Engineering Leadership Technology

Deep Thoughts on Social Media

Though I’m sure this post will interest few people, I wanted to document some thoughts on what brought me to close my Facebook account in 2020 and Twitter account in 2022.

I’d been using social media since the dawn of Web 2.0, and I’ve noticed an evolution of the platforms that don’t align to the way, ultimately, I wish to communicate with others. I hold zero judgement for those of you who do enjoy using these platforms, but it’s just not for me any longer.

Leaving Facebook

How I Originally Used Facebook

Social media has been a great way for me to stay connected with friends and family. I signed up for Facebook around 2004 when I was in college. Originally Facebook was the way socially-awkward individuals such as myself would stay connected with others you met randomly at a party or in a class. Initially, I added whoever I recognized with Facebook account, or even people from my past who I hadn’t communicated with in decades. The original purpose and functionality of Facebook was connecting with people and sending comments and posting photos, not necessarily posting your stream of consciousness. Over time, the network changed to feature the ‘feed’, which lets you see everything anybody posted.

I, too, took part in sharing opinions and details about my personal life on the platform and realized that people who I only was loosely connected with online suddenly had an intimate look to my life and moments. Perhaps that’s the whole point of Facebook, but in my opinion, only those who have earned my trust to be closest to me should see details of how I live my life. Absolutely no offense to the random person I met at a party once in 2007 and haven’t seen since, but that level of trust is something I feel needs to be earned and reflect ‘real life’ relationships. That idea was solidified when I met with former classmates at a high school reunion. As I excitedly explained to an acquaintance I hadn’t seen since since graduation what was new in my life, their response was very matter of factly, “I know, I saw it on Facebook”. It was at that point that I realized my private life was no longer as private as I wanted.

After this realization, I defriended 90% of my friends list, and even blocked the majority of the people — not because I was upset with people, but rather people would refriend me or possibly take it personally that they were no longer a connection. With a smaller list of contacts, communication was higher quality and I posted for quite a few years.

The Times They Were a-Changin’

In 2016, peoples’ demeanor somehow shifted with a feeling of empowerment of whose opinion was the most important. Relatives who I knew and love changed to having no filter online, treating others like crap when people posted any opinion that was tangentially related to politics. I watched as some of my friends became misinformation meme machines, reposting information that was blatently false. I also saw how the information that Facebook collected was used to influence elections and provide far too much data for comfort, and I was completely turned off to the whole scene. I sold my Facebook stock and took a large financial hit

My contacts who chose to turn into misinformation machines were quickly muted so I didn’t need to see their vomiting of misinformation, but I noticed that the quality of the rest of the conversations was dwindling. People were posting less and less about their own personal lives unless they had a hot take, and it became apparent to me that this form of social media is not the way I want to communicate with others. I realized this isn’t how I wanted to spend my precious time online and decided to deactivate my account in the spring of 2020.

Why Deactivate and Not Close?

Why did I deactivate and not simply close my account? After 15 years, Facebook had turned into a major communication center for my friends and family, and email had become less important. As such, I keep in contact with friends and family in Messenger, which is essentially supercharged e-mail.

It Takes A While to Unlearn a Habit

Much like any other habit, it took a while until I didn’t question my decision of leaving Facebook. I’d logged into Facebook multiple times daily for nearly half of my life and going cold turkey quitting made me feel like I was missing out on conversations. Occasionally I would check with my wife (who shared most of the same contacts) to see what wonderful things I was missing, and most of the time I wasn’t missing anything at all. After a couple of months that muscle memory of logging in left me and I finally felt like I was able to move on to figure out new ways to communicate with loved ones.

Leaving Twitter

For the most part, my relationship with Twitter was strictly in a professional setting. Though I created an account in 2008, it was mostly used for work or to follow individuals in my field who I felt had insight into web development. Occasionally I would post a stray thought or link to a recent project I worked on, but that was it. Basically the cycle was any time I attended a conference, I would be inspired to tweet with the conference hastags, connect with a handful of people and then never tweet again.

I had a little over 400 followers when I left Twitter and probably fewer than 100 tweets (most of which were retweets).

Twitter’s Value to Me

Even though I didn’t actually partake in my discussions, Twitter had provided me lot of value over the past decade. Most notably, there was a time when I posted a link to a freelance project that I had recently launched with the hashtag #wordpress, and an individual from Maine who worked at a company that I admired reached out and introduced himself. This was how I got the confidence to apply to 10up and helped put me on my current career path, working fulltime on the WordPress open source project..

By following accounts in my field of work, I was kept up to speed on many things I didn’t even know I wanted to know about and got brought myself up to speed on new technologies, leadership topics and even what my favorite celebrities were doing. Though I rarely responded to these accounts, I would occasionally reward one with a ‘like’, but otherwise I was strictly a consumer on Twitter.

Where it Went Downhill

Twitter has always had a level of noise that I learned to filter out. Bots, hot takes and opinions, and general annoying people was all something I learned to deal with (and at times, even enjoy with morbid curiosity). I feel Twitter had few surprises with its changes over time. Compared to Facebook, it’s remained largely the same service with some new bells and whistles added over the years.

I found myself obsessively checking Twitter during some of the weekly one-in-a-generation moments we’ve all been dealing with for the past 5 years. Some of that doomscrolling was due to anxiety, but I feel part of it was also due to my own morbid curiosity. I didn’t enjoy doing this, but for some reason I rarely stopped myself from this obsessive behavior.

When Elon Musk recently took over Twitter in late 2022, it gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on how I wanted to use the service moving forward. None of what he mentioned about his vision for a place where “anything goes” excited me. Honestly, I already felt I was consuming too much information on filtered content, a truly open platform was not what a wanted. So I decided it best for me to leave and let the platform become what it will.

So, What Now?

I’ve been consuming less content from social media which has been a pleasure for my psyche, but I’ve actually found myself being more intentional on what I’m sharing and I’m actually more active on specific social networks than I ever was before. Partly because I’m using platforms that allow me to communicate in the ways I want to communicate. I’m probably still spending too much time online, but perhaps I’ll find new services to replace and cut down on the ones I currently use:

  • Instagram – sharing photos was always my favorite part of Facebook, and with a private account, only those who I want to see photos from my life are able to do so.
  • Google Photos – this isn’t really a social network, but it’s now I share albums of photos to friends and family when I go on a trip but don’t want to post all 90 photos on Instagram.
  • WhatsApp – many of my friends in Europe use WhatsApp, so when I communicate with them, it generally always in WhatsApp.
  • LinkedIn – though at times its content isn’t the top quality, I enjoy connecting with people I’ve worked with on LinkedIn and watch how their careers have grown. I don’t post anything personal, but it’s great to have a place to connect with and learn from professionals.
  • Messenger – those contacts from Facebook that I’m still in touch with usually connect with me through Messenger. I feel this is a service I could eventually move to WhatsApp or email, but for now I’m fine chatting with folks I was in touch with on Facebook through Messenger and missing out on the rest of the silliness on that platform.