This morning I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I’d been thinking about it for a months, and I scheduled the date a few weeks out so I could use the medium for a few more things—helping a friend find garden help, announcing a new website, inviting people to subscribe to my other projects.
I got on Facebook in 2015 because I was going to start self-publishing books and people said if you’re going to do that you have to be on social media. You know, so you can get a following and hopefully go viral. Seven books and as many years later, I can say that this never worked as hoped. A following didn’t materialize, nothing went viral, and book sales were never impressive. Thousands of hours that I’ll never get back went into “content creation”—all the secondary and tertiary stuff that people are expected to do to “build a brand”: photos, memes, videos, a podcast, etc., etc. All to call attention to the real thing, the writing. These days, Tik Tok has upped the bar and you have to be a video personality too. <eye roll> Not interested.
Facebook doesn’t want you to sell things or to send people to other sites, like for example your online book shop. I found out just how serious they were about it after I had posted about a book for sale a few times. One morning, Facebook wouldn’t let me see my timeline or post or do anything at all until I set up a business page. I was sternly informed that I should use that for pitching things and was also invited to “boost” posts there—that is, pay Facebook to show them to more people. I did it, but now I had two places to post things and try to build an audience for. You need to get people to “like” and follow your page if you want them to see your pitches. A common advertising audience is “followers and their friends” which sounds good, but you have to get your friends of your personal account to follow your business account, which most did not do when invited. And you’re only allowed to invite them once. Scam. I only ever got 800 or so people to follow the business page so that was never significant. Also, as I boosted posts when I put out with new books, I noticed diminishing returns over time. As in, Facebook showed my boosted posts to fewer people each time I did a campaign, even when I paid more in. Another scam.
I watched carefully this whole time to see what kinds of posts get “engagement” and which don’t, and that’s changed with the shifting of opaque algorithms. My own general numbers peaked 2-3 years ago, and had been declining since. Even cat pictures got fewer posts than they did. If that isn’t telling, I don’t know what is!! And now there’s “Meta Verified” where you can pay for “Increased visibility.” I got the message loud and clear: the days of “organic reach” are over. Now it’s time to pay, which I definitely wasn’t interested in doing. The future was laid out: my audience would continue to shrink no matter what I did. Taking a sober look at all this, I saw that it made no sense to keep trying.
Who knows how shadow-banning really works, but a few years ago I noticed that my friend count, after rising steadily up to that point, stalled out at 3200 and wouldn’t go up no matter how many friend requests I accepted or extended. Interestingly, my follower count kept going up. If the friend count had kept increasing in proportion, it would’ve hit the maximum of 5000 some time in 2022, but it didn’t. It’s a mystery, but it sure looks like being throttled.
For a few years I appreciated Facebook as a way of staying current with news. I followed different journalists and activists groups who I liked. But Facebook has made an explicit effort to make the feed “less political” and I didn’t see that stuff anymore. It’s been years since Facebook was a good source of current events. Unfortunately, “political” also seems to include “environmental” which really sucks, as that’s where my interest mostly lays.
This squashing of the political has been especially frustrating over the last year, as the Ukraine conflict has heightened tensions between two nuclear powers. We are closer to nuclear war now than we have been since the Cold War, and maybe ever. But we can’t talk about it on Facebook. Let’s spell this out: the topic of our collective survival is off the table on Facebook because of Facebook’s business model. That’s so incredibly fucked I don’t even know what to say about it.
I also came to strongly dislike social media because of the obnoxious way that people talk in the comments. I was amazed at the things people would say online that they would never dare say to someone’s face in person for fear of getting punched. Like, if you got punched for acting like that IRL, onlookers would just shrug and say, “That sucks, but he had it coming with a mouth like that.” My life will be improved for not having this dickish behavior in my face anymore.
Twitter was the worst for that. Just a hellscape of snark. I tried it twice and fled both times after a few months. People are there are just so pointlessly mean.
I had hoped Instagram would be more enjoyable, and obnoxious commenters were rarer there, but after four years, I only got up to about 600 followers, and most of my posts got less than a dozen reactions. Nowadays, Instagram is pushing short-form video to compete with Tik Tok, and I watched my numbers gradually drop some more because I’m still just putting up photos. So that dried up too.
But the biggest reason I don’t like Instagram is for how using it changed my own relationship to my own photography. What was once a fun hobby and artistic endeavor—as well as being a way of documenting nature for educational purposes—became “content creation” for an app. I don’t like how that changed my “eye.” I’d be out with the camera looking for what might work on Instagram, not for what I personally liked or found important. I want to shake that shit off and make photography my own again. Only way to do it was to dump Instagram.
That social media is addictive is well-documented at this point. Our brains are being purposefully manipulated to keep us coming back and scrolling. The corporations doing this to us do not have our best interests in mind. They’re just trying to make money. Our health and happiness are of no concern. I have experienced periods of time where I found the tug irresistible and got sucked in. It always left me feeling empty and spent. To keep myself from falling into the trap again, I had to cut the cord completely.
I know a lot of people use Facebook because they like to “keep up” with friends and family. I don’t care about that, myself. Previous to social media, when I moved from one city to another, I would just lose track of most people in the old place, and that was fine. My primary relationships were always the ones that were present in my life physically. I enjoy catching up with old friends from time to time, but I want to do that on the phone or best yet in person. It’s nice that Facebook put me back in touch with some old friends and now I have their contact information again, but I’m not interested in the daily updates, either giving or receiving. I don’t need to “keep up” like that, especially when spending time doing so takes me away from being present with the people and creatures in my real life.
I’ve been using computers since the Apple IIe and the original PC. I find them to be valuable tools for various purposes. But I have no use for them for socializing or for “community.” A few years back, I wrote an essay called, “The Absurdity of ‘Online Community'” and this passage still speaks for my heart:
“Of course, the online world is real in its own way. In a literal sense, it is a thing that exists. But far more is not there than is there. The whole thing is a virtual space, not a material one. We, on the contrary, are material creatures. We are elements somehow animated by the energy of life on a piece of dirt between deep waters and high clouds and… we are not alone. Though we might not be conscious of it, as material beings we are in constant intimate connection with a vast network of animals, plants, fungus, bacteria and who knows what else, experiencing all of it together in a dynamic equilibrium.
“The computer conveys almost nothing of that. Nearly every detail of an online interaction is filled in by our imaginations. Additionally, the raw materials for our imaginations are increasingly sourced online, so we have a virtual world instructing us how to make a virtual world. It’s mostly—like way mostly, not just a little bit mostly—in our heads.
“In terms of the physical, the online “world” is a flight of fancy.”
So that’s what it really comes down to for me. I want to give up the “flight of fancy” and reclaim my imagination for myself, in the real world.
Giving up social media is probably just one step in that, too.