On Boycotts, Resources, and Privilege

In 2014, when the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL initially hedged to take action after the video surfaced of Ray Rice beating his then-fiancée, it took me about three minutes to decide to boycott the NFL.

This had been brewing for a while. I had recently learned of their non-profit status with the U.S. Government, knew of how they saddled communities with taxes to pay for lavish stadiums, was irritated at the apparent lack of interest in creating stronger concussion protocols, was incensed at their continued use of Native American mascots, and was well aware of their “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to handling men who abused their partners.

But it was a little sad for me to stop watching something that had been a part of my life for so long. I loved watching games with friends. I loved playing Fantasy Football. I wrote—and then published in an actual book—a piece about Fantasy Football! I loved coming home from church every Sunday, laying on the couch, watching games, dozing off, waking up, checking stats.

But I couldn’t support it anymore.

I often say that if we really examined how every corporation operated and chose boycotting as a method of speech, no one would shop anywhere or do anything. And I know the NFL doesn’t miss my support; I’m a gnat in a swarm of murder hornets.

But I do think that on a personal enrichment level, boycotts of chosen companies can redirect our resources to better things.

Once my Sundays (and Mondays…and Thursdays) were no longer subject to football games, I suddenly freed up hours of time a week. I’m not saying I’ve always made the best choices about how I use that time, but I have noticed the biggest change with Sundays. I watch movies. I catch up with friends. I explore Ancestry’s website and learn about my forbears. Sometimes I work, sometimes I read books.

My Sunday time doesn’t disappear as fast as it used to, because I’m not spending nine hours watching football.

Which brings me to a weekly conversation I have with myself: boycotting Facebook and Instagram.

How can I reconcile supporting an uneducated megalomaniac who has allowed his innovation to be hijacked by white supremacists and merchants of misinformation?

A quick anecdote: when my selfies or stories about dogs peeing on my leg get more interactions, comments, and likes, than my calls to action, it tells me that maybe my time spent on those platforms is wasteful.

I have a blog. I have email. I have a phone that sends and receives text messages AND makes phone calls. I subscribe to three newspapers and four magazines, all covering a variety of news. I listen to more podcasts than I can handle, and have more streaming services than I can watch.

I was all set to leave, and I realized: wow. What a privilege that must be.

What a privilege that I don’t rely on either platform to affect change.
What a privilege that I’m not fighting for my life and need to cast a wide net for support.
What a privilege that I have the money for a domain name and the “nicer” version of WordPress.

Privilege, privilege, privilege.

So I stopped my exodus plans and starting thinking about how I am using Facebook and Instagram, and how I might use them a little better. A little more focused.

On Instagram, I can make sure I’m curating follows of people whose voices I can learn from and amplify. Seek out people doing work in causes I believe in, donate to, and share their work.

On Facebook, I can take the same action as Instagram, PLUS use the embedded controls to see what I want to see. Sometimes I think we forget that as much power as Zuckerberg’s algorithms have over us, he’s also given us some tools to hack those algorithms, and third-party developers help out too. It might take some pruning, but I can create a feed that righteously motivates and sustains me.

As I went though the initial steps of leaving ZuckLand, I thought of the things that I might miss out on. Some were personal, but most were related to either my profession or how I want to improve the world.

As insidious as I find Facebook and Instagram to be, I can’t argue that the platform can be used for great good when I’m connected to the correct people.

I am going to limit my time, maybe publish more on my website, get more news from the places I subscribe to instead of relying on others’ feeds. But I’m sticking around for now. And if you go through a similar thought process from time to time, I invite you to reflect a bit, and maybe hack your own feed.

Or run your own boycott—you have my support.

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