When purchasing an item — a pizza, a pillow, or a phone plan — from a corporation that doesn’t share our ethical stamina, it can feel like willfully supporting the opposition. But we often don’t look that deeply into the vile whims of a brand’s owners or, if we are aware, can justify the quick pang of guilt by the low amount of investment. Regrettably, I feel that whenever I order from Amazon.
Many of us try our best to consciously steer toward products and companies that align with our values, and it’s easier than ever to mine information to guide us. We’re all trying our best in this space — I know I’m doing a lot better than I was a few years ago — but it’s impossible to be perfect.
Social media platforms are a bit different. They’re free, for the most part, so it doesn’t feel like we’re handing over money that’ll end up used for nefarious purposes. But, from another point of view, social media is worse. By participating, we risk adding value to that platform. That multi-paragraph reminiscence posted on Facebook adds value to Facebook. Jazzy cooking tips uploaded to TikTok add value to TikTok. And, I’m embarrassed to say, those snappy one-liners and threads I post on Twitter create some value for Twitter. Not that my one-liners are any good, but many folks post their best stuff on social media and only social media. The value these folks get is negligible, but, in aggregate, the value earned by the platforms is enormous.
My thoughts today are consumed by my always twisty relationship with social media. I’ve been conflicted since the Friendster days. Still, I have always participated, only mildly aware of the value I added to the succession of platforms I frequented. Like you, I used social media to keep in touch with old friends, make new friends, ask questions, share recommendations, and vent. I also used these platforms to promote my music, show what I’m working on professionally, find gigs in faraway cities, and get subscribers to my email newsletter. It always felt like more take than give — social media served me, not the other way around. But I was wrong. Only in the past several years have I realized this deception is embedded in social media’s design. My participation creates value, a notch on a chart at a shareholders’ meeting.
I want that ‘take’ aspect, though. I want to bring people to my blog, email newsletter, and music projects. Social media has its uses, despite the formidable downsides. I’m now examining this question: how can I use social media with the intention of adding as little value to the platforms as possible?
As an experiment, I’m going to step away from Twitter. That doesn’t mean I’m going silent or deleting my account. Instead, I’ll become intentional in what I bring to my feed. Ideally, posts will always contain a link away from Twitter. Most of the time, this link will send you to 8sided.blog. In other words, my feed becomes a signpost to find my blog and other projects. I don’t know yet how much I’ll engage on Twitter — I have many ‘Twitter friends,’ after all — but I’m hopeful I can steer conversations to my blog comment section or email exchanges.
A few years ago, I stopped posting on my Facebook personal page, though I still update the 8D Industries ‘fan page’ with release news. In the spirit of this experiment, I’ll start using Facebook the same way I’ll use Twitter: blog links, project news, and prompts to move any discussion to my blog. I have no idea how that will go — I worry the post comments will tempt me to start monitoring Facebook, and I don’t want to get into that. But, as with Twitter, anything I post will contain a link that goes to a site I own.
Even this little bit still adds a smidgen of value to these platforms. Does the potential of redirecting users to my blog deliver a greater value for me? Am I naïvely imagining some sort of personal ‘carbon offset’ to social media’s harm? The intangibility is frustrating, and, just as I don’t want to increase the profits of that pizza company or the pillow guy, it pains me to think that I’m part of an ‘active users’ stat that shows up in a Facebook or Twitter earnings report.
Maybe I’m putting off the inevitable. Perhaps this experiment will yield nothing but teeth-gnashing and anxious excuses. Something tells me cold turkey is a better option, especially if a particular former head of state gets his accounts back.
I’m giving it a try anyway. That means I’m pledging to write a lot more on this blog. Now that I’m freeing up the mental space previously taken up with concocting snappy one-liners for Twitter, it should be easy. And, believe me, after today’s events, I’ve never been more inspired to write a blog and send out an email newsletter.
I’ll finish with some quick technical notes. My goal is to never directly go to these platforms. Instead, I will post remotely using Publer (referral link), the best option I’ve found for doing that sort of thing. I’ll use Fraidycat to keep up with the interesting Twitter accounts I enjoy and Nitter to look at any Twitter feeds or posts. For Safari, an extension called Privacy Redirect will automatically go to the corresponding Nitter mirror when you click on a Twitter link.
Posting on the Facebook personal page is more challenging as there aren’t any remote options available via their API. As far as I know, presently, one can only post remotely to a fan/business page or a group. I may have to post and immediately hit the road (I use VPN and tracking blockers). Again, I’m not sure if that will work as comment engagement will be a temptation. If I see comments building to a link I post, I’ll have stock copy-and-paste text for replying, requesting that we take it to the blog comments section. I doubt that will be too effective, but it’s worth a try.
I’ll update you on how this goes. And I’d love to hear what you think. I’ll see you in the comments section.
Allen Brunson says
i am also pretty disappointed in this news. and i would have bet a lot of money that it wouldn’t happen. i figured it was just another one of his stunts, like the time he was going to take tesla private at $4.20 a share. (so hilarious.) i suppose the next-best option is that it turns out to be a much harder nut to crack than he thought (a near certainty), and he wanders off towards the next shiny thing.
i will say this much, though: i have been amazon-free for over two years now. i used to get a half-dozen prime deliveries every month. finding alternatives was not that difficult, once i set my mind to it. the worst part was the inevitable period when every new vendor thinks they are going to spam me by every means available. (no you aren’t, you bastards.)
M Donaldson says
Thanks, Allen. I am working my way toward Amazon-freedom, using more Earth-considerate services like Thrive Market, Bookshop, and Uncommon Goods. I’d be happy for recommendations of others.
Mark Millard says
Michael, thanks for the thoughts and the update. I always enjoy following your journey!
M Donaldson says
Thank you, Mark, and it’s great to see you here!
I’m shared in your conflicted feelings, Michael. I’m leaning toward cold turkey, being that I don’t use FB or Amazon nearly as much anymore. And I’ve never used Twitter. I suppose that emails, texts, and the occasional phone call will have to suffice. It’ll be like 2008 never arrived.
M Donaldson says
In my experience, the first thought that comes to mind when considering life without social media is the panic (a junkie’s panic?) that screams, “How will I keep in touch? How will I follow the news? How will I know what’s happening in the world?” And then one realizes it would be like partying like it’s 1999. We — those of us who were around! — managed just fine then and we’ll do fine now. Hope all is well!
Hart Liss says
I’m so old that I curate my Twitter feed and it’s so curated that I never see toxic s***.
But it seems to be the sort of era where people are so busy flaunting themselves that there’s not even enough to consider personal responsibility, I don’t know, I don’t understand it.
M Donaldson says
Oh, I curate the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of mine. My muted word list is a mile long. My struggle is not so much with the toxicity as it is with adding value to an organization I don’t agree with through participation. Though, toxicity often goes hand-in-hand with the culture the guiding organization foments. And in social media’s case, that fomenting comes down to what’s intentionally embedded in the platforms themselves. They are capitalism-fueled Demon Seeds.
Check out Ezra Klein’s opinion piece today on Twitter. The concept of “value capture,” introduced by philosopher C. Thi Nguyen, makes a lot of sense in this context. Klein also has this to say about how dehumanization is a ‘feature not a bug’ of social media: “… if your intention was to foster healthy conversation, you’d never limit thoughts to 280 characters or add like and retweet buttons or quote-tweet features. Twitter can’t be a home to hold healthy conversation because that’s not what it’s built to do.”
Aside from all of that, I’m with you. I don’t get it either.
Yes! I’ve reached a similar decision to reduce my Twitter footprint to a dead station that serves as an RSS for my site.
But more importantly for me, I just need to stop looking at it (which, I’m embarrassed to admit, required blocking it via a terminal command). No matter how hard I tried to curate, filter, and purify my feed, each day’s trash just seemed to bleed through the floorboards.
It’s not so much the fact that Twitter will be owned by a juvenile billionaire that prompted my reckoning, but the predictable cranked-to-eleven histrionics that followed re: fascism, freedom, etc. Ah, how nice it would be to return to the days circa 2009 when the primary complaint was “I don’t need to know what you had for breakfast.” Those were good times.
I’m glad you’re pledging to more bloggery, and I look forward to reading it.
M Donaldson says
Thank you as always, James! I hear you re: the temptation to gaze at Twitter feeds. I had even tricked myself into thinking it’s a good place to get (and test) ideas. Now I know a robustly populated and curated RSS reader is not only just as good for idea-making and info-seeking, it’s so much better. I can include blogs such as yours, which I would probably miss out on gazing at social media feeds for ‘inspiration.’
That said, there are some folks with interesting insight sharing on Twitter. You can keep up with them on most RSS readers but I’ve found that adding Twitter users to an RSS feed creates unnecessary noise. My solution is a great little free app called Fraidycat. Check that out. And here’s another tip: if you follow a user’s feed using Fraidycat, follow the Nitter mirror. Here’s an example. That way, if you want to click through to see the full ‘tweet,’ you don’t end up on Twitter with its trending topics and suggested tweets and other unwelcome brain-grabs.
Andrew Duke says
Michael: your effort and content is appreciated.
M Donaldson says
Thank you, Andrew — it’s always a pleasure to have you here.