*This article of mine is published on CNN.*
Even freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the breakout star of the Democratic Party, whose social media savvy has thus far been a key ingredient to her political career, is apparently not immune from the toxic effects that too much social media consumption can have on a person.
During a recent interview, AOC revealed that she stopped using her Facebook account, describing social media as a “public health risk” and enumerating its most negative health consequences.
“I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody,” she said during a podcast interview with Yahoo. “There are amplified impacts for young people, particularly children under the age of 3 with screen time. But I think it has a lot of effects on older people. I think it has effects on everybody. Increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism.”
The irony of Ocasio-Cortez’s quitting the social media platform that played such a vital role in her successful political campaign ousting incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley is not lost on her, and she herself describes the decision as a “big deal.”
But after the relentless harassment she has faced, both online and off, largely from supporters of the GOP and President Donald Trump, can any of us really be surprised that she wants to opt out?
Personally, I understand where Ocasio-Cortez is coming from. A few months ago, I did the same thing — I took to my Facebook page and announced to my friends and family that I was temporarily deactivating my account. They could find me on Instagram and Twitter, I declared, just like AOC.
Opting out of Facebook is nothing new, and young people, especially from AOC’s generation, have been leaving Facebook in droves for years, but I stayed on. I love how my scattered Bangladeshi family connected on the platform, sharing old family pictures of relatives from the 1940s and 50s.
Even though most of my friends barely used Facebook, the comments my cousins and I leave under fading black and white images of our great aunts and uncles in their glamorous saris and military uniforms made me feel close to relatives I hardly ever see in real life.
But Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, compounded with the role its executive leadership like Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg played in it, made me want to leave the social media platform forever.
After the Cambridge Analytica story broke, Zuckerberg posted a timeline of events and said Facebook has “a responsibility to protect your data” and acknowledging “we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it.”
Over a year later, Facebook has reiterated to politicians, the press, investors and users that it has hired more content moderators and has built artificial intelligence systems to make the user’s experience more protected.
Still, I felt then and sometimes still feel that Facebook had become so synonymous with spreading misinformation that it had become a sort of cesspool of toxicity. I can only imagine what a source of negativity the platform became for Ocasio-Cortez in particular.
While all the women of the most diverse Congress in US history should be applauded and celebrated for changing the face of government, Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar have found themselves to be the favorite targets of dangerous right-wing rhetoric.
“You feel very vulnerable,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “You feel very targeted, because you are. But there are days where you just kind of want to run into a closet, and lock yourself in it, and just hope the world doesn’t find you…”
While it says a lot that the relentless fixation with Ocasio-Cortez has reached such a level of toxicity that the Congresswoman has decided to remove herself from one forum entirely, I think it is also very brave and applaudable for the Congresswoman to be so open about Facebook as a public health risk.
“It’s really hard to communicate that I’m just a normal person doing her best,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I’m not a superhero. I’m not a villain. I’m just a person that’s trying.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right to take a break from Facebook, and hopefully, as a result, remove herself somewhat from the right’s obsession with her.
But if we know anything about Ocasio-Cortez, it’s that she’s probably just taking a break to recharge and return in true fighting form, even louder and stronger than before.
*This article of mine is published on CNN.*