The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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The Unreal World
Why I Had to Quit Facebook
Sabatine Gervais

I got on Facebook in 2011, when I first came to the United States. It let me communicate with friends and family back in Haiti. It wasn’t a necessity, and I wasn’t so attached to it.

But in my sophomore year of high school, four years after I moved to the United States, I got hypnotized by Facebook. Sometimes it felt like I just couldn’t turn it off because it was too “lit.” I connected with all kinds of people—those I knew and some I didn’t.

At first it was kind of creepy talking to complete strangers behind a computer screen. But I slowly adapted to it and grew to like getting to know people who I’d never met in person.

I added people I didn’t know who were friends with my friends. I’d also type names of people I knew of on the search bar and send them friend requests. I made friends by complimenting people on their Walls. When they posted a picture I’d Like it and leave a positive comment, like, “You look great,” or “Fire,” or “work it mah.” Often I added emojis: the smiley face, fire, water droplet, tongue, and heart. I didn’t use heart emojis on boys’ pages because their girlfriends might get jealous.

I’d write “Good morning,” or, “Goodnight” on someone’s Wall, and they would respond, sometimes with a side note saying “inbox me” privately.

Best Friend I’ve Never Met

I met my best friend, Suca, on Facebook because I Liked her page. She shared funny videos and love quotes. Day by day we got closer. She was Haitian also and one year younger than me. She lived far away, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, so we knew our friendship would only be online, not in person. We’d talk for hours and hours on Facebook, Oovoo, Skype, Instagram, and over the phone.

I often stayed up until 1 a.m. talking to her even though I had to get up for school. She made me laugh, and we told each other our secrets, the things we liked, and about our boyfriends. She could tell from my statuses and likes on Facebook if I was down and would ask me about it. I could read her moods, too.

Suca’s mother recently gave birth to a handsome baby boy. Before, Suca used to be out late partying with her friends, but she became more responsible as the oldest child. She used to be a drama queen, which was entertaining, but I respect how she has grown into a woman by not having to be so prominent and dramatic anymore. I’ve had to step up and be more adult in my family too.

We have talked about travelling to see each other, but honestly, speaking online can be easier than having to talk to a person face to face. Especially if the person replies fast after each text; that way you know they want to talk to you. I’m not needy, but I like being paid attention to, and writing me back immediately tells me you’re into our conversation.

When I’ve met people online, it seems like we have so much to say. But when we finally meet in person, our tongues get tied. Behind a computer screen I am more at ease. I don’t have to worry about what to ask the other person and I don’t worry about how I look. When you’re not assuming things based on people’s appearance, then you can focus on what they do and say.

Teens even make a game out of getting to know someone: 21 questions. You ask new people: “What’s your full name?”; “What’s your favorite color?”; “What do you do in your free time?”; “What school do you go to?”; or “Where are you from?” We take turns asking each other questions and answering honestly.

How FB Took Over

On a typical afternoon after school, I’d check my recent notifications to see if anybody liked any of my posts or pictures. Then I’d check my inbox to see who texted me that day and text back. I’d refresh my timeline to see who recently posted a status or a picture and Like what I agree with or like. I’d check Suca’s page to see what she posted. I’d go to Steven Jo’s page—he’s a young Haitian comedian living in Miami who makes funny videos. (I also love Calvin Justin Reid, Danny Barbosa, Nathaniel Fernandes, and Kevin Hart.) Then I’d watch videos on Vine, and before I knew it, it’d be midnight and I hadn’t done any homework.

It was so hard to turn away from because as I was watching a video, the next one popped up and I’d keep clicking on them.The group chats were also hard to leave. Talking about different topics made me feel like I had people that I could be myself with and share my opinions with.

In group chats, I didn’t worry about what questions to ask the person to make the conversation interesting. If you don’t have anything to say in person, someone can feel like you’re not interested in talking to them, when really you just ran out of words. In group chat, we can just sit there at ease until we have something to say.

My mom tried to stop me from going totally overboard.

“Taina, stop using your phone and eat. You haven’t ate all morning, child.”

“I’m not hungry, Mom,” I replied.

“It seems like this Facebook thing is sucking up your brain.”

“Who said I was on Facebook? I’m just using my phone,” I said, laughing quietly.

image by YC-Art Dept

“I know when you’re lying. Now get up and go eat something before you die at a young age.”

“Ughh, Mom! I’m not hungry. I don’t feel like eating. I’m good.” I glared at her.

But eventually I had to admit my parents were right, that Facebook was changing me in ways I didn’t like.

It Changes People

I found it hard to turn away from videos of girls fighting each other. They get me hyped up and I take a side, hoping the girl I pick wins. I started to feel guilty watching videos of kids fighting each other in broad daylight. Innocent children were getting hurt and I was enjoying it. I felt like a supporter by laughing or picking a side or re-posting the videos on Facebook. Enjoying violence made me feel disgusting.

I also disliked the way Facebook changed friendships and social groups. At some point last summer Suca and I started falling off the rails. She got a lot of Likes on Facebook; she became “Facebook famous.”

She started to reply late to my inbox messages and I felt ignored. She was always on Facebook posting statuses, but she’d leave me unread for hours. It felt like I was losing my best friend, and that made me sad.

One day we just stopped talking to each other and our silence lasted four to five months. I wanted to contact her but I was like, “Nah, she doesn’t have time for me.” But I missed her and all our funny conversations.

Recently, I texted her and told her I didn’t like being apart and I wanted to go back to how we used to be—the best of friends.

She replied, “I thought you stopped talking to me for some reason.” It made me mad that she denied ignoring my inbox messages, and we stopped talking for another three months. Then I texted her again, and she was happy and said she missed me. My heart was content because I missed her too.

Falling Off the Bridge

Meanwhile, my addiction to Facebook was making me mess up in school. I didn’t have time to do my homework, study for my tests, or plan my research papers. I didn’t get enough sleep, so I overslept. My counselor called my house and told my older sister that I come late to school every day. I was falling off the bridge.

My parents were furious with me and insisted that I go to sleep early every night. And they made sure that I wasn’t pretending to sleep, using my phone secretly under the covers. I hated them watching me, not trusting me.

Finally, I stopped and reflected on what I was doing and how it was affecting my personal life, my education, and me. On January 16, 2016, I deactivated my Facebook account.

After school I’d still go on my Instagram and look at people’s stories and posts. I used Kik, FaceTime, and iMessage to connect with my friends. I could still see Vine videos on Instagram. Even with all that, deleting my Facebook freed up a lot of time.

It’s better this way. I’m doing so much better in school and my grades are shining. I feel proud of myself. Leaving Facebook is the best choice I ever made because now my life is much easier and I’m back to getting along with my parents.

But leaving Facebook was still hard. I’d been on it for about five years, and it was where I talked to my friends. I miss all the fun I used to have when I was on. My friends beg me to go back on because they miss talking to me there, but I say no. I know how it’ll end up—me not doing my schoolwork.

To communicate with my family members living in Haiti, I use Whatsapp. This app allows international texting and calling without fees. I talk to my younger cousin on it and we send voice messages to each other.

When my friends look at Facebook on their phones, I peek a little. I miss watching the funny videos, statuses, screenshots, and most important, being in the group chats with my friends.

In certain teens’ eyes, not having a Facebook makes you no fun. Yes, there are boring days in life and I do love the entertainment and being connected to my friends. Being on Facebook makes you a someone right now.

But I want to be a someone in the future, in a more substantial way, and so putting my education first is my number one priority. The “you” on Facebook is only the part who plays, and it made my schoolwork suffer. Whether I’m a writer or a doctor or something else, I’ll need good grades.

I’ve got responsibilities ahead of me that I need to handle. If I’m on Facebook all the time then I won’t be a serious person who manages her time well. Facebook is not “everything.” It’s a distraction.

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