flattened out on the Internet. We find ourselves dealing more with certain people online than we ever do in real life. We find ourselves joking around with someone online who at school we sort of barely make awkward small talk with. Each “emotional” or “deep” status message seems empty and repetitive when blasted online for the world despite how much meaning it would have if whispered to you by your friend during a late night talk. We skim through people’s successes and “FML”s, their engaged/married statuses, and their copy-pasted quotes like we skim through YouTube videos and Google News. I think that makes it easier to judge rather than to empathize.

The connotations of an action, the body language of the speaker, the implied meaning on top of the obvious meaning – all need to be deciphered by our personal perceptions during those few seconds rather than the social cues of the landscape of life. Maybe it’s just me, but the pleas for pity, the super deep quote from someone I have a suspicion doesn’t really understand what it means, and the attempts at being witty come across as hollow and insincere. And we can’t forget that therapeutic relief quality of anonymously-directed-venting via social media. Do “I hate when people can’t just keep their mouths shut”, “Feeling betrayed by certain people, just can’t trust anyone”, “If you want to apologize, calling 20 times isn’t the way to do it” sound like familiar statuses? Sometimes it’s easier to pretend to talk generally and release our feelings via Twitter or FB statuses rather than talk to the target of our anger or unhappy thoughts directly. Hey, I’m not pointing fingers or judging – I do all these things too. My point isn’t that people are fake; it’s that whatever we’re saying comes across indelicately. Sort of like walking up to someone we don’t know well and letting them casually know that our family member just died. That’s enough to make everyone around wince just a little bit.

I find myself feeling uncomfortable when I see someone’s status with TMI, as in I really didn’t need to know all that. Like that awkward inside joke that only one other person understands, or detailed information on how last night was, or jokes that make people uncomfortable. I really don’t want to know about how much you hate your mother through your status, little preteen girl that I know through the Islamic center. Unless we are sitting there having a heart-to-heart about difficult family situations, you should probable keep that to a private message. You do realize you have people besides your best friends on Facebook, right? In fact, I think you have a Maulana added as a friend. (You realize if he has a Facebook, then he probably knows enough about it to check it as well. Your immature post just blasted across Maulana’s NewsFeed. Awkkk-ward.)

Even Wall posts on a friend’s page are treated like actual private conversations. So that “certain someone” who we don’t talk to but are talking about on our Wall-to-Wall can actually see our conversation. Weird, huh? That delicacy of the social interaction feels bulldozed when I see a post about their personal life on Facebook or Twitter when maybe I did a group project with them in a class once, or used to work with them two jobs ago and then added them on Facebook. They wouldn’t blurt it out in front of me if we were standing in a circle of people at school, but on Facebook people seem to overlook their other 400 friends.

Speaking of that, as an aside, really do you need that many friends? I never understood the need to add every people one ever meets on Facebook and then keep them as friends for a long time. I work with someone, add them, and then unless I’m good friends with them, if I change a job, I delete them. Because I really don’t think they are going to care about my Ramadan statuses and personal rants, or my plea to show up at a protest downtown the next day. Personally, I try to keep to 200 friends who I regularly interact with, and even then I definitely feel like I’m overreaching.

I sometimes wonder if our interactions with people in real life have changed since social media became big. I know email and texting were already starting to shift our social and professional lives significantly, but social media connected us to a community larger than ourselves. A different social experience was born. Perhaps some would even argue a superior system. After all, where else can you interact with your best friend, your lab partner, your handy computer nerd acquaintance, and your cousin from Lebanon all in one arena? That’s got to be worth something right? Or is it in fact making these relationships less meaningful, more perfunctory, and evenly distributed in ways that it would never be in a face-to-face situation?

About Zainab Haider Zaidi

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  • otowi

    The other day my niece and her friend spent the night at my house. They sat there watching a movie and using their smart phones to post stuff and ‘chat’ on FB. I don’t think they really caught the whole movie, and it was pretty strange watching them spending the night together but interacting more with friends on FB than with each other half the time. But they thought it was normal.

  • Nour

    Beautifully written! And so very true!

  • R.J.

    Psychologists say that a typical human being can barely have a personal network of 150 friends.


  • ekon

    This piece could have been so much more better and apt. Talking about the relationship between fb and the “social landscape”.

    Instead, it’s one big complaint form like an unsatisfied customer emotionally judging everyone involved in such typical style. Oh and adding, “i’m not judging, I do all these things too” yes, thank you for trying to give this article (or yourself) some value.
    If you wanted to let of some steam about what you despise – great. Writing & publishing and posting an piece that judges all those people (yes it is judging before you think otherwise, check a dictionary) just makes you guilty of the very thing you condemned.

    “Because I really don’t think they are going to care about my Ramadan statuses and personal rants, or my plea to show up at a protest downtown the next day.” awful.

    “rather than talk to the target of our anger or unhappy thoughts directly” So I suppose that you’ve spoken directly to all these people of course, but then decided to target your anger an unhappy thoughts here too? makes sense.

    “They wouldn’t blurt it out in front of me if we were standing in a circle of people” Would like to know what reaction you got when you blurted all this out to the people you’re referring to (assuming you’re not a hypocrite).

    Oh but let’s not forget the classic once again “I do all these things too”. wow. so like what’s the purpose of this piece then?

    • Re: ekon

      Picking and choosing sentences out of context from the article has no meaning and only does injustice to the message given here. If you think the writer is “judgmental” as you claim, there was a better way to put it than blatant and twisted criticism (that certainly lacks akhlaq). The overall message of the article is simple: facebook (or even other online media communication) does not replace real-life communication and several times brings forward different reactions and behaviors in people that is not expected of them in real-life.

      Another article about online communication from the point of view of psychologists was posted on this site earlier: http://www.islamicinsights.com/features/technology/psychology-of-cyber-communication.html

      • ekon

        To avoid replying to any of my points by hiding behind “picking out of context” is simply shameful. It is quite obvious where the author is making immature and offensive remarks which inevitably question if she is doing exactly the samething – except to those who don’t want to see it.

        you mentioned “message given here” and stated the message is 1. fb doesn’t replace real-life communications. Perhaps 20% of the article deals with this. 2. it brings forward reactions that arent expected in real life – this is most of the article and is mentioned with nothing but cheap shots and unnecessary criticisms. This majority part of the article certainly lacks akhlaq if you would like to bring this into the frame work. And just to show there was plenty more I decided not to show:
        “the super deep quote from someone I have a suspicion doesn’t really understand what it means” im not sure if it would be right to think the author was arrogant, but they are definitely not humble. And once again this is unnecessary, useless judgement. Nothing more. Am happy to quote more if you like?

        This piece would suit newspaper corner sections of people letting off their opinions, not an Islamic websites which tries to give necessary and helpful works.

        This article is judgemental from top to bottom – otherwise please define what judgemental is and how it differentiates from this?

    • Dot

      And YOUR akhlaq is better … how exactly?

      The article was an opinion piece about how FB can be misused. This problem is something non-Muslims are discussing and noticing, even though our akhlaq is at a higher level. So I’m not sure why you’re mentioning the fact that drawing observations about the pitfalls and consequences of FB is inappropriate.

      It’s ironic, but if you’re going to get this upset about different opinions and make personal comments, FB is probably not for you.

      • ekon

        talking about how something is misused is great. using that as a reason to write an article on this website to judge, criticise and condemn other people’s posts, methods and opinions, and then have the nerve to say they wouldn’t do it in real life in front of those same people is glaringly inapropriate – even if you refuse to accept that.
        And exactly is “our” in “our akhlaq is at higher level”?
        And feel free to show me where I said showing the pitfalls and conswequences of fb is inappropriate?

        no that’s not ironic, i hardly use facebook and don’t do many of the things this author mentions anyway. that just it – you’re not getting the point. my comments have nothing to do with using fb. they are to do with how this author has spoken and judged others in an “Islamic” piece on this website. The only reason your so defensive is because this piece is up there, published, and my comments are down here. that’s irony.

        Or rather the real irony is, if the author felt the need to write this whole article complaining about what she really “didn’t need to know”, i think she should stop using facebook..and all others who agree with this piece.

        • Dot

          Let me spell it out for you. It’s ironic because you’re complaining about the author being judgemental and not privately telling people stuff she’s upset about directly when you’re doing the same thing. For example, you suggested I like the article simply because it was posted on this site. Anyone could find out that is untrue with 2 seconds of searching for my previous comments.

          Regarding the akhlaq of Ahlul-Bait, that is what ‘we’ on this site are trying to follow.

          • ekon

            1. Thanks for “spelling it out” – unfortunately you can’t seem to spell. These pieces on Islamic insights have a comments section – we are using it right now. This comment section is normally used by the author to read and respond to people “comments”. Just to make sure, I even checked the other article by this author and noticed she read and responded to her comments there, so i was fully expecting her to also respond here.

            2. My criticism at the article are not answered by saying “you’re doing the same thing” even if the latter were true – which evidently isn’t. So please stop playing the self-righteous, online police.

            4. I suggested in the same way you suggested that i somehow became “upset” or made “personal comments” – what on earth are you talking about here. If my comments are “personal”, I don’t know what you would call the article above us.

            3. please spare me of ‘we are trying to follow the akhlaq of ahlulbayt’ (as). it’s obvious this is just another self righteous statement that bares no action. (that is judging by your comments on other articles which took “2mins” searching as you so kindly suggested) and honestly, spare me your predictable and – avoiding the point – comment “and your’s is better?”, i’ll fully aware and admit my akhlaq is not near their level, unlike some stubborn persons.

          • Dot


          • ekon

            Wow, talk about falling for the most obvious and predictable, hypocritical trap that can be placed to expose you empty words….. “Regarding the akhlaq of Ahlul-Bait, that is what ‘we’ on this site are trying to follow.”
            err…oh yes..i can see that. keep it up!!!

          • Zainab H.

            Brother, if you don’t like my article because it’s not well written or appears judgemental that is completely fine. You’re allowed to express your feelings. As to the first point, I agree. As to the second, I think you may have misconstrued what the purpose of this *opinion* piece was. There is really no reason to attack everyone else who comments on this article though. This is Islamic Insights, not Youtube. Calm down.

          • ekon

            Thank you for telling me to (patronizingly) calm down – it really made you look cool, oh and it helped me too. I think someone should have told you to “calm down” before you decided to write and post this piece. It really gave an Islamic “insight”.

            As to your point about me “attacking” other people’s comments; as anyone without bias would see, my first post did no such thing to anyone else is comments and anything you may perceive as an “attack” is no less a response to an “attack” on me.

            FYI i don’t have problem with opinion pieces (since you highlighted it as if i needed to know); some opinions are beneficial, others not so much. this much is obvious.

          • Dot

            Oh, we’re not allowed to laugh either? This just gets funnier and funnier!

            Guys, this has to be a huge joke, that’s the only thing that can explain this Ekon guy’s behavior. LOL … so very extremely over the top! 😀

          • ekon

            Yes it’s a huge joke – did it really take you this long?
            “Guys”? who do you mean? oh yes of course this is how you justify yourself and ego by coming here and trying to get as many likes from the “guys” – i wish my life was as optimistic as yours! 🙂

            Laughing at another persons comment? no i wasn’t aware that the ahlulbayt (s) ever done that since the comment was in relation to your claim of ‘following their akhlaq’ – but you carry on laughing since you wont actually answer any of the points where i refuted your illogical remarks 🙂

            Oh by the way, the way you spoke to that brother on another aticle and mocked him because his english was quite bad really was not akhlaqi :)…wow my cheeks hurt now!

          • Dot

            You’re right, the way I spoke to the other brother was not correct. May Allah forgive me for my shortcoming and bless the “guy” (didn’t know we can’t say that either) for his patience. I actually asked the moderator to delete my comments on that thread because I realized I had not been fair with him and took out the frustration of a difficult day on him, which was not right.

            I would like to see you be able to admit your many mistakes on this thread. yet somehow I doubt you have the courage. You do have plenty of time to look for other people’s mistakes, but little time to fix your own, very apparently.

            As far as laughing, it’s hard not laugh at such blatantly foolish behavior. Seriously, I’m still waiting for the punchline. Nothing else can justify such a ridiculous display of over the top anger! 😀

          • ekon

            re-read everything you’ve just said…very slowly…pls

            I mean if you really care about admitting your own mistakes and “seeking Allah’s (swt) forgiveness” which one again seem the very empty words within the very message you wrote them!…please just seriously re-read what you just said so i don’t have to rip it again.

            ” “Regarding the akhlaq of Ahlul-Bait, that is what ‘we’ on this site are trying to follow.”
            You don’t cease to amaze.

            And once again since you avoid, forget or don’t read what i said before, let me copy n paste what i said quite a many messages ago ” i’ll fully aware and admit my akhlaq is not near their level, unlike some stubborn persons.” as well as admitting on replies to other comments where i admitted i could have handled things better.
            But all this is besides the point, stop letting your ego make this a “you vs me” game and avoid discussing the original points about the article which you refuse to address. the only reason your ahklaq became the issue is because you so self- righteously (a long with whoever “we” is) claimed to follow it. if anything is funny – it would be that.

          • Dot

            YOU are telling me to re-read what I wrote? LOL!!!! About 15 people including myself have already answered you and discussed the original points in the article, yet you are just throwing the same old mud.

            When I said “we” have better akhlaq, you should have understood it meant that we have better examples than non-Muslims do. Since non-Muslims are disturbed by certain ethical issues with FB, you should not be surprised to see that the author write on the same themes that she did as well. Unfortunately, the fact that you did not see this again shows you have a serious problem with being judgmental.

            So you weren’t joking all this time … which is just depressing. If you continue same crappy behavior, I’ll simply ask the moderator to delete all my posts. Since they are tied to yours, yours will also get deleted, insha-Allah. I think the only reason your posts haven’t been deleted yet is because the moderator doesn’t want to take down other people’s valid points.

            Last chance.

          • Dot

            PS: And by the way, you currently have 43 dislikes, which would be a lot higher if you weren’t trying to add likes to your own posts. That should tip you off that you need to work on yourself. I’ve never seen anyone annoy so many people on this site! :O

          • ekon

            Guess you just wanted to get ripped further:

            “About 15 people including myself have already answered you “
            Uhm..and you were laughing at my supposed mis-count? …who exactly are these 15 that replied to my posts? Please do elaborate…

            “yet you are just throwing the same old mud.”
            No, you haven’t responded to anything of my points except *trying* to respond to my very first one (which was quite a while ago now) and then rolling out comments having absolutely nothing to do with why i posted originally. and any other points people have raised have been answered. seriously, lying much?

            “When I said “we” have better akhlaq, you should have understood it meant that we have better examples than non-Muslims do.” oh oh great i understand now, so it wasn’t that YOU try to follow it and hence my point about your akhlaq doesnt matter (which i only raised since you first had the audacity to bring up against me. irony), but rather you meant we have better examples. i understand. we have great examples which we try to follw “on this website” – but your excluded from following them. gotchya

            “If you continue same crappy behavior,”
            Oh oh language, dear, language. remember, “Regarding the akhlaq of Ahlul-Bait, that is what ‘we’ on this site are trying to follow – right? 🙂

          • ekon

            ” I’ll simply ask the moderator to delete all my posts. Since they are tied to yours, yours will also get deleted,”
            Oh im shivering. really. i’ll absolutely stop responding to your wonderfully logical posts full of heavenly akhlaq which you claim to follow. really. i mean delete my posts??? God forbid!!

            “Last chance.”
            ok… i was being sarcastic above, but you really need to get a life outside the folds of a little piece on islamic insights. seriously.

            “PS: And by the way, you currently have 43 dislikes”
            :O you actually COUNTED? i’m really trying to suppress a life. please, please, get a life. All things aside, as a brother in Islam to you – get a life.

            “I’ve never seen anyone annoy so many people”
            Yes, let’s judge ourselves by how much we have *apparently* annoyed “so many” others. another piece of great wisdom and logic. keep them rolling! I’m starting to enjoy this!

          • Wajahat

            Salam unalikum, please explain me how judging someone and criticizing someone are different? Br./Sr. Ekon, there is a really really thin line in judging someone and criticizing someone, personally you can’t find the definition for these words in dictionary.com or other such websites or books because of this reason “Criticize: to judge or discuss the merits and faults of” I hope you see my point. But bringing back to ikhlaq, it is very important that our ikhlaq runs our critiquing of someone and not our emotions. First of this article conveys the message that I believe, you have understood. But what I don’t get is why are you personally attacking someone for pointing out the obvious that a lot of kids and adults seem to oversee it now a days… you did bring some really good points but there was a better way of saying it. “thank you for trying to give this article (or yourself) some value” saying things like that doesnt make you smart or unique it just comes out to be very rude. This is an Islamic website where we try to learn knowledge from one another and give other people respect like we ourselve would like to have respect. so lets not slander the Author but instead learn from what she has provided us.
            i’m going to end with Quran and Hadiths from our AhlulBaits a.s. and please try to use these for this article and for your daily use. Inshallah i’ll do the same.
            1) “Those who slander such of the Believers as give themselves freely to (deeds of) charity, as well as those who give according to their means, — and throw ridicule on them — Allah will throw back their ridicule on them: and they shall have a grievous chastisement.” (9:79)
            The Holy Prophet (saaw) said: “Slander acts quicker against the faith of a Muslim believer than leprosy does against the body.”
            Walikum Salam.

          • ekon

            Judging and criticising are two different things. judging is forming conclusion in your head about something/someone after at least some analysis. criticising is expressing negative judements in form of words, actions etc.
            judgement and criticism are good things but can also be unhealthy – it depends. we need to judge someone if they are good company for us, but judgine by colour of skin is bad. we should criticise the anti-islamists with logical argument, but criticsing someone for their height is bad.
            hope that was clear.

            “But what I don’t get is why are you personally attacking someone for pointing out the obvious that a lot of kids and adults seem to oversee it now a days.”
            That’s not why i am “attacking” anything/one. It’s very clear what i’ve said above and my comments are still there. please read, i haven’t got time to repeat.

            “you did bring some really good points but there was a better way of saying it”
            Yes, you’re are probably right here. But let’s stop beating around the bush, any critisism levelled againt me can be levelled exactly to this article – except on a grander scale. it supposed to be n islamic article. if you honestly think there is some islamic benefit and “respect” in this article then you have an extraordinary bias towards the article (most probably because, as with most people, it is simply “published” up there.

            As to your points about slandering – totally irrelevant. the author has seen my comments and, once again, anyway you try to accuse me of slandering can be thrown right back at the author of this article for the many “unnecessary” but on a much larger scales.
            The fact you’ve written this whole reply for me but mentioned nothing in this comments about the worst things of the author should be very telling for you and anyone who thinks for a moment without a sense of self-ritcheous biasness


  • aliwala

    Honest question to put up…But

    what is the solution for such bulldozing of landscaping….delete the fb account or use it less???

    The author must have come up with solutions as well…otherwise what good is posing questions…most of the people are aware of these things…

    the article is nice and reflecting….but wud have been better if u add one conclusion of solution too….next time keep in mind plzz.

  • Readergirl

    The article is meant to be an opinion piece, not informative. In that context, it seeks to express what many people might feel: that interactions on facebook can feel hollow and drain the depth of a real conversation.

  • Oh

    This is totally an opinion piece. I don’t see the problem in it being judgmental anyways…

  • Hussain Ali

    In some parts of the world, facebook is used to help overthrow governments, create rallies, and get your word out.

    In others, facebook is used to complain about facebook. Replace facebook, with internet or TV or radio or the next generation of technology or communication platform.

  • Yusuf

    Thanks to the sister for writing this article, jazakallah. Some of the criticisms of it here are clearly born out of some sort of ill will, though the absence of body language makes this less easy to detect 🙂

    I would like to offer one solution to this problem. It is possible to tailor Facebook to accomplish the tasks that you want to use it for. For example, if you want to use it to keep up with close friends and family, then set it up with that in mind and avoid using it to expand your social world. On the other hand, if you like being exposed to hundreds of strangers’ then don’t use facebook for.the more intimate interactions. I personally use Facebook mostly for news and religious issues, so I keep those people in my newsfeed who post on these topics and hide those who post personal things. As soon as I see a tmi post, I hide that person. When I go on Facebook I hardly ever see any embarrasing things because I’ve hidden the people who embarrass themselves.

    And yes @ekon–this does involve judging people.

    • ekon

      Thanks for your incredibly naive comment.
      If you read my first comment i made it very clear what I was criticizing: it was not “judgement”. Judgement is obviously done and should be done by everyone to certain extent. it was the fact this author judged so many people for the very thing she was doing in this judgemental piece, AND then claimed “im not judging”.
      The other users responded by denying there was any judgement in the first place! Until now some few people are admitting it was a judgemental piece as expected. took a long time for at least a few to accept that first fact (if the author has accepted it is another issue). now they can move on to the actual point.

  • Xavier

    Many years ago, a reporter on PBS’s NewsHour recorded a televised piece in which he lamented about the same thing concerning people’s cellular phone conversations that they had in public without concern as to who was listening. He described about being on an elevator when a woman began talking on her phone about her abortion. The piece wasn’t filled with indignation, but with a sadness that drew the viewer into the scope of the current era where self editing, self control and secrecy as to one’s inner emotions and life has been supplanted by a conscious or sub-consciousness need to tell the world about our problems. In other words: News 24/7 about ME!

    In this world of virtual life, we seem to have adopted the need to become a news piece and as the reporter who covers ourselves, thereby laying ourselves open for display.

    As Muslims, we have failed to see that by divulging some secrets of the heart, we have failed at seeking consolation with the Creator. We have used social status, chat staus, etc., as our call to the outside world and while asking for help in some ways is good in dire situations for mutual support, we are forgetting that or ultimate return is to Him. This return is more than when we die, but in every part of our life. He wants us to turn to Him and that’s the tragedy of the situation. Instead, people addicted to the online life have exposed themselves here where strangers are one click away from forgetting you.

    In essence, with social media, we have turned away from Allah (swt). And when questioned in the grave, I cringe to think someone may answer “facebook” to the question, “Who is your God? Who did you turn to for help?” Is that extreme to think so? Think that the people of Ignorance turned to stones to complain and worship to. Our idols are merely electronic.

    With duas,