Leaving social networks

Image credit: USPTO Patent 6649929B2Yesterday I uninstalled the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn apps from all my devices and I closed the tabs I had pinned on my computer. I didn't delete my accounts, but I'm drastically changing how I'll use those services going forward. I'm doing this for a number of reasons that I'll explain in this post. It's not because I'm better than thou, but because I hope I can convince you to do the same.

Reason 1: Alienation

Remember that ideology that must not be named (because it's Bad™) that tells us Capitalism alienates workers from the product of their labour, among other things? Well, think about what social media is doing to us. They are taking what defines us as human beings, our very identity: what we love and hate, what we believe, what we enjoy, our relationships with fellow human beings, etc. Then they take that quasi-clone of your person that they made and they sell it to advertisers. More than that, they use advanced manipulation techniques that can actually change your behavior to their advantage, and get you more addicted. They create a private, individually-tailored bubble of alternative facts for each of us that alienates us from our common reality.

What do you get in exchange for all that? Is the social media company giving you any of the money they made selling you? Of course not, they keep it all to themselves. Even more than Capitalism, social media alienates you from yourself, from your humanity, from your own identity, from reality, and from the profit they make selling them.

But wait, whereas you have no choice in order to survive in a Capitalist society but to sell your labor, you do have a choice when it comes to social media. Nobody is forcing you to enter the system. So why would you?

Reason 2: Addiction

What do you do when you wake up? Do you consult your phone before or after you pee? What do you do before you turn off the lights and go to sleep?

Social media are deliberately designed to maximize addiction. They are targeting vulnerable populations and they hit them as hard as they can. There is no regulation to stop them.

I would like to use what free time I have to interact with my loved ones, have creative activities, go outdoors or enjoy art. I can do more of those without social media in my life. So can you.

Reason 3: Ownership

One can conceive of social media that don't centrally store user data, but instead guarantees individual and decentralized ownership and privacy for everyone. In fact, not only can we conceive of it, it's been done. Yet the successful ones, i.e. the ones where your friends are, all of them, are centralized and they handle your data like it's their property. It is not their property, but unfortunately the only way to prevent them from stealing it is to not give it to them. So don't.

What to do?

First, as individuals, we stop giving away our data. Stopping the doom-scrolling is not enough. We must also stop writing there. Uninstall the apps to get rid of the notifications and reclaim our focus on life.

We can get our news from the press, from podcasts, from blogs.

As for the original reason we got into this mess, which is to keep in touch with friends, family, and maintain other social relationships, we can switch to private, preferably end-to-end encrypted, not ad-funded networks. For 1:1 messaging, I prefer to use Signal: it's end-to-end encrypted, it has all the features I want, and there are clients for all my devices. For group chat, I'm in a few Slack rooms. Slack is free for small groups and has great clients everywhere. It's super-easy to create a room for your family or friend circle. Too bad it's not end-to-end encrypted.

We can reclaim ownership of our data by publishing and sharing to sites that we own, such as self-hosted blogs. We can follow people like we do today, but instead of doing so on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, we can aggregate their RSS feeds in Feedly and similar feed reader apps and sites.

Of course, individual action is never enough, and we need to lobby our representatives for real change. Ideally, we'd seize the means of socialization and put the networks under the authority of a democratically-controlled organization, thus removing the incentive to maximize profit. That's going to be hard to obtain, so first steps could be to impose strong regulation that puts limitations on what data can be acquired and sold, forces corporations to share profits with the rightful owners of the data they sell, imposes transparency, and forces corporations to let users own and control their personal data.

You may not agree with my motivations, but if this post can at least get you to re-think your relationship with social media, and to consider what it's doing to you, to your friends and family, then it was worth writing.

Let me know in comments what you think.