Every six months or so, I seriously consider deleting my social media accounts. I’m at that fork in the road again. I’ve had a couple of unpleasant skirmishes online, but I’ve never been attacked in a way that made me feel threatened. I don’t have a large enough social media platform to draw any real attention. I like it that way. My online life is pretty quiet. Even so, I have reservations about whether or not I should stay on social media. I worry about the larger philosophical and ethical issues regarding privacy, hate speech, etc., but my urge to withdraw from social media is mostly to do with how it makes me feel.
The social network I use the most is Twitter. It has a well-deserved reputation as a hell site, but I’m careful about who I follow, and I apply the mute and block functions liberally, so I avoid a lot of the foolishness and toxicity. I also genuinely find the site useful. Following the right accounts can be educational and enriching. I’ve learned to think and communicate more concisely because of the 280-character limit for tweets. There are also always a lot of really funny jokes flying. People talk about what they’re reading, watching and listening to. I’ve been put on to a lot of great entertainment. Twitter is an important hub of information and cultural exchange. It is also a cesspit of disinformation and propaganda. Snark is the native tongue. Cutting sarcasm does well, as does bullying. The site becoming more political has sent the smug self-righteousness into the stratosphere. Twitter is educational and entertaining. It’s also depressing and hateful.
Twitter wasn’t designed to bear the weight of the discussions taking place on the site. No social media site was, but the restrictive character limit makes Twitter particularly ill-suited for nuance. “Here’s my opinion on this controversial topic, in a sentence” is the format of most tweets. In hindsight, of course the site collapsed into a never-ending shouting match. I can’t take the constant aggression. It’s so interminably tedious. It also affects my mood negatively. It makes me irritable and sharp-edged. I don’t like the feeling. The addictive nature of the platform worsens these sensations, as does the volume and variety of information I consume. I don’t think ping-ponging through so many different emotions so quickly as I scroll and react to what’s on my timeline is good for my mental health.
Things are more peaceful over on my Instagram, but that’s a tough place for a writer. I’ve found a way to make it work by microblogging. I rarely share photos of myself or my life. I think my reluctance on this front gets to the heart of what I don’t like about the way social media has evolved: it is driven almost completely by attention seeking. I’m guilty of it too. I use Twitter and Instagram to promote my writing, and if that complication weren’t still in the mix, I’d probably have abandoned ship a while ago. My resistance to posting myself and my life on Instagram was about not wanting to package and present so much of myself for consumption.
I don’t want to be a commodity. That’s why I’m uncomfortable on social media. I may have painted myself into a corner with this writing thing, though. For all intents and purposes, credibility and visibility are nearly the same thing now. To be seen is to be taken seriously. Social media provides more places to be visible, so you can bank more credibility. Social media algorithms have made the measure of credibility likes and shares. We all need feedback. Is that what this is, though? What effect does shaping your ideas and arguments for virality have on the quality of your thoughts over time? Is being popular the same thing as being relevant? Is being relevant the same thing as being valuable?
My personal Facebook page is private, and I haven’t checked it in years. I should probably delete it for good measure. I don’t think I’m one of those people who needs social media in my personal life. I’m leaning towards staying on Twitter and Instagram out of professional necessity, but I think my struggle to be comfortable on social media will never end.