Sunday, April 01, 2018

My social media fast - Twitter is toxic, Facebook is sinister, but I'm not quitting

Being off social media during Lent has definitely given me time and space for the reflections I intended. I hope I've made much better connections with true friends, prioritised what is truly important and discarded what is trivial and makes me unhappy.

That it's not the be all and end all is obvious. But it's all made me realise its inherent benefits as well as the obvious downsides. Some to do with system design, others to do with human behaviour.

I'll start with Facebook first. A really good friend who works in law enforcement describes it as the devil. It seeps into lives and corrodes from within. When in the wrong hands it is a tool for great evil. It has also been deliberately designed as a mind control tool, as we found out recently with the Cambridge Analytica revelations. But that's also because it makes us lazy. We rely on it too much to tell us who to be friends with, whose posts to follow, what to like and comment on. If it doesn't happen on Facebook it hasn't happened. So it makes you disconnected from the daily lives and concerns of people you care about, but have view of their lives seen only through this very distorted lens.

On the upside, I quite like seeing my Mum's posts about cats. I actually think it's a perfect tool for organising close groups of connected people - like in my fitness classes. I also appreciate it as a conduit for family news and sharing stories from friends abroad, who it has been harder to stay in touch with over the last few weeks. I used to be strict about Facebook friending, then I stood in an election. I started taking all kinds, but I think I'm going to tidy up and make it about real friends, old friends, friends abroad and family. And no politics.

As if to prove the point, the first post I've just seen on Facebook is a delightful post by my brother-in-law Dave Tinkler in the Lancaster Past and Present group, of a newspaper clipping of his Dad (RIP) when he was on his National Service.

The platform I've missed the least as a sucker up of time and energy levels has been Twitter. I used to love Twitter for its serendipity. I'd smugly boast that Twitter amazed me with wisdom from people I don't know, while Facebook would appall me because of people I did. I now think pretty much the opposite. People have got a bit more used to Facebook, but have got massively self-important and shouty on Twitter. I say most people, I noticed a while ago how much the algorithims were shaping your timeline now that I follow so many people. It's meant to be helpful, a filtering, but it just keeps pushing more and more angry Corbynistas, Centrist Dads, antisemites and Mancunian boosterists. The politics of the loudmouth has ruined it. You are required to work hard at your followers and timeline, which seems like further demands on time I don't want to give up.

However, Twitter is a decent platform for being part of an emerging trending news event. It's also a powerful tool for driving traffic to a website and for sharing content. I've done the odd blog on a Sunday through Lent and the page views are right down. Being able to tag people, target the marketing and share stories from events I've been involved in has always been really useful. Not utilising it would be a folly. But again, it requires time and effort to make it focused and useful.

I've just had a look at what's been going on, and I've rightly missed a few chances to punt my own events and debates and support colleagues who were speaking. I've not replied to comments about blogs, either about football or political things, but also local Marple matters. I've dropped about 12 followers.

Finally, I had one person, just one, ask me at an event why I'd been so quiet on LinkedIn lately. I've just looked and I've had 92 requests to do the linking in thing. Six from people I work with at Manchester Met, a smattering of old contacts in business, and hardly any with a personal message. It really showed up the paucity of relevance of LinkedIn. It also reminded how much more important it is to actually go out and meet people.

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