I wrote the other day about my commitment to abandon social media, driving in large part by recognition of the considerable harm that social media provides cause. I reiterate that I do not think the harm is intentional; it’s just the natural result of the process.
Where previous media, like newspapers and television, have similar effects, the data processing power and direct personal connection make digital technologies particularly insidious and immune to most safeguards.
A newspaper, for example, will tailor its approach to attract the most readers it can. Social media, on the other hand, tailor’s your experience to keep you engaged. It learns how to engage you specifically and then takes action in that sense. As this happens, it manipulates how you think and experience the world. The process does not end though – social media tracks how you’ve changed and continues to adapt to what keeps you engaged.
Frankly, I’m tired of formulas based on my past dictating to me what I will see in my future. This is the foundation for echo chambers and aggressive partisanship.
The decision to end my relationship with social media was an altogether easy one. Some services, like Goodreads, were immediate cuts. Log in, find the Delete Account option, and done.
Other accounts were a little more involved. LinkedIn, for example, was how I stored employment data for quick access. I wanted to make sure that the information was available after the account deletion, so I put time aside to back up my data offline and let my contacts know they would need to find a new way to contact me.
I mean, the truth is that I’ve had LinkedIn for years and almost never interact with any of my contacts beyond the initial connection. Most of them will never see my post that I’m deleting the account and life will proceed just fine.
Facebook was more complex. I did post memories specific to that account, and I have plenty of photos. Again, I wanted to make sure that I did not lose my access to these things and went about making sure I had it available outside the Facebook account. Fortunately, Facebook for me was mostly family and a core collection of friends who know me offline (do we interact outside Facebook has been a litmus test of mine for awhile). So breaking the connections through Facebook was not that painful.
But then there’s Twitter.
The funny thing about Twitter, as opposed to literally ever other social media account I possessed, is that my Follower list consists entirely of people know to me through the platform. No family. No friends. No coworkers. Other Twitter users who replied to me or posted something that caught my eye.
To be clear, Twitter is a dumpster fire. It’s the comments section from every website you’ve ever seen. People you never met appear to offer unsolicited opinions that sometimes (often) spill over into objectively horrible. Pair that we the aforementioned need for social media to tailor a personal experience and one gets into heated echo chambers of anger.
Then someone says something another person really doesn’t like and the echo chambers attack. Sub-tweets, side threads – a bunch of people who Follow the other account begin piling onto the first account for their awful behaviour. People make clumsy, inarticulate arguments (or no argument – some people just seem to want to land that “sick burn” rather than make a point).
It’s rare to see a civil disagreement where individuals concede to the valid points the other person makes and then both parties arrive to some pleasant, deepened understanding of the issue. Even if one does not agree with the other person, one ought to, after a protracted discussion, at least understand from where the other person is coming.
Through all of that I did manage to meet some wonderful people though – and as easy as terminating most social media was, Twitter is proving a different beast.
I do not have an addictive personality. I’m too logical and analytical I think (plus anxious). When the calculus of the equation says, “This thing is bad,” I feel a biological compulsion (i.e. fight or flight) to get away from the thing. It generally does not matter how much I liked the thing.
I loved caffeine. I drank soda and coffee on a daily basis. As soon as I received my anxiety diagnoses and learned that caffeine was gasoline on a fire, I cut it immediately. I avoid caffeine like it’s a poison.
Twitter is grief though. These are people with their own lives and many of them live in distant places. I recognise that the relationship is a social media relationship, but I still consider it a friendship. Deleting the Twitter account hits like a break-up between people who still get along but are unable to pursue the relationship further because of other circumstances.
Out of an abundance of caution, I began deleting some Twitter content (like Lists and Moments) and un-Following accounts who did not follow me or did not engage with me as closely. I encountered problematic accounts during my time on Twitter that seemed to be old, no-longer-in-use accounts that hackers seized (lots of recent, trolling replies on other accounts but no actual tweet history in years – that sort of thing).
As I went through my Following list, I would come across names and feel a sharp twinge of sadness. “Will I never interact with this person again?”
The resolve to remove social media has not changed, but I definitely feel a desperation to “solve” this problem.
The challenge, it feels, is balancing intent and impact. In some cases there is a nominal sense of pacification in the knowledge that the person has a blog or vlog where I can at least continue to hear their thoughts on the issues that matter to them, but that’s about as connected as I feel with Jane Austen and Beethoven.
Unlike LinkedIn and Facebook where the relationship has a basis in…reality, Twitter requires a degree of trust that may not exist. Inviting someone to share contact information feels inherently problematic because regardless of the intent the circumstances mean an increased chance of negative impact. It’s a risk that friends and family do not face when presented with the same situation.
In general, leaving social media behind has gone as swimmingly as I thought it might, but Twitter definitely awakened me to the extent of the impact that social media had on my way of thinking.