Why I Left Social Media

Believe it or not, I’m not here.

You’ve stumbled upon the meager remains of a once thriving social media profile. I buried everything I could. Alas, digital footprints are like spiderwebs and they cling to every dark recess of the cellar. Facebook is especially nefarious because it’s required for technologies I want to retain. It is another one of social media’s insidious strategies for world domination.

So as a massive digital middle-finger to the social network that wreaked havoc on my mental health, I’ve decided to leave this; a monument to my exit.

Ten reasons I left social media.

1. Social media warps our expectations

Social media is now the primary repository for daily content generated by billions of people. This mountain of information competes for attention, ensuring only the extreme (good, bad, or just weird) rises to our timeline. We’re flooded with around-the-clock access to the most elite human talent, knowledge, and beauty available. This content litters our news feed, simultaneously entertaining us and reminding us just how unexceptional we are. It also sets a new and wholly unrealistic bar for “success.”

Before the internet, humans had social circles of a few hundred people, which meant nearly everyone was elite at SOMETHING in their community. In these small groups, each of us were known for something, could earn praise for something, had a trait or talent our friends admired, or achieved a measurement of success amongst our peers.

In contrast, today we live in an unprecedented age of interconnection. We boast “friends” lists in the thousands, amongst which we’re easily lost in a pea-green mush of unexceptional, unsharable, and unenviable “average.” No matter what hobbies I pursue, no matter how hard I try, social media let’s me watch myself through the demoralizing lens of the world’s greatest.

Social media haunts the perfectionist in me. I allowed it to set standards of success I could never match. It made me likely to throw out the things I tried and often dissuaded me from even making attempts. Social media encouraged me to settle for observing instead of doing.

2. Social media is inauthentic

When humans feel unexceptional and insufficient, we bend our image to be more acceptable to others. We don a mask, put on a show, and curate the best version of ourselves for the world to love. We “fake it until we make it.”

I often watch in amazement as people huddle together to take dozens of pictures from every conceivable arms-length angle. Once complete, the camera’s owner moves into post-processing mode. They painfully choose their most flattering picture; piling on layers of face-clearing, hair-patching, eye-brightening, and glittery filters, which serve to mask their deepest unspoken insecurities.

On social media, you’ll find mostly mountains of similarly curated moments; the best of the best moments of a person’s life. You’ll find the only picture where the kids weren’t crying, where the legs were crossed perfectly to look thinner, with lips jutted to the “goldilocks zone” of pouty, JUST before everyone got sunburnt on the beach and had to wash sand out of their butt.

You’ll never see the huge argument with their spouse posted, the angle of dirty laundry in the corner, or a video of that monumental overreaction to their kids’ mess earlier in the day. You won’t find a social media post that admits their newsfeed makes them certain the world is leaving them behind; an admission that they’re drowning in insecurity and failure.

Instead, the filtered photo caption might simply read “#winning.”

On social media, I mounted all my trophies on the porch for everyone to see. Then I lived inside a house, where all of the “not good enough” remained. I was a fraud that maintained a façade because, against all odds, I was CERTAIN everyone else’s house was just as beautiful on the inside as what they displayed on the porch.

3. Social media is a drug

The feedback system of social media praise is simultaneously cheap and powerful. Our brains get a release of dopamine for every like, love, comment, and share. Like scientifically-engineered Dorito dust, these “engagements” are concocted to leave us momentarily fulfilled but still craving more.

A hundred years ago, a typical person might have received only a few moments of validation in a month; an occasional award for a job well done or sincere complement from a friend. Those moments were meaningful because they were rare and they came from someone close. The validation was both costly and earned.

Now, people sit on the toilet with their phones out and pass out “thumbs up” like Halloween candy. The constant stream of validation overloads our brains and numbs the effect, which means we need more and more to get the same high.

We’ll do anything to get another fix. We’ll pander to our friends with a post that they’ll all agree with or drop a controversial (maybe even hurtful) “hot take”, sitting back and taking a long drag on the “likes” that roll in but never quite satisfy our insatiable appetite. When we’re REALLY desperate, we’ll grovel for engagement with a “Only my real friends will…” or “I’m cleaning up my friends list…” post.

Social media cheapened the value of what I considered “friendship,” exchanging genuine affection for cheap highs. It turned me into another validation junkie.

4. Social media turns us into a product

We love free stuff. There is a mass appeal to getting something for nothing and, for years, I assumed social media WAS free.

…but if you’re not paying, you’re the product.

Facebook turned me into an advertising target by compiling and selling my data and demographics to retailers, who try to get me to buy their stuff. Facebook turned me into a hacking target for fraudsters, who use social manipulation schemes to gain access to my identity and assets. Facebook turned me into paid views for every aspiring content creator, hoping to live the “influencer dream.” Facebook turned my feed into a stream of multi-level marketing promotions from friends-turned-“entrepreneurs.”

Facebook also made my family a target when my wife went on TV and our daughter’s disability was broadcast to the nation. At that point, we became targets of every ambitious and soul-less quack, who had a miracle cure to sell. We sorted through weekly attempts to scam us, each private message trying to leverage our pain and guilt in an attempt to scam us out of money.

Social media masquerades as a free way to maintain human connection but it dehumanized, used, and marketed my attention to others. It turned my feed into a sales pitch.

5. Social media manipulates our emotions

The famous algorithms developed by big tech companies aren’t blatantly nefarious but they certainly don’t have our best interest at heart. They are aimed to create revenue.

Since they are paid by “engagement” and the supply of human demand (24 hours/day) is fixed, social media machine learning models are developed to attract the maximum amount of our time and attention possible. These platforms want us to be loyal…they want us to be dependent. The algorithms just happened to discover the optimal solution.

Predictably, humans are disproportionately and biologically obsessed with things that create emotional attachment. Fear and outrage are specifically appealing and biologically hard-coded into our species because they helped humans survive as cautious socially-interested groups, alongside much bigger, stronger, and faster predators.

Pre-television humans didn’t have to worry about many problems outside of their immediate area. Thanks to news and social media, we’ve been force-fed 24/7 access to every existential risk and domino theory known to man. Our natural attraction to those things result in more engagement, which the algorithms begin to optimize until your news feed is a perpetual cycle of outrage and anxiety.

Social media used headlines to turn every world event into a lion in the savannah, ready to eat my family. I couldn’t mute enough people, words, or news sources to put my mind at rest.

6. Social media blurs truth and reality

According to a 2018 MIT study, stories with false information are 70% more likely to be shared and spread 6 times faster than true stories. Facts aren’t as sensational as opinions, statistics don’t connect as emotionally as anecdotes, and attention-seekers never let truth get in the way of a good story.

Social media users are particularly likely to share “fake” posts that agree with their opinions (confirmation bias) or pander to their specific fears…especially when they lack experience with analytical research or vetting sources/methodologies.

Misinformation on social media is a growing concern because a large segment of social media users are going to Facebook as their “news.” They accept every person with a keyboard as a journalist; being manipulated by every fake image, out-of-context video clip, and slanted opinion in the process.

Be honest. You didn’t even bother to check my statistics from the MIT research.

Social media threw a gullible mass of people headlong into a world where they needed to separate a mountain of questionable data into wheat and chaff. The results frustrated and grieved me each time I logged on.

7. Social media kills nuance

Social media was ready-made for habitual, mindless use; dividing information into small chunks of “between time:” in a shopping line, a waiting room, restroom, or on the bus. It ushered in the “TL;DR” (Too Long, Didn’t Read) generation and normalized fast rewards in short spurts.

Online engagement rewards simplification and amplifies stark contrast in a world of gray. This makes Social Media the worst possible platform for conducting a caring, nuanced discussion on ANY subject of complexity.

Anti-Fascist, Blue or Black Lives, Pro-Choice, Anti-Vax; Online perspectives are only viable if they’re tightly packed into a neat box with a bright label. Your complex perspective may have taken decades to form, but it needs to be stamped into a 255 character hash-taggable, meme-worthy, bite-sized “hot take” or it will never get any social media traction.

If something is hurtful, disparaging, or foundationally important to who you are, it’s probably worth hours of earnest conversation…not a late-night rage tweet. On social media, you get a few sentences / seconds to categorically accept or reject a person’s entire worldview, turn them into a caricature of their beliefs, and classify them as a friend or enemy; a 1 or a 0…which is exactly how you’ll treat them.

Social media was supposed to bring us closer together but I mostly watched it divide. It made me more likely to misunderstand and be misunderstood. It fractured the lens through which I see other people.

8. Social media empowers bullies and mobs

It’s disturbing what people will say to you when they don’t have to look you in the eyes. Anonymity, physical distance, and sheer numbers have emboldened trolls everywhere…ushering in the era of the “internet tough guy.”

When observed individually the wild, they are typically quiet and generally respectful, if not complete cowards. Give them a high-speed connection and keyboard, however, and they become an unstoppable opinion-having force. They’re often overtly hateful and lewd; blustering at best…but violent and threatening at worst. They’ll tell you exactly what they think of you, all while hiding behind an avatar and screen name. You will likely never know if they’re completely unhinged or a person at your gym, church, or workplace.

Social media empowers these individuals by helping them build communities based on almost any interest. These ad-hoc digital cults use “in-speak” and hierarchies to exclude others, enforce conformity, and prey on “enemies.”

The new reality is that people scan social media and run into “outsider” opinions that outrage them. They start a flame war and eventually call upon their like-minded friends to join in the attack. The victim often has their own friends they call in for protection. The pattern continues until we’re participating in the digital-age equivalent of a medieval castle siege. It all seems innocuous, but the escalations can be severe, including harassment, emotional damage, depression, suicide, and/or loss of employment.

Social media gave me a front-row seat to harassment of people I love. It turned me into a helpless bystander, while a bunch of keyboard-toting chimps hammered each other with sticks and stones.

9. Social media won’t let us grow

I’m thankful every kid didn’t have their trigger thumb on a pocket-sized video recorder when I was in school. I hope we all mature with years of experience and access to other perspectives. Ideally that change wouldn’t stop when we graduate high school.

The biggest difference in the internet age is that the history of our unfiltered emotional outbursts, passive-aggressive arguments, and problematic opinions are available to everyone…forever. Social media is a time-capsule that preserves my stream-of-consciousness at an age when my prefrontal cortex wasn’t even fully ripe. It’s a fossilized look into our under-evolved states; on exhibit for the world to examine and judge. I often look back in crippling embarrassment at things that I’ve said and ways I’ve reacted.

Over time, I began using my Facebook “Memories” as a way to review and remove my old posts. My mantra became “When I know better, I do better….and then I delete.” In a best case scenario, only a portion of my social circle gets a front row to my cringe-worthiness. Worst case scenario, I go viral or a potential future employer finds my past ramblings…or I die and my children get a permanent exhibit of their father’s ignorance.

Social media isn’t interested in protecting my shame. It exploited my emotions, paraded me around the neighborhood buck-naked, and created an annual reminder to rub my immaturity back in my face.

10. Social media steals our time

Don’t get me wrong. Facebook helped me relax a lot too. Whenever I wanted to turn off my brain and procrastinate for a few minutes, I could take a quick scroll through my social media. It was a fun lens, through which I could watch sports, unload my mind, and keep up with a few geographically distant friends. It became an escape place.

Over time, I recognized that “escape” was a big part of the anxiety to begin with. It was both the illness and the cure; A self-sustaining weed that choked every “in-between” moment of my life.

I don’t think I’m alone here. I often see people post during their workday, I see elaborate social-media targeted engagements and birth announcements, I watch tourists catalog new lands through the eyes of their camera, and I’ve experienced the pressure of capturing my children’s every milestone through a lens I can share.

Our modern lives revolve around the tyranny of social media, the digital despot who commands we trade the vividness of our life experiences for momentary validations of a gawking mass.

Social media was created to share more of our lives. I left because I came to realize it was consuming more of my life and mind than I was willing to give. When I stopped interacting with it, I saw it for what it really was…

Social media was my storefront. The window where I displayed all of the beautiful moments I threw away by not being truly present.

So here lies my social media profile.

I had to do it. It was either him or me.

If you identified with this memorial, maybe you’ll decide to put a few slugs in the chest of your account too. At the very least, I hope you’re comforted in the knowledge that most everyone is a flawed, fraudulent victim of human biology too.

We weren’t built for the digital age and it is breaking us down.