Social media is dead to me
Platforms that started off with the promise of genuine change have broken, and we need to evaluate our need to be on them.
It has been a couple of years since I last saw what my friends were up to on Facebook. I lost interest after a point because it had started to seem as if they were constantly doing things I wasn't. Some were checking into fancy restaurants with startling regularity; others seemed to be permanently on holiday; and I couldn't keep up with having to 'like' their posts all the time, especially when I was doing the liking from behind a desk at work.
Thousands of people have deleted their accounts since, not all of them for the same reasons that drove me away. There have now been all kinds of seamy stories about what happens behind the scenes at Facebook.
There have been reports of the theft and misuse of data, for instance, coupled with the manipulation that comes into play with targeted advertising. There have been serious accusations of the social media giant's uncontrolled flow of propaganda that has had serious repercussions on elections and the democratic process in countries around the world.
I may have quit Facebook because the photographs of babies and cats started to push me over the edge but, two years since that decision, I'm glad I deactivated when I did.
There have been other platforms that have since lost their sheen, pushing users away faster than they once attracted them. I deleted and uninstalled Instagram, Snapchat, and eventually Twitter, because everything they promised to change was ignored. What made it worse was how each of them was hijacked by groups bent on flooding all online networks with hate, often paid by governments to do so because divided communities have always been easier to rule.
No one likes warnings, especially if they involve things that give us pleasure, however fleeting. A little over a year ago, the UK's Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement published a worrying report on the impact of social media platforms on mental health. It found some positive factors, of course, because it's hard to deny the possibilities of anything involving millions of people using something at the same time.
Awareness, understanding, and the opportunities for self-expression were all cited, but so was the Fear Of Missing Out that prompted depression and anxiety, exacerbated loneliness, affected sleep patterns and body image.
By the time I uninstalled Twitter, I had been pushed into it by a series of temporary suspensions, all triggered by concerted efforts to kill dissent. The platform's policies would have been laughable if they weren't so deeply troubling, and you are urged to seek out any outspoken woman in India for proof.
This is a platform that has no problem when women are threatened with rape, which happens more often than you think in a country where sexual repression and a culture of misogyny have long worked together to create a toxic cocktail. Threats of violence are okay too, and tweets that incite murder are often gently rebuked.
It says a lot when scientists the world over start to spend more and more time trying to figure out how to rid social media platforms of hate speech.
A couple of months ago, the journal Nature published a paper by a professor of physics titled 'Hidden resilience and adaptive dynamics of the global online hate ecology,' on how banning hate groups doesn't necessarily stop them. It advocated a four-step approach that took into account the resilience and global interconnectedness of these hate clusters, but whether the approach will accomplish what it aims to is anyone's guess.
Social media platforms and their algorithms operate in secrecy, which makes it impossible to evaluate whether any of these measures can or ever will work.
Some believe quitting is not the solution, because it enables those who hijack these platforms to operate with even more impunity. I have found myself in a calmer state since I logged off though, not because I actively engaged with so much of the content that crossed my timelines, but because I simply wasn't bombarded with information, be it personal or political.
As time goes by, I fear the notion of missing out less. I don't want to miss the things that matter; and I increasingly believe these things are in my immediate vicinity, involving family and friends who interact with me offline.
What happens online may be great, but I am no longer as interested as I once used to be. If this means I am simply getting old, I can live with that.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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