I started playing Social Media back when it first came out. I'm old enough to remember when Facebook was new, but it wasn't really the first one I'd used - that title goes to the long since forgotten Friends Reunited, a place where I was looked up by school friends that I hadn't really liked at the time and had no interest in re-establishing contact with. Facebook took that concept and turned the volume up to 11, offering a new way of keeping in touch and a new way of communicating. It felt like a brave new world there for a while, back when we believed that it was a place that existed to let us keep in touch with distant friends and relatives rather than harvesting our data and trying to sell us shit we didn't need to be paid for with money that we didn't have. That was the point that it all started to go wrong, really, I think. I mean, it was a long time ago and I'm speaking from memory here, but when the first big companies started to land with their pages and long term ambitions for turning it into a sales and marketing platform was the beginning of the end.
The idea that Facebook could be selling our data to attract them didn't even occur to the vast majority of us. We were just happy to be able to share cat pictures with people we hadn't seen in years, and delude ourselves that we were in some way now a relevant part in one another's lives. Then my parent's generation (the boomers) started to arrive and ruined it for us all by doing the very thing in the 00's that they'd been warning all of us against all through the late 90's: Believing everything they read online.
I got disillusioned and moved over to Twitter instead. I argued with GamerGaters and got involved with a small but vocal group who protested orca captivity at SeaWorld (which I'm still against, always will be, and if you don't see an issue with it then, respectfully, fuck off away from here and don't EVER come back) to the point that I was regularly targeted by the kind of moron that thinks imprisoning intelligent beings in perpetuity for entertainment is a fine and peachy mindset to hold. At one point, a .txt account referred to me as "king of the anti-caps" - to date my second proudest online achievement. In case you're interested, the proudest one was being responded to and then retweeted by Kevin Smith. Anyway, I found friends in that group some of whom I followed right up until 30th May 2020 which was the day that I finally deleted my account and walked away.
It was one of those people who best summed up for me the difference between Facebook and Twitter. I'm paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of "Facebook is where you realise you don't want to know your friends, Twitter's where you find friends you didn't know." She had a point. I liked Twitter for a long time, and then 2016 happened. That was a massive turning point for me. The double-whammy of Brexit here and Trump in the US saw Twitter flooded with bots. The right wing may have always been there, but suddenly they were everywhere - I found myself navigating a site full of people who all seemed hellbent on pulling the world as I knew it apart and replacing it with something less inclusive; something nastier and more insular. I did what anyone else would do, I think. I went to war. I picked arguments relentlessly, generally trying to assert facts. When they were ignored, I'd lay traps leading to inevitable logical fallacy. I learned that you can't win an argument with these people - but I'd settle for making the person I was arguing with feel stupid or humiliated. Or preferably both.
There were still some positives. I found people to play Destiny with, and Sea of Thieves. It became the main (only!) source of traffic to this very site. The most successful piece I ever wrote here was shared via retweet over 100 times, and read by a smidge under 1000 people. But the pervasive negativity clouded it all. I've always been suspicious of people, and a little cynical. Eventually, all I saw were the actions of the evil men of the world - and those who I still consider to be the very worst of those who walk among us. They're the ones who will endorse them and defend them, denying their wrongdoing and foolishness at every turn in spite of the evidence before their own eyes. I ended up quitting Facebook in its entirety around then. After Cambridge Analytica came to light, and after finding out how many of my extended family were as racist and as right-wing as I'd long suspected, I burned the entire thing down - including a lot of those relationships. I have no regrets.
Twitter carried on a while longer, but eventually I found myself feeling more and more isolated. My involvement with the communities I'd been a part of began to stagnate and dwindle. Where once I'd felt like social media gave me a voice, I found that all I was doing was screaming into the wind with my anger at my own apparent inability to either say anything constructive or be heard just driving my anxiety levels and my blood pressure up. I began to realise just how hostile the site was making me and finally realised what should have been obvious all along; social media - especially that which is based on subscribing to the opinions of strangers, simply holds up a mirror. I'm a glass half-empty kind of person and always have been. Social media took that reflection and twisted it and warped it and magnified it. Social media makes assholes of us all, eventually - and I wasn't strong enough to be any different. If anything, my voice was just making that noise a little bit louder. So, I walked away. That was nearly 3 weeks ago.
The time since has been spent reflecting on a lot of it. It's been like quitting smoking, or biting my nails. My phone's been picked up and put down again when I realise I don't really have anything to look at. I'm rediscovering myself though. I'm trying to spend the time I would have spent reading social media reading books instead - I think of it as reading myself smarter instead of reading myself dumb. I'm sleeping better. I'm generally happier. All those years I pretended that I didn't really care what anyone else thought... and I guess now I'm actually proving it. I used to be someone who liked knowing a lot about a lot of things. Somewhere in the social media years I lost that and became far more interested in highlighting what other people didn't know. It was a pointless exercise, and I'm glad it's over.
So... yeah. I'm gone. I won't be going back. Apologies for the long and personal nature of this one. I've no idea whether it'll be read by anyone other than me as I proof-read it before hitting the Publish button, but this one's for me. Putting all of this down in words has been quite cathartic. Like closing the door on a room filled with a big non-descript mess. Normal service will shortly be resumed. In the meantime, I'll leave you all with this. It is my fervent belief that social media is nothing but bad for us. We're not designed to consume that much pointless information. We're not designed to put our lives on display. We're not designed to offer ourselves up for the judgment of strangers, or to have to put a positive spin on every element of our existence to compete with the delusions of other people. And I'd just like to remind you all that, even though it might feel like it isn't, participation is in fact entirely optional.
Delete that account. Mute the noise. It's a game - and you can't win or lose if you don't play.