So, I finally did it. I deleted my Twitter account. I also deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. In fact, I deleted every social media account I could ever remember opening.
For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that social media is a common evil (as opposed to a common good). Of course, many people claim that social media has been a net positive for their lives, and I agree – it’s not all bad. In fact, that’s the reason I got on Twitter in the first place. I first joined in 2019, long after I had all but stopped using other platforms, because several public people I respected seemed to have gotten great value out of it. For example, I quite enjoy reading David Perell’s essays, and he owes a large part of his success as a writer to Twitter. But those people and their experiences are rare. There are far more people who claim to have gotten net gains from social media than people who actually have. For most people, the reality is that social media breeds despair and dehumanizes us.
How does this all happen though? If you ask anybody that knows me well, they’ll tell you I hate social media. In fact, they’ll probably tell you I’m actually pretty outspoken (and maybe a little annoying) about my hatred of it. So why do I keep ending up on it?
The fact of the matter is that I haven’t raised the barrier to entry enough. For years, I’ve been on this cycle of deleting apps but not accounts. For a couple of platforms, I actually had a good deal of success with that strategy. When I was in college, I got into the habit of waking up in the morning and scrolling through my Snapchat feeds. I wasn’t a particularly active Snapchatter, so what that really meant was consuming an ungodly amount of Snapchat news. I would literally spend hours some mornings in bed just scrolling through inane garbage. Sometimes, I was even late for class.
Fortunately, it only took a couple weeks of being seriously over-invested in whatever the B-list celebrities were doing to delete Snapchat for good. But Snapchat is uniquely low-value, and Instagram is the same. Sure, I still had accounts with them, so I could theoretically pick back up where I left off whenever I wanted, but there was nothing really compelling me to come back. If we’re being totally serious, the whole appeal of Snapchat and Instagram is that you might see some girl you know in a bikini. So for a Christian man, it’s not only a complete waste of time but also quite possibly a sin. (I won’t even try to address the women who post such things, but you can imagine what I’d say.) Going back ten plus years, the only reason I was ever on these platforms in the first place was just because everyone else was doing it. My fourteen-year-old self didn’t have the wherewithal to think critically through all of this stuff, and my parents didn’t have the resources that parents have now to help them navigate the internet with their kids. It was just “the thing to do,” so we all did it. As an adult (and a somewhat curmudgeony one at that), something being “the thing” was just no longer a good reason.
But you’ll remember that it’s only been about three years since I got on Twitter. I chalk this one up to my weak constitution.
At first, I just found myself going to Twitter to get information. If you’re trying to stay up on top of minute-by-minute news, Twitter really is a great place to go. For example, when I first starting hearing rumors that our local university had fired its football coach, Twitter was the first place I went for confirmation. This is value unique to Twitter. There are no journalists on Instagram releasing their breaking news. In a lot of ways, this original dynamic I experienced was much more mature. From what I could tell, Twitter was still social media with all of its crazy people, but it seemed like there were significantly more adults in the room than with other options.
On Twitter, you also have the ability to surround yourself with the content you’re actually interested in. I got the impression that Twitter wasn’t necessarily forcing anything down my throat. With Facebook, you just come into it knowing you’ll probably have to deal with some wild-eyed hippies and boomercons. With Instagram, you just expect a little softcore p0rn. But Twitter is still pretty good about only showing me what I want to see. The most bothersome thing I ever saw on Twitter was either an Oreo ad or a trash theological take, the latter of which I voluntarily opted to see. So, after hearing some good reports from Twitter and finding myself lurking on it, I decided to make the jump and sign up for an account. In fact, I would still say that Twitter is the best mainstream social media platform available. (For evidence, see all the new “conservative” social media platforms popping up – they’re all Twitter clones.)
As I got on Twitter more frequently, I started to want to engage. There were some really interesting people who I wanted to talk to, so I made an account. I moved deeper into the web. Pretty soon, I was meeting people and building pseudo-relationships on the platform. I even had some interesting opportunities to appear on people’s newsletters and YouTube channels. At this point, Twitter was quite a positive experience, and I decided to really commit to it. I was going to be an active user of Twitter.
But very quickly, I got on the “clout wheel.” I originally started engaging on Twitter to interact with interesting people, but I soon found myself wanting to be one of the interesting people myself. I was tweeting my “takes” and using the thread emoji. What started as a dabbling interest had begun to consume a significant part of my life. I deleted the Twitter app to try and break free, but I eventually just bookmarked the site on my mobile browser. I would neurotically refresh the page to see what new tweets there were to respond to. If I could respond to someone within the first few minutes, I knew I could get more impressions. I also stayed on top of tweeting frequently. To grow your account, you need to be tweeting at least every day and probably more. This is what all the Twitter growth gurus were saying. If you want to be successful on Twitter, you’ve got to be a native citizen.
But what does it mean to be successful on Twitter? Some people have managed to build quite profitable companies off the back of their Twitter following, but that’s not “Twitter success.” That strategy also presupposes you have something of value to offer your followers, which, if you’re obsessed with “Twitter success,” you probably don’t. In the end, most people end up wanting Twitter success for Twitter’s sake. There’s no real world value. Such success only drives you deeper into a virtual reality that lets you hide from the real world and its real problems. In truth, the “Metaverse” isn’t a new idea, it’s just a more immersive implementation of an already exising virtual world.
The whole thing is like a ship-eating whirlpool. It starts out small, and you think, “Oh, I can handle this. I can manage myself.” Soon enough, however, you find yourself in a violent death spiral, plummeting to the bottom of the ocean. Some people, most people, never get out of this spiral. They just live most of their lives underwater. Despair and “addiction” simply become part of their existence. Another subsection of people is crushed by the pressure. Some make an offcolor comment and get “canceled” (if that’s even really a thing). Some let the water they swim in poison them, and they become truly awful people. They become predators, ready to devour anyone who gives them the opportunity.
Upon self-reflection, I’m totally aware that I could be either of those people. I could easily be permanently buried by the virtual world, or, even worse, I could become a truly evil person.
This is what I mean when I call social media a “common evil.” Anyone who is made a better by their social media interactions are made better in spite of the venue, not because of it. These platforms are not designed to perfect us, but to kill us. Common goods enable us to meet the relational obligations we have to one another as humans. Common evils subtly work against these obligations. Where common goods drive humanity to fulfill his potency and move toward perfection, common evils like social media necessarily dehumanize us.
For example, a central “benefit” of social media is the ability to communicate in a way that transcends space and time. Now, of course, the communication is actually happening within space-time, but it doesn’t feel that way. In a word, it feels as if we’re gods. But God is pure Spirit, and we are not. Human nature has both a spiritual principle and a material principle. Our uniquely rational souls are able to exist independently of their material principle and cause, but to exist in this state is to be, by definition, less human.
Matter functions as the limiting principle. My matter is what makes me myself. To steal that from me is to steal my humanity. What is “Big Tech” doing if not stealing? They take your data and your identity and store up in their servers. On some level, they have a highly refined and accurate picture of who each of us is. But they also have no sense of who any of us is. We are all absorbed and de-individuated in a bizzare phsyical instantiation of the Stoic Logos, i.e., the server room. In the server room, we’re all equal, but we’re also no longer us. This is the place most people live, in the server room. It’s the place where they are most violated and exposed, and every detail of their lives is ruthlessly scrutinized. (There are no secrets in the server room, of course.) But it’s also the place where they matter the least. No one cares about you in the server room. The relationships are superficial, and everyone’s only there to leech off a little bit of your lifeforce back into the Logos.
“But,” you think, “I’m on your website right now. How is that any different?”
In short, it’s the difference between self-assurance and self-doubt.
Having social media accounts is like hanging out in the corner at a party and waiting for your crush to notice you. You post your pictures and tweet your tweets all in the hopes that somebody important might let you have one like. These platforms become rooms full of awkward people. Maybe one percent of the people there are Jake Paul types, but the other ninety-nine are lurkers whispering to themselves. They’re the kind of people that try to say something at the meeting only to get drowned out by the loud guy from sales. Now, I know it feels bad to be that kind of person, but that kind of person would rather feel bad about not being noticed than feel bad being actively rejected.
A personal website puts you squarely into rejection territory. For example, I have a small private website with family pictures and updates, basically the kind of stuff people put on Facebook. It’s also got an RSS feed that people can subscribe to. As you might imagine, there are a lot less people looking at my family Christmas picures as a result, but the people who are looking at them actually want to see them. Your high school classmates that you barely remember would be appalled if you sent them an email with pictures of your kids. There’s something inherently intrusive about placing yourself in someone’s email inbox, but it’s the kind of intrusiveness your grandma wants from you. The people who get emails when I push an RSS update want me to be in their lives because we have a mutual relationship; whereas, I’ve only ever had a one-way relationship with the Facebook exclusive people (i.e., they only want something from me, not for me).
The point is this: it’s possible to be both online and human, but it requires effort and consideration. You can’t jump in on whatever the latest thing is. You absolutely must be thoughtful about what you’re doing. Is this online thing going to perfect me or kill me? Is your online engagement helping you to grow? Are you learning new and valuable skills? Are you thinking more clearly? Are your relationships improving? These are the questions you should ask. And under no circumstances are you to cave to the temptation of social media; don’t even dip your toes in it.