Rethinking My Social Media Use

Most of you who know me know that I’ve struggled for a while now with how social media currently fits into my life and how I would prefer it to fit into my life. Ten years ago it was nothing for me to sign up for every service and post to them like there was no tomorrow. Heck, during my days at SIU doing so was actually part of my job as I managed all the social media for the Aviation departments. It was fun, I guess.

Today I’m not so sure if that was the right approach, or, for that matter, what the “right” approach even means. Over the last few months I’ve scrubbed or deleted most of my online accounts and worked to severely limit the time I’ve spent on the rest (often with even more limited success). I’ve done this not because I want to but, in many ways, because I feel like I have to for a number of reasons.

Social Media Can Be Toxic

First and foremost, social media can be a toxic cesspool of hate and ego. I’m obviously not immune to this one any more than anyone else is, particularly if I’ve had a few drinks first. I’ve lost friends over it and I’ve lost my respect for far more people than I could list in a single post.

The scariest part of this is that, like a train wreck, I can’t seem to turn away from the worst of it. I go back to my local new’s Facebook page, which is, by far, filled with the most racism, hate and general bigotry of any local news in any place I’ve lived, like a junkie looking for the next fix. Even the most benign articles and posts can turn into a hundred hate filled and deeply personal comments within minutes and I can never seem to just ignore it (although I no longer take the bait and respond to any of it anymore which is a positive step).

From people I trusted that turned out to be raging homophobes, racists, narcissists and worse to the random people I encounter anywhere I look social media has not just enabled their toxicity but, more often than not, encouraged it. I don’t want to be a part of that.

Social Media Is a Time Suck

Like most everyone else these days I spend way too much time on social media. Rather than work on this site or any other hobby I instead mindlessly click over to Twitter or Facebook or something else to read, and re-read whatever is going on at the moment.

Many evenings it’s not uncommon for me to spend as much as 4 or 5 hours going back and forth between just a few sites and… for what? The only thing it really accomplishes is to let me procrastinate on some other endeavor I should be pursuing.

I Value My Privacy

This might seem ironic from someone who has a history of putting nearly everything online for the last 20 years but the privacy implications of much of our social media usage scares the hell out of me. Who is reading my posts about being at the bar? Who is reading my posts about the work I’m doing and where I’m doing it? I don’t mean individuals here but what companies are reading these and what are they doing with them?

The truth of the internet is that if you’re not paying for the service you are the service. Algorithms not only control what we see based on what they think we want to see but they make really good money off the data that drives them as well. What happens when, for example, your insurance company starts buying that data? What will it do to your costs? Think it can’t happen? It already is and it is going to get worse. The simple fact is we all generate so much data in what we do daily that it really isn’t hard to put it back together to build a picture of who you are and, more importantly, what you’re worth to any given organization.

So, yeah, posting about “that night of drinking” or whatever else might be fun and get us a quick high with “likes” and comments but what is the price of that over the long-term? For companies that are doing their best to classify us for profit that price is already way too high and going higher by the day.

I Try To Shop Ethically

This might sound like a strange one with social media but I try to do my best to patronize companies whos ethical values line up with my own. As Facebook, Twitter and others continue to fuel many of the problems that plague our society am I then also complicite in continuing to support them through my use?

I haven’t been inside a Wal-Mart in 6 years. I have numerous other services and businesses that will never see a dime of my money as they actively support values I actively work against. How should this be any different with social media companies who provide platforms for hate and bigotry in all their forms, allowing them to organize and grow like a cancer in our society?

How, then, will I use social media?

The simple fact is my life requires me to be active on social media to some extent. For all the dilemmas it presents to me it has also paid me back in other ways, both directly and indirectly, in many facets of my life. I owe numerous jobs (and really my entire career) to social media. I’ve met people I consider my closest friends on social media. As a remote worker I’ve found outlets and discussions that help me in what otherwise could be a very lonely place to work.

In other words, I think it is safe for me to say that social media is a necessary evil and that isn’t all a bad thing. That said, I do need to limit its impact on my time as well as be careful to use it in ways that help those around me rather than hurting them, even if not intentional. I’m not really sure how I’m going to do all that yet to be honest. It will require a change in a lot of ways I do things and I’m not yet sure how to go about that. I do, now, know it is something I must do however and I’m looking forward to what it can bring to my life in the end.

About Chris Wiegman

Chris is a developer for UF Health at the University of Florida who has been working on WordPress since 2008. Over the years he built one of the largest security plugins on WordPress.org as well as numerous other plugins, themes and other solutions. When not coding Chris loves to teach and has presented at numerous WordCamps and other conferences as well as taught computer security for St. Edward’s University and other University courses ranging from computers to aviation.

Find Chris on Facebook, GitHub, WordPress.org, and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Hi Chris:

    Your thoughts are really similar to mine. Social media for me is a necessary evil, but perhaps not too necessary. Twitter has gone from being a place where I met a lot of cool people, into a toxic dump with a few gems here and there. I think that platform will continue to devolve. Facebook I barely use for a lot of the same reasons you stated.

    There are many people who have “come out” about their true feelings on anyone who is different from them, I guess that’s a good thing, because it tells me who to avoid for the rest of time. There are also a lot of people who I thought were friends that are pretty much petty narcissists.

    Now, I have found a lot of cool people on Twitter (mostly), kinda sad to see it go. But I’m rethinking a lot too.

    There are a handful of real friends that I’ve made, that check in every so often, and seem to be genuinely concerned with more than their stats or perceived influence. I can always follow those people via RSS and their email list, or reach out to them one to one.

    A lot of what social media gives us is an illusion. An illusion of intimacy, an illusion of perception, illusions about what people are.

    I’ve come to realize that my family, the ones I wake up with each day, break bread with, and face both good and bad times with, are the real reality. A lot of the rest is expendable.

    I’m also going to make an effort to reclaim more of my time for those people and activities that deserve it the most.

  2. Like you, I’ve « reclaimed » my personal site/blog where I feel like I have more/all the control to express myself without giving away anything I do not wish.

    Hence me leaving a comment here instead of any social media account, dogfooding as I also share your views on reducing social media presence to what matters, to what’s important and improves my life as opposed to being a time suck.

    I favour RSS again, and stay away from polarized debates on social media… and my level of passive stress has gone down accordingly 🙂

  3. Well said. Agree with it all!

    Recently I have been thinking about how Twitter and Facebook especially exacerbate the divisions we have as a country and that IMO is because very decisive people can achieve megaphones to reach a large number of people at effectively no cost. Which takes my mind back to the late nighties when I partnered with a print publisher.

    I learned that a professional publisher views every opportunity for an impression as a competitor, and a professional publisher works very hard to never devalue those opportunities by offering them as a discount. Yet here Twitter and Facebook have devalued impressions down to effectively free, assuming you’ve gone to the effort to build your following, or you have been given a following based on your role (I’m looking at POTUS.)

    Thus I have a proposal, at least for Twitter, since Twitter needs to monetize far more than Facebook. Offer the first 10,000 impressions per tweet for free. After that change $1 for each additional 10,000 impressions. So if someone has, say 53.8 million followers each tweet would cost then $5,380.

    The 10,000 starting point would be the vast majority of users would never pay a dime, but those above that would 1.) mean people building a large following would need to monetize it, 2.) people would curate their tweets so there are more high-value ones, 3.) people using Tweets to promote hate but having no business model would have to fund that out of their own pockets, and 4.) finally, I think Twitter would make a killing out of this. They might quickly become more profitable than Facebook.

    This would also give the top 1(?)% of Tweeters reason to prune their followers to ensure they are quality.

    FWIW.

  4. Hey Wiegman … hope you’re doing well up north bro. Maybe consider that while social media is to the world what TV & radio combined was to entire generations prior …most of them are just dumb kids. Kind of like we used to be. haha Only difference is we didn’t have a world wide web on which to blast our vitriol.

    Sure I hate. I hate when my eyes dry out from reading bs on these screens. I hate when my stomach growls because I’ve forgotten to eat yet AGAIN because of reading bs on these screens. And, most of all, I hate when I forget to laugh out loud because the voices in my head are overwhelmed by … wait for it … THE BS I READ ON THESE SCREENS!

    Point?

    Delete. Delete. Delete. Rest. Eat. Repeat.

    PEACE

  5. Chris, many of us have been having the same thoughts for quite a while. Since you’re rethinking things, and you’ve already got your own website/blog, why not just switch over to that and let the internet be your social network? Many of us in the IndieWeb movement have been working on helping others do just that for several years now.

    We’ve been working on W3C specs like Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and Microsub to recreate some of the infrastructure offered by social media sites, but that allows website owners more control and ownership over their content–something I suspect you’re behind in using WordPress as your CMS of choice. In the very near future we’ll even have first class feed readers either on our own sites or that allow us to interact with others’ sites using our own.

    If you still need to interact with sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, et al. You can still do that if you like by posting to your own site and syndicating out while still allowing comments and interactions from many of these sites back to your own using backfeed via the Webmention protocol with tools like Brid.gy. Slowly over the past several years more and more CMSes are adding these bits of functionality to let peoples’ personal sites become first class social media sites that they can own and control.

    I suspect that given your skills and how you’re already using your site, you could be supporting a lot of these technologies with a few simple plugins and without a lot of additional work to give you most of what you’re looking for. A group of us are happy to help if you’ve got questions about implementation.

    (Original post with links is available at https://boffosocko.com/2018/08/30/reply-to-rethinking-my-social-media-use-chris-wiegman/)

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