(Photo by Xander Ashwell on Unsplash)
The latest events at Twitter have caused me to reevaluate my presence on social media networks overall. Reducing my footprint isn’t exactly a new thing: I have left Facebook a few years ago, with no regrets. Nevertheless, the change of ownership at Twitter has introduced major uncertainty about the platform, its credibility, and its future, despite supposedly positive aspects identified by the most dogmatic incense-bearers of laissez-faire capitalism and other apologetics of change for the sole purpose of change.
In this personal post, I will cover my relationship with social media, and why I think I find myself in limbo.
My current work activities (Content creation / Marketing services for TECHunplugged and Analyst at GigaOm) couldn’t be effectively conducted with a minimum of online presence as I fall more or less under the varying classifications of Technology Analyst, B2B Enterprise IT influencer (to inflate my ego on the influencer scale), or Blogger based on who you talk to. This presence is reflected primarily on LinkedIn, where I share content created in the context of my work activities, as well as Twitter, which I use not only to share content but also interact with my peers or “live tweet” about events I am invited to attend, such as Tech Field Day events or vendor-driven conferences.
Sharing With Family & Friends
Another use of social media is sharing (primarily pictures) with family, friends, but also acquaintances. Here, Instagram has been the primary instrument I’ve relied upon. I’ve attempted to delete my Instagram account many times, but always backed out in one way or another due to peer pressure (family & relatives asking for “convenience”).
For “community-related” discussions, I have the opportunity to engage with some of my peers via certain Slack channels. These provide a respectful way to engage with trusted and vetted friends, the (necessary, perhaps) downside to it is that those “walled gardens” are not publicly accessible – nor are they intended to be.
Finally, I’ll put aside the various chat apps, which I primarily use for direct messaging.
What I Used Twitter For
Until a couple years ago, Twitter was my “rant by default” platform, where I posted a mix of work content (sharing articles, videos, etc.), talked with or about Enterprise IT vendors, ranted to phone companies or other companies I wasn’t happy about in terms of products/services, some elements of randomness, and reacting to acquaintances or friends’ reactions.
It became soon evident to me that it would not make sense to treat Twitter as a common playground to mix and match such disparate topics. I wanted to hold my presence there to professional standards, and I’ve tried to meet this, despite the usual rant here and there.
However, as the society and world around us polarized more and more, I’ve found that platform to bring little joy or value in my life. This, combined with the message length limitations, force everybody to perform acrobatic mental shortcuts in order to make messaging simple and understandable. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of context, clarifications, and incentivizes simplistic / truncated thoughts, often leading to inflammatory content in an attempt to cause controversy, reaction, and increase reach. Many times I found myself self-censoring and not posting content rather than having to either go on a long-form series of tweets, or having to justify my initial idea. That kind of negates the platform’s use.
Rethinking Social Media Presence
The loss of trust in the Twitter platform has made me think of alternatives, like many others. I found out I had signed up early to a Mastodon server managed by an industry friend, Justin Warren from PivotNine, so the “adoption curve” was relatively easy, and I tend to be an early adopter for all sorts of weird open-source or distributed networks (I wish more people would join Diaspora* for example, which I considered as a good alternative to Facebook).
I find myself nevertheless in social media limbo: I don’t necessarily want to use Mastodon the way I used Twitter. I don’t know – and I don’t think, but future may prove me wrong – that I will use Mastodon professionally, as a replacement for Twitter. I am thinking of using it to interact casually with friends and unknown people, ideally based on common interests, while also trying to get away from politics and other inflammatory topics. A mix of nerd stuff, cat pictures, casual chat, and who knows what else.
It’s hard to say if I’ll stick to Mastodon, I haven’t found yet an incentive in using it, and I’m yet to find a Twitter replacement platform for professional content. Mastodon could do the job, but even there I am not sure that managing two separate identities is something I want and I have time to do.
On a more positive note, some social media, when curated or focused on a specific purpose can bring value. Despite some shortcomings, LinkedIn remains the best social network in my view when it comes to professional use and outcomes.
In some ways, it is amazing how addicted we have become to social media. The rise of social media in the past 10-15 years has been tremendous, it has become ubiquitous and has become so pervasive in our lives that we do not even understand or acknowledge how much it influences us. To some, it’s unimaginable that we had a life before social media and yet, I vividly recall passionate discussions on photography forums, via direct messages on Flickr and many other websites, and even via e-mails. My life wasn’t diminished or worse because we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook and a cohort of other social networks.
A thought I have firmly held over the past few years is that social media has a destructive potential over our societies due to how easy it is to reach and emotionally manipulate the masses. We can find multiple examples of how this has turned into reality, alas not for the best. And I am not even touching on the topic of mental alienation of the masses through the stupid videos one can find on Instagram or Tik Tok, incredible time wasters that wash our brains while we endlessly scroll down.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of all was to equal social media with freedom of expression. In reality, all of the commercial platforms are operated and owned by for-profit companies, offering a “free” service where the user and the data it generates become the product. And in today’s capitalist and ultra-liberal world, either you own your platform and own your freedom of expression, or you are at a mercy from the tantrums of billionaires and corporations.