Why I don't use social media
Published 2021-12-12 13:41 UTC on Yaroslav's weblog
This text is also available in other languages: Español
Many friends sometimes find it strange that I do not use any social media, besides instant messaging, if that counts. Very often I find that I keep answering the same questions over and over again, so I've decided to write up my thoughts on social media, and the reasons that I don't use such platforms.
Even though I don't have or use any social media platforms, I used to be registered and was a somewhat active user of Facebook and VK1. Active in the sense that I would login from time to time, and in the case of Facebook, I used to use it as a sort of backup for my photos, so I would post them there. I never found it particularly interesting to constantly post whatever I was doing. For me, those platforms were useful only in the sense that they helped me keep in touch with friends, family and other acquaintances.
I also used them to read up on some content in such platforms like news or memes. Eventually, I realized that most of the content in such platforms was worse than subpar and it was just distracting me from whatever I should be doing at the moment. Even if I wasn't doing anything at the moment, I realized that I wouldn't lose anything of value if I lost access to said content. So I stopped using social media for that, and I would get my content from other sources, which didn't distract as much as social media and provided much better quality.
After some time, I found that I had less and less use for said platforms. I unregistered2 from Facebook right away, because it was the crappiest of the platforms, but I kept using VK, because there were still some people that I had to keep in touch with and was still tolerable, until it was not.
The only use that I had for them was instant messaging. However, most of the people I actually care about and with whom I constantly keep in touch are using Telegram3. So I stopped using social media altogether.
Of course, these reasons are mostly superficial. There are other aspects of social media that when put together made me actually consciously drop their use. Whereas before I considered social media a necessary evil that was kind of useless in its own, but necessary because of networking effects and the way our society works nowadays, now I consider social media not only useless, but actually malign.
My problems with social media
Privacy, or lack thereof
This is probably the biggest problem, yet many people either don't realize social media has a privacy problem or they don't think it is a problem. For years, people have been warned about the problem that social media platforms pose for our privacy, yet only recently4 have people begun to realize that all those warnings weren't paranoia but well-founded concerns5.
On the other hand, there seems to have been a shift in the value of privacy for many people. It seems as if big corporations and governments have successfully convinced people that privacy shouldn't hold any value for them since, after all, "you shouldn't worry if you have nothing to hide"™. Yet if you talk with most people, even if they say that they don't care, they won't give away private information to just anybody, and there's certain information that they won't give away even to their most trusted friends or their spouses. That is, however, a topic for another post.
In the end, the business models of most of these platforms relies on the constant violation of your privacy. That's another reason why they will try and convince you, that this violation of one of your essential rights is beneficial to you.
Control and Manipulation
This is an issue that goes very much in hand with the privacy issue. Social media platforms are run and governed by centralized organizations, i.e corporations, or governments in some cases. Not only can these organizations decide what gets censored and what is allowed, but they also have the ability to manipulate in which way the information is presented.
In the case of Facebook and YouTube, for example, there's an algorithm that decides what gets more visibility and what gets delegated to obscurity. Nobody outside of Facebook or Google actually knows how this algorithm operates, yet it is what decides what the people in said platforms get to see. And these algorithms have been shown to have greater biases towards certain kinds of content or information.
There's also the case of filtering content for deeming it to be "disinformation". It might seem like a noble thing to do, but you cannot trust these big entities to act on your best interests, and more often than not, the information that they censor or label as "fake" or "bad" is information that just goes against their favored narrative. It is the right and duty of each person to use their mental faculties to decide for themselves what constitutes factual or desirable information, not some central authority. This is no better than the government censorship to which many countries are still subject nowadays and which, ironically, these corporations often decry.
This one is probably more subjective, but it has been my observation that social media tends to have more of a negative effect on people, rather than a positive one.
The reason most people keep using social media, and this is especially true of women, is that they can satisfy, albeit in an artificial and meaningless way, some of their emotional needs. It can be just plain vanity or ego, seeing people react, especially positively, to your posts sure boosts your ego. It's not a coincidence that most mainstream social media don't have a dislike or equivalent button.
An example of social-media-induced degenerate behavior in the wild. Source.
Now there are a lot of people that seem to be living their lives through a proxy called social media. Or rather, it would seem as if their life has become social media. They can't just enjoy a night out at a restaurant with friends, they must photograph every dish and every little detail of their table so that they can prove to other people on the internet that they have an "interesting" life. Then they spend their time buried in their phones waiting for people to react to whatever they posted.
There's also the gossip aspect of social media. Now it is not enough to go about gossiping in real life. People attached to social media seem to have an unhealthy need to "know what's going on". It's as if not knowing what Alice or Bob did means the end of the world.
Of course, there is also the blind following of "influencers". This is not a problem exclusive of social media, but it certainly has been exacerbated by it. The voice or opinion of certain people or group of people is made more important not by what they have to say or the actual merit of their actions or words, but by how big of a following they have.
It's just useless
If somehow all forms of electronic correspondence, such as email and instant messaging were to suddenly disappear, a lot of people would suddenly find themselves in a problematic situation. Nothing that couldn't be managed, but it would certainly be troublesome. If, on the other hand, the same were to happen to all social media, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.; nothing of value would be lost.
There are of course some arguments that could be made in favor of social media, but I believe that all of these supposed benefits can be had without social media:
- It helps me keep in touch: we've already had email and instant messaging for quite a while, actually before social media, not to mention both mobile and landline phones. All of those are much better alternatives in many different ways.
- How would I keep people up to date on some information: if you actually have something worth sharing, the best option is to keep a blog. If you are not technically savvy there are always free blogging options that don't require any special knowledge to use. Of course, if you have the skills, or the time to learn the skills, the best option would be to host your own website6.
- How do I keep up to date with what people have to say: Analogous to the previous point, if somebody has something worth reading or watching, they should post it to their own blog or website. Furthermore, there's a great technology that has been forgotten by most people that works in a fashion similar to social media feeds, RSS7, except you don't actually need an account and you control the information that you get.
- I want my friends to know what I'm doing: touch some grass, 'nuff said. But seriously, just get together with your friends and, tell them what's been going on with your life. Or if you can't, give them a call or text them.
- I run a business and to promote it: Of all the pros of social media that I have heard or could come up with, this is the only one that has some merit. In this case I would suggest promoting your business locally first, and keeping a website for your business through which people can follow any new information about new products/services or special promotions. In the end, word of mouth is the best tool businesses have to promote themselves.
Most of what I wrote here have been my opinions and observations that have led me to decide to don't use social media at all. I never had any real use for it and kept it mostly as something that was expected of me for a while. In the end I just decided that there's no reason I should actually have a social media account.
With all of the above said, I know most people will continue to use social media just because it's what all their friends are using and it provides a superficially pleasant service. These are just my reasons why I refuse to use said services. If this text convinced you to stop using social media, great; if not, fair enough, but just keep in mind that you can't expect everybody to use those platforms.
If you don't count instant messengers as social media.
Boy do they want your data really bad. Deleting my Facebook account has been one of the worst and most tedious experiences I've ever had in my life.
I don't consider Telegram to be the best option for IM communication out there, it's just he lesser evil option that I could choose for the time being, certainly much better than WhatsApp, Viber or VK. Almost nobody that I know uses Signal, and it's centralized anyway; Matrix seems like a nice option, but their problems with metadata leakage put me off; XMPP seems like the best option for decentralized, E2EE, truly private IM, but I'm not sure if my "normie" friends would be willing to switch. This footnote is already long enough, but I will definitely switch to a decentralized, E2EE IM in the future, and might write about it here.
As usual, Stallman was right. To paraphrase him: “Facebook doesn't have users, it has "useds"”. https://www.stallman.org/facebook.html
See the somewhat recent scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for some examples. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/17/facebook-cambridge-analytica-kogan-data-algorithm
I might write an article on some the ways you can easily set up your own website and/or server. In the meantime, you can check out this great resource: https://landchad.net/
Technically Atom is the superior format, but most people (myself included) refer to both of them as RSS, and basically all modern RSS readers support both equally. Maybe I'll write about (I keep saying that too much) RSS/Atom in the future.