“Why’d You Unfriend Me?” How I Decided to Leave Social Media

In the past, I likely would have put this on another blog, but this is the only one I’ve got now, so if you’re just here for the spooky stories, I apologize.

Recently, I’ve gone through a sea change when it comes to social media. In the past, I was optimistic. It lets me keep in touch with that cool guy from my old job! It’s a good way to network with other writers! It’s a nice way to connect with my remote co-workers! My mom can tag me in cute ferret pictures!

Lately, though, I just feel like social media is a bit of an albatross weighing society down. Let me share why.

I am from Music City, USA, known to most of you as Nashville, TN and some of you as “that place we went for Jenny’s bachelorette party and rode a trolley bar bike thing through downtown”. Most of my friends and family are there.

I now live a bit outside of Lexington, KY, which you may have noticed isn’t even the same state. Check a map, they’re not really close. While I like this area, I do miss my Nashville people quite a bit. And, to be frank, I don’t have many friends here in Kentucky, just a small handful. I work from home and am inherently a bit shy (as is my wife), so it’s hard to get out and meet new people.

Social media seemed like a great way to do that. I did meet a handful of folks nearby over the last several years, and they were cool, but I only really hung out with a few of them.

So let’s say out of maybe thirty people I’ve met here, through my old office job, through social media, through friends of friends, and so on, I only really hang out with maybe a half dozen and consider them good friends. Not complaining, just setting the stage.

If you’ve never intentionally tried to make friends as an adult, it’s kinda hard. Many of the friends you meet in life, you meet through your regular activities. School, work, etc. And when you work remotely, well, that limits your in-person social interactions quite a bit. So you have to find people who like the same things as you so that you have something in common. My two favorite things are horror and retro video games. Not exactly subjects that are wildly popular.

“If loneliness is your problem, why leave social media?” Well, I’m getting to that. And loneliness isn’t the only issue, but one of many.

Really, this all started with a comic shop. One specific comic shop, back in Nashville, where a very good friend of mine has worked for many years, Rick’s Comic City. They have a social media presence, you can find them right here.

Last month was Black History month, and like a good many businesses in the United States, Rick’s decided to celebrate with some posts featuring black writers, artists, and characters. Cool and pretty normal, right? You would think!

But somewhere in this world, there are people who find that somehow offensive. Their reasons are spurious and half-assed, and it’s not important right now. But one post made on MLK Jr. Day (about black creatives on a day celebrating a black civil rights leader), got brigaded by these sad, incomplete-ass bastards.

It got reported as “racist” over and over again by bad actors, so much so that Facebook suspended the page, presumably automatically.

You might not have heard of “comicsgate”, the latest in a series of faux-outrages by people who complain that insert-thing-here no longer caters enough to white, male, heterosexual people. It is a thing. A very stupid thing. Again, not going into it here, but feel free to look it up.

Rick’s people appealed to Facebook about the suspension. A human reviewed it and agreed to lift it — if Rick’s Comic City agreed to remove the benign post that was mass-reported.

So, despite doing no wrong, they removed the post, because what choice did they have? A small, local business can’t fight Facebook.

This is infuriating for countless reasons. But whatever, they weathered the storm and went on. And then it happened again.

This month, Marvel released its first movie headlined by a woman, Captain Marvel. Even before the film came out, people were making up so much bile about it that Rotten Tomatoes changed their policy to not allow people to review movies they couldn’t possibly have seen yet. (Kinda seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but hey.)

Rick’s is a comic store, and they sell Marvel Comics, many of which feature Carol Danvers, both as Ms. Marvel and as Captain Marvel. Why not do some cross-promotion?

They made a few posts about Captain Marvel on release day. Nothing fancy, a few tongue-in-cheek posts with a Captain Marvel action figure appearing to read her own stories, some lists of relevant comics starring the character. You know, regular local business stuff that happens to overlap with a major movie release.

But once again, half-assed dopes (let’s not even call them half-assed, they are a sliver of ass if anything) mass-reported the posts, citing them as “going against Facebook community standards”, which is the most nebulous possible criteria, but that doesn’t matter.

Once again, Rick’s Comic City had their page suspended. You couldn’t share a direct link to their page, Facebook would give you a warning about spamming or do nothing at all. Obviously, this is a very painful turn of events for a small business on a weekend when they stand to make a lot of business. People watching comic book movies turn around and buy comic books. Who knew?

Facebook’s no stranger to doing dumb shit with their moderation tools. I could point to any number of examples of posts, profiles, etc. that got auto-flagged unjustly. It happens all the time. It typically gets rectified later, so I usually would chalk it up to Facebook’s janky algorithms.

This time, though, I saw a shift in my thinking. A big part of that is the way Facebook handled the MLK Jr. Day post — why force someone to delete a non-offensive post because some people feign offense at it?

Then I started thinking. A few months ago, YouTube was reported to have a “wormhole” — some videos of kids doing ordinary kid stuff, like swimming, dancing, and so on, which were being earmarked by pedophiles making disgusting remarks in the comments.

That’s never a good look. No, you can’t keep creeps from using a public platform, but come on. No one even likes remembering that pedophiles are a thing that exists, not to mention seeing them openly discuss their tendencies.

But here’s the part that fucked me up: People discovered that once you watched more than one of these videos, YouTube wouldn’t recommend anything except videos like it. Not popular movie trailers or music videos or news stories. Just videos where people leered at children.

My suspicion is this was a bug in their recommendation algorithm and not something a human being set up. It’s purportedly fixed now, and YouTube even went as far as making moves to disable comments on videos of children (which feels a little like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Grandma can’t comment on her granddaughter’s gymnastics routine?) but this is evidence that algorithms can fail, and be abused.

And then there are the conspiracy videos and pseudo-intellectual reactionary garbage and outright lies that YouTube recommends all the time anyway. These days, it feels more and more like YouTube is turning into a place where propagandists and hucksters can turn over a quick buck and not someplace to actually watch interesting videos.

Then, there’s this story. I’ll sum it up: A mother in Arizona was arrested and her channel shut down after it turned out that she was abusing her children by forcing them to perform for videos and physically harming them if they didn’t do so to her specifications. Now, let’s be clear — these kinds of stories didn’t emerge with the internet, and this woman likely would have abused her children even if YouTube never existed.

But the thing that stands out to me about this story is this: This woman started a channel, promoted it, made money off it, with no single human in the process having any sort of oversight. Yes, that’s the beauty of the internet, anyone can be famous. But therein lies the downside: Anyone can be famous. Any asshole can be rewarded for bad behavior and treachery if they manage to keep their cards close to their chest. The internet has no gatekeepers, it’s far too big for them… but is that a good thing?

And then there’s Twitter. I don’t have a specific story about Twitter, just that it’s a platform mainly known for the scum that inhabit it and not for any actual discourse that matters. Long gone are the days of the Arab Spring, when Twitter took credit for uprisings in several Middle Eastern countries. Now it’s pretty much just a place for someone to call you an idiot (and far worse things) no matter what you say. They notoriously don’t do jack shit about any of it.

Then, I read an article about Joe Rogan. Now, I don’t listen to Joe Rogan, I’m not really interested, and… y’know what? Let me just share a quote from the article:

“We are living in the dumbest period of modern American history, where our centering institutions have destabilized, our governing social norms seem unenforceable, and our fast-food restaurants routinely insult one another on Twitter. Into this breach have stepped myriad articulate charlatans, aggro-provocateurs, and other confident dullards who seek to capitalize on the end of authority by using the internet to proclaim their own truths. Their goal is to convince the world’s least-informed people that they are actually the most-informed people, and they are very good at their jobs.”

From “Joe Rogan’s Galaxy Brain“, Slate

As I was saying, I’ve never listened to Joe Rogan. The article is primarily about how he’s too soft on people he interviews, which is not a subject I know anything about.

But that quote, that paragraph — that sums up a lot of my general dissatisfaction about social media: It’s a firehose of bullshit. It’s unrelenting, and it will wash you away. As Fox Mulder once said on The X-Files, “[…] liars do not fear the truth if there are enough liars.”

“Don’t you work for a tech company?” Yes, I do. But the difference is that our reports are human-reviewed by our hardworking Community Guardians, and they do an excellent job. There’s no algorithm or automated moderation tools that can be hijacked by the very people they’re meant to fight.

I have come to believe that social media is irredeemable. I think it has taken the internet, something with great promise, and is dragging it into the realm of uselessness. It is the playplace of bad actors, who abuse it to their own ends.

When Twitter is more famous for the scum that abuse it and its power to spread lies, something is broken.

When YouTube primarily recommends videos that are entirely false or can create a “wormhole” of pseudo-child porn content, something is broken.

When Facebook introduces tools to help people who are being harassed, and harassers can turn those same tools against their victims, and somehow Facebook’s algorithms can’t tell the difference between the two, something is broken.

So yes, I unfriended you on Facebook. I unfollowed you on Twitter. It’s not because I dislike you. In fact, it is the opposite: I dislike Facebook and Twitter.

I am stepping away from social media. My Weird Shit Blog Facebook page and Twitter account are being abandoned. My Tumblr already was, years ago. They will post links to posts I make on this blog and nothing else. They will be glorified RSS feeds.

Here is my thinking — the best place to present yourself to the world is a site that you own, much like this one. Start a fucking blog. Create your own walled garden, where you make the rules. Or simply don’t participate in presenting yourself to the world.

I am going to make friends in real life to combat my loneliness, and not rely on a simulacrum of such, a crutch, that is also home to an endless swarm of creeps and villains.

Fuck Facebook. Fuck YouTube. Fuck Twitter. But not you, you’re cool.