Like you perhaps, I’ve been using social media for a long time. I signed up for both Twitter and Facebook in 2008 or so, and had been using LinkedIn and MySpace for a few years prior to joining those two now dominant platforms.
There is nothing new under the sun, and that’s true for social media. While Facebook and Twitter’s platforms produced myriad innovations in content delivery, personalization, and community engagement, the essential idea of sharing a thought or photo online with a wide group of people – both friends in real life and strangers alike – is as old as the internet itself. Usenet newsgroups built on the NNTP protocol have been around since the 1980s; the 1980s were also marked by the growth in private BBS services. Protocols like RSS (used by this site if you’re reading this post in an email), while not directly analogous, also provide the capability to share posts and media far and wide.
Recently there have been myriad articles about the downsides of social media, especially in regards to their use in conjunction with mobile devices and their role in politics (a topic I wrote about in 2008 when I was with Deloitte). We are at a “What hath we wrought?” point of inflection about social media, mobile, and the wider vision – inasmuch as there is a coherent and human one – of Silicon Valley.
Here’s a few such articles that resonated most strongly with me:
- ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia (The Guardian)
- What if Russian Voter Hacks Were Just Part of its Facebook Ad Campaign? (Engadget)
- Is Social Media a Failure? (eand.co)
- Trolls are Tweeting Fake Photos from the Las Vegas Shooting (Mashable)
- How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics (The New York Times)
- Google and Facebook Have Failed Us (The Atlantic)
The common theme to all these pieces is this: social media is toxic. Social media is toxic to our minds. Social media is toxic to our relationships. And social media is toxic to our democratic system here in the United States and society more generally.
And yet, strangely, no one seems to be quitting social media. Even the author of the “Is Social Media a Failure?” piece, Umair Haque, is still a prolific user of social media.
Is our FOMO – our fear of missing out – so great that we’ll really give up our minds, relationships, and democracy for fear of missing the next cat photo meme or Twitter spat between the Kardashians? I hope not.
We must start to admit that social media is no less a threat to us, both individually and collectively, as tobacco and guns. The “Giant Vampire Squid” is not the banks; it’s the social media companies. The squid doesn’t live on Wall Street. Its home is Palo Alto and San Francisco. The squid has wrapped its tentacles around us and is squeezing hard. It’s killing us.
So my ask of you is this: quit social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, at least temporarily, though maybe you will ultimately decide to stay away permanently. Here are the links you need to quit:
[NOTE: Facebook and Twitter deactivation work a bit differently. On Facebook you can deactivate indefinitely and then any time in the future reactivate and all your posts, friends, etc. will restore right where you left off. Twitter is a bit different. After 30 days everything – followers, tweets, etc., will be gone for good]
I have deactivated my Facebook account as well as my personal Twitter account, @brooklynrob. I first deactivated my Facebook account over a year ago and have periodically reactivated for a day or two, taking gradually longer breaks. Twitter, which I use much more than Facebook, has been harder for me to leave, but I have deactivated that too. I also deactivated Instagram. I am taking it one day at a time with each.
Of course some will argue that there is no going back, that social media can’t be put back in the box. Perhaps that’s so – almost certainly it will iterate to new, hopefully better, forms. Others will respond that social media is the only game in town in terms of marketing. To that I’d respond that many digital marketers still consider email a far more effective channel, especially for driving conversions to actual sales. How much money has social media really made you? Others will miss the ability to share photos with friends and family. Services like Flickr provide the same or similar sharing use cases.
Think too of the effect if widespread deactivation catches on. Facebook and Twitter are public companies. Their stock price depends on growth in overall registered users, monthly active users (“MAU”), and time spent on the platform. These metrics are key to their ad-fueled models. As the adage goes, if you’re not paying you’re the product. Let’s start to remove the product – ourselves – from the shelves. Facebook and Twitter assume that we’ll always stay, that they’ve successfully hooked us. Let’s prove them wrong.
Quitting social media is not easy. FOMO is real. And you are hooked. You’re an addict like us all. Can I keep faithful to my own departure from Facebook and Twitter? I don’t know. But I’ll try. And I hope you’ll try quitting too (Extra points for both taking walks without your phone and leaving your mobile device off during the weekends; while you’re at it remember to support your local paper, professional journalists, and independent bookstores).
I also hope you’ll share this post with 10 friends. Of course, you may choose to share this on social media, but we also need to go back to old models that served us well in the past. Consider forwarding by email this post to at least 10 friends, relatives, and colleagues. Post this to a newsgroup or two.
If a product is doing this much damage to our minds, our relationships, and our society, why would we continue to use it? We must quit. You must quit. Quit.
(Update: October 12th)
Since I posted this a controversy has arisen around Rose McGowan and her account getting suspended by Twitter. In response, there have been tweets like this:
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) October 12, 2017
When threatening nuclear war is fine but calling out rapists is not, your platform sucks.
— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) October 12, 2017
Logging off and not tweeting for a day is a step I guess, but why do people stay? Why not deactivate, if not leave altogether? I don’t understand the desire to stick around on Twitter when you’ve already determined it’s a deeply flawed platform. Just leave.
(Update: October 13th)
Still need a reason to quit? From Politico: Twitter deleted data potentially crucial to Russia probes