Social media sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? You can chat with friends more easily than ever, get updates from family members, share baby and cat photos or root together for your favorite teams. Mark Zuckerberg has talked for years about “connecting the world” and “bringing the world closer together”, and it all sounds so wonderful. Twitter’s mission statement centers on free expression and how every voice can impact the world … and again, it all sounds so wonderful.
But reality isn’t a mission statement, is it?
Social media has divided us more than it’s brought us together. It’s where angry mobs have appointed themselves as society’s thought police and pat themselves on the back when they ruin someone else’s career (or life). It’s where Russian bots (and others) con us into believing the untrue. It’s where kids regularly get bullied. Social media lets us live in echo chambers and filter bubbles, getting our news from obviously one-sided sources like Breitbart or Daily Kos that foster the us-versus-them thinking that’s taught us to hate anyone with a different opinion. It’s destroying our democracy. When I scroll through my Twitter or Facebook streams, I see hate being spewed by people who preach love and intolerance from those who preach tolerance. I see hypocrisy everywhere, and by the way, I include myself in all this, too. I’m certain that I’ve contributed plenty to the mess that social media has become.
Sure, social media has done Good Things, too. The first thing that comes to mind for me is the Arab Spring movement of 2010/2011, when protesters across North Africa and the Middle East used social media to coordinate their battle against political and economic repression and injustices. But even Wael Ghonim, who helped spark that revolution, has changed his tune about social media. In a 2015 Ted talk, he said “The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”
I agree with him. The more I think about it — and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately — the more I realize that social media just isn’t a good idea.
My Rules of the Road
For the past two years or so, I’ve actually given myself a New Year’s resolution and followed through on it: Mute, block and unfollow aggressively. Twitter is my primary social media home and I regularly watch multiple accounts there, along with a couple curated Twitter Lists. To keep myself sane, I try to balance the amount of right- and left-wing activity. I’m constantly muting and unfollowing accounts — including long-time friends! — when my stream gets out of balance.
I don’t use Facebook as often, but it’s my wife’s main social media home and the best way for me to see how her days are going. (Messenger is also often the quickest way for me to reach her if I have a question about something real estate-related that we’re working on.) And just like I do with Twitter, I’m regularly unfollowing or unfriending people on Facebook if my news feed gets too political in one direction or another. In fact, on Facebook I’m really stingy about even accepting friends requests — mainly out of fear that someone I like will turn out to be a different person on Facebook and ruin the experience when I’m there.
Instagram? That one’s easy. I have but one rule: Post anything political and it’s over. I’ve unfollowed good friends after they’ve shared a photo related to their favorite president or candidate.
Time for a Change
All of this has been going on for years now, and I’ve been willing to put in the effort to manage my experience on each platform in a very hands on way. But I’ve decided that it’s too much work for too little reward.
(Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to suggest what anyone else should or shouldn’t post. As long as you’re playing by the platform’s rules, post as much political stuff as you want. I’m saying that I no longer have the stomach for what it’s done to all of us as a group and to me individually.)
Not only has social media become too much work, but I think it’s also done more harm than good. And not just the macro-level stuff I mentioned up above in the third paragraph; it’s done harm at the micro/personal level in my life, too. I’ve found myself arguing with and getting disappointed by my son for some of the content (inappropriate in my opinion) that he’s tweeted. I have friends whom I like less because of things they’ve said on social media — things that were hurtful to me or (IMO) ignorant or irresponsible. If you think it’s a mistake on my part that I’ve allowed social media to impact relationships that way, fair enough … you’re entitled to that opinion. But that’s how I’m wired, and it’s not easy to change inherent personality traits, is it?
So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to change how I use social media. But that decision creates a new problem. I’m a digital marketer. I can’t just walk away from social platforms — work-related responsibilities make that impossible. So for now, here’s what I’m going to try:
- On Twitter, my @mattmcgee account will be used for broadcasting only. I’m going to unfollow all personal accounts that I follow. Some will be moved to the Twitter lists that I watch. I’ll continue to follow a limited number of “impersonal” accounts, like my favorite sports teams, music artists and industry accounts. I’ll be using Twitter lists even more, and actively filtering out any accounts — family, friend, you name it — that put noise in front of my eyes.
- On Facebook, I’m tempted to delete my account and start over — to create a new account that only my wife and closest friends/family would know about. But I have a handful of groups that I’m active in, including real estate/work-related ones, so keeping my current account alive seems like the wisest choice. But like I’m doing on Twitter, I’ll be unfollowing the vast majority of friends/Pages/etc. that I’m connected to in the hopes of limiting what I see in my news feed.
- On Instagram, I’m going to continue what I’ve been doing — i.e., unfriending any account that soils my timeline with politics and other garbage.
I’m not trying to piss anyone off here or make you feel bad. It’s actually quite the opposite; I’m taking steps that I think will help me be a better friend and preserve relationships that are important to me. I’d never ask anyone else to change how they use social media — “you do you” and all that. Likewise, I hope you’ll let “me do me” and respect that this is something I feel I need to do. If things change a week from now, or a month or a year from now … whenever! … I’m open to re-friending, re-following and returning.
In the meantime, if you need to reach me, you can still tweet at me. I may not see it right away, but I should see it at some point. If you’re not on Twitter, there’s always that old standby called email. If you don’t have my email address, try the Contact Matt link up above.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for understanding. Be gentle with me … and with each other. We’re all in this together. Don’t forget that.