That Time Facebook Unpublished Me (5-minute read)

You’ve decided to become a professional musician — and you’re not just rolling into it impulsively. This choice follows childhood years of extravagant travel and competitions where your parents wrote sick notes to get you out of school and your nearest and dearest friends and family oohed and aahed when you eagerly whipped out your violin to serenade them. You’ve thought about this and decided to jump in, eyes wide open, high hopes held tight. You want exposure and access to wider audiences. So, you begin your ascent to the top of the proverbial mountain, to a place where the air is thin and record labels offer weighty contracts. Only few succeed in this endeavor, but you make it to the top, and then you find out this is not enough. You have to earn the trust of your audience, maintain a high professional standard and assure reliability to those who work with you. The pressure is intense and relentless. You stand, essentially, at the service and pleasure of your audience. You work exceedingly hard for your vocation, and although you have an audience, constructed by your record label and promoters, you don’t necessarily know your audience. After all, concert halls are often plunged into darkness once the performance begins. Then, the Internet comes along, and with it, user-friendly platforms that enable musicians like you a means to self-publish. From MySpace to Facebook, the information superhighway opens. It’s the new millennium! You’re the master of your own destiny, but also directly exposed to all the criticism that’s out there. It now lands directly on your lap in the form of a like, a comment, or a click.

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Photo: Maximilian Lederer

My friends urged me to get a mobile phone and join Facebook for years before I finally gave in to both. These devices and platforms are like drinking alcohol — every person inherently knows that there’s only fun to be had if you can control the resulting dopamine hit. But, as many will attest, they cannot control it — it controls you. Just like any addiction, a post on Facebook or other social media is a short-lived thrill, with videos and images speeding by at a tempo that is scintillating at best, confusing at worst. After nearly five years of moving around stealthily on Facebook using my private profile, guarded about who could see my posts, I created a professional 'Page’ to connect with my audience and timed it to the launch of my first record release in over a decade. You can view it here.

It was Valentine’s Day 2016.

Like most people I know, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Used well, it’s a powerful tool for community, connection, and discussion. No longer must I spend weeks building a campaign for my latest album release just for it to appear in a journal, be news one day and over in the blink of tomorrow’s eye. Now, with one click, I can release my music, new collaborations, or my musings, and I can do so whenever the mood strikes me. Or, begrudgingly, when my social media specialist emphasises I do so — at 08:00 in the morning as “that’s how you feed the algorithm best.” As if it were a creature needing its breakfast…

What I didn’t realise until recently is that Facebook gives the user a sense of liberty and control. I see social media as one more hurdle to jump, but one I’m willing to go to the races for it because it gives me an outlet that I can (marginally) regulate, and it gives me the opportunity to know my audience.

Then one morning I woke, and Facebook changed the layout for professional Pages. It was a stealth kind of change. The new 'Pages’ had less of everything. I could no longer schedule posts or view the news feed of my private and professional accounts in one place. On top of this all, there was the added challenge of having to get used to a completely new interface for the site. It was like wearing a new pair of shoes that needed to be broken in. I sighed and clicked “accepted” and promptly decided to log out – this was something for which I would need to set aside time.

I soon found that there was no joy in this new layout. After two weeks, I had only posted four times. I decided to switch back to a ‘classic view’ on my Page, the way I had was used to interfacing with the site. It was an option that had been staring at me as a sort of last-minute escape. So, I pressed the “escape” key and clicked my way back. I logged out.

It was Valentine’s Day 2021. I had posted the image you see here of my son and I to celebrate a day of love. Ever since, I can’t log back in.

This is where the sense of control that Facebook offers users becomes evident. It is not, truly, an actuality. Facebook flagged and suspended my professional Page when I had chosen to switch back to a classic view. Now, no one can find me, tag me, involve me, include me. I can’t post or comment. More than 5,500 people with whom I’ve interacted may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve disappeared into thin air. I have searched high and low in forums to find answers. My Page quality is perfect, I have not violated any rules. And, it’s unlikely that the powers-that-be at Facebook have misunderstood “Violins” for “Violence”.

I consider myself lucky that I was not on the brink of a new release. I have noticed that by not having a voice on Facebook, a number of organizations that rely on me to be vocal and active on their behalf are losing out on opportunities by my not drawing attention to them.

What I’m stunned by is how much space the situation has taken in my mind. It’s not just the feeling of helplessness and disdain — there is no way of contacting Facebook directly. My frustration is linked to the hard graft I have put in to be available to my audience, just as they have become available to me. My access to them is not cut off by the result of art I have made or not made. My access to them has been cut off by a service that theoretically provides me a platform, at no charge.

In all this, I am learning some hard lessons. Artists have been creating “content” (a word long disapproved of in art circles) for social media, and much of that for free, for a long time. By using a free service provided by a company as powerful a construct as Facebook, we stand to lose our grip on those very channels that we fill with our creativity. It is no secret that we are the product and that our behaviour is the study. We can curse and shout at the monster we have nourished, as we pout into our cameras and caption our self-portraits – but we’re still the bait…

Maybe my real irritation stems from realising how distracted I have let myself become by social media, and how much I realise that it’s something I’ve become dependent on. Or, it is perhaps my vanity: how seriously could anyone have been listening if it is that easy to disappear without creating a stir? And, how could we have forgotten the lesson we learned on Day 1 when we set up our own websites? “Social media is a rental space. Your own website, however, belongs to you.”

I am also learning (again) how infinitely fortunate we are if we live in a place where we can exercise freedom of speech, and, theoretically, have the means to publish our thoughts within a global context, 24/7, at our fingertips.

Facebook literally switching me off might be the best thing that happened to me this year. It allows me to reflect upon what it means to connect with audiences, and remember that knowing them and connecting with each one individually is more precious than I could have known. It reminds me that I am a creator – and that the outlet to reach those that care about my work has been there all along, I just lost sight of it. It reminds me of what I once knew before I began running: that the most precious memories we have usually involve a sea of time, that everything is in me, and everything is in you, and we are connected, you and I – at the very least, by our mutual love of music and communication, and that that love will, certainly, outlast Facebook.

If you want to share more time with me and watch the full version of Eugène Ysaÿe’s “Ballade”, please do so here.

I still have that child-like urge to serenade my nearest and dearest ☺