The Very Alternative Guide to Quitting Social Media

Popzazzle | Thursday, 3 December 2020 |

If the easiest way to quit is to destroy the desire, here comes the sledgehammer...

Photo by Yan on Pexels (image modified).

It's always the same. When people become disillusioned with a social networking platform, they start looking at alternative social networks. Gripes with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have driven a huge rise in alt social memberships, resulting in accelerated sign-ups to the likes of MeWe and Parler.

Further disgruntlement has pushed an increasing volume of people towards the Fediverse, which incorporates alternatives to Twitter (Mastodon / diaspora* / Pleroma), Facebook (Friendica), and Instagram (Pixelfed). And whilst it would be ridiculous to compare these modestly-inhabited backwaters with the bustle of the major platforms, they do show just how heavily we've been brainwashed into believing we have to use some form of social media. We will accept worse and worse deals, just to avoid dropping out of the social networking sphere altogether...

In the Fediverse, for instance, we're sometimes talking about places so limited in reach that even the trending posts get just 2 or 3 Likes. And whilst MeWe and Parler are obviously a lot bigger than that, they still come with built-in oppressions. MeWe is a totally closed platform which forcibly hides members' content from non-members in a bid to increase sign-ups. And despite its claims of a privacy focus, it records and monitors user behaviour. Parler, meanwhile, entitles itself to a phone number from every member at sign-up. Privacy straight out of the window, before you've even created an account.

These platforms claim to have a different attitude from Facebook and Twitter, but they really don't have a different attitude at all. Their core ethos is the same: be as controlling as you think you can get away with being at any given time. Be aware that virtually all social platforms calculatedly shame or humiliate their own users as a means to drive "invitations" and activity. And all clearnet platforms will censor content they don't approve of, or which endangers their growth, whatever they claim about "free speech".

The only reason the alternative platforms are currently considered less controlling than Facebook is that they currently have less status. Give them Facebook's status and you will see exactly the same level of control-freakery. Very possibly more.

In fact, if you look at MeWe's privacy policy archive, you'll see that between the 2018 and the 2019 policies, there have been changes for the worse.

The 2018 statement: “We don’t share your content and we don’t spy on you or your content.

Became in the current policy: “We don’t share your content with marketers.

Not quite so reassuring now, is it? And the reason for the change is that they do now spy on you and your content - and share their findings with the "Internet Police". Here's a section not present in the 2018 policy, which appeared in 2019...
“We may share and match your information against databases or with third parties bound by confidentiality who specialize in identifying trolls, bots, scammers, spammers, fake accounts, stalkers, or illegal activity. We may also use pattern tracking to identify and remove disruptive elements such as trolls, bots, scammers, spammers, fake accounts, stalkers, etc.”
The thing is, you can't just spy on trolls and spammers. In order to identify trolls and spammers in the first place you have to spy on everyone. More fundamentally, this is a privacy policy on the move. And it's not heading away from spying - it's heading towards spying. MeWe has actually monitored users from the start, but it newly admitted to collecting the monitored data from the 2019 policy...
“We collect your log data, usage activity, email, phone number, cookie data, and device/network information”
And that's a network specifically trading on a privacy ticket. So don't ever imagine that these centralised tech companies are going to make one promise and stick to it. The bigger they get, the more intrusive and controlling they get.

The really interesting psychological aspect to all this is that despite alternative platforms in key ways being worse options than the big fish, people still use them. People are essentially saying:
“I don't like Facebook or Twitter, so I'm going to use a technically inferior copy, which has lower reach, and is less publicly accountable, and already demonstrates that it has the same controlling mentality. In short, I'm going to use an alternative which is, in the most important respects, worse.”
Why are those people not instead saying:
“If I selected the best social media platform for my needs, and it didn't serve those needs, the obvious solution is not to go to the next best, but to QUIT SOCIAL MEDIA”?


Although the current focus of scorn on social media is its increasing obsession with dictating what people can and can't say, what they can and can't read, and even who they can and can't trust, that's only a minor gripe compared with the more fundamental issues. And the fundamentals apply to all platforms - not just the mainstreamers.

Social media's number one problem is that for 99% of users, it does not do what it says on the tin. It's not social. And if you try to use it as a publishing medium - as so many people now do - it has an absolutely terrible labour vs reward economy. Social media is a digital treadmill, which means you have to run just to stand still. The second you stop “running” - shouting for attention on a daily basis - you stop existing. And it is deliberately set up that way.

That's why social networking platforms are all the same. All built around a chronological timeline or “news feed”, that buries everything after a very short shelf-life. For the vast majority of publishers, using social media is not an investment. You're not running to build a nest egg for the future. You're running only to stop yourself from falling backwards into oblivion.

There has to be a better option, surely?...

Traditional-style forums also suffer from this problem, although the required labour investment is not as heavy, because you at least have a ready made audience to address. On social media you don't. Unless you import your own audience (which is what the 'social' platforms really want), or invest in the laborious process of building one from scratch, or message people on an individual basis, on most social networks you're basically posting into a giant waste bin. As I mentioned in Attention Span Zero, the search functions on some social networks don't even work. So once you've been swamped off the chronological timeline, you're well and truly gone.

In that sense the traditional forum is better. It sorts posts on relevance, keeps them visible for longer, and often gets them indexed by search engines.

But trad forums rarely let members delete posts in the way social platforms do. And that's been one of social media's defining advantages. Although pervasive advertising has profoundly interfered with this of late, social media does, to a large extent, allow users to own and control their space. Trad forums don't. Trad forums normally own the content you post on them, which means they control your posts, and are not required to delete them when you do something embarrassing.

Why forums never gave members the same control as social media I honestly don't have a clue. The idea that everything you post is there forever, whether you like it or not, is so offputting that for masses of people it clearly served as a dealbreaker in the choice between forums and social networks. It was, in my view, one of the main reasons forum memberships collapsed upon the mainstream adoption of social media.

But the reality is that neither social media nor forums are good ways for people to socialise online. In fact people on social media are rarely even socialising. What many see as social interaction, is often in truth just someone else's “community management”. In other words, people seeking social interaction are being used as a pawn in a third party's commercial interest. As in:
“Hey, come and tell me/us what you think about this subject...”
They don't care what you think. They just want to climb a ladder, and the currency of ladder-climbing on social media is public engagement. You haven't made a friend. You're being “community managed” into making some wannabe influencer look popular. And these days, it would seem, about nine out of ten people on social media are wannabe influencers.


So if the solution is not alternative social media, and it's not forums, what is it? That depends on what you're looking for.

If your goal is to publish - to reach a large number of people with your ideas or content - the most economical solution is blogging or vlogging. Blogging might seem pretty outdated in the 2020s, but courtesy of search engine referrals, a good blog still allows you to reach a well targeted audience on an ongoing basis. To the point where something you wrote ten years ago is still drawing in lots of daily views today. Even if you're not famous. If you have something genuinely fresh and useful to offer, blogging is a very favourable publishing economy.

True, it takes work to produce really good blog content, and you need to learn the basics of SEO. That's Search Engine Optimisation. But unlike social media, it's an investment that can pay back in the long term.

If your goal is instead to connect with people and make friends, it gets more complicated. The problem with the Internet is that it's removed the traditional geographical and status-governed boundaries which used to promote relationship loyalty between friends by restricting them only to limited and realistic options. And social media has simultaneously set bait, which promises, yet consistently fails to deliver, a much more enticing status of friend. Perhaps a celebrity. Perhaps an influencer. Perhaps a well-off "philanthropist". Perhaps a band. Perhaps a spectacularly good-looking selfie-producer.

Online, there's simply too much choice for people to settle on the idea of having one or two good friends. As soon as they begin a chat with a fellow web-user, along comes a celebrity, or a news story, or someone who looks pretty flash and is on their way up the social ladder, and that chat stops. It comes down to the attention-span issue. Web 2.0 exists in a state of permanent distraction.

And even if you have the sense to realise that celebrities, influencers, selfie-publishers and flash-harries don't need the Internet to make friends (and therefore will not make friends on the Internet), other people don't realise that. Other people will chase those more enticing friendships, whether or not they're attainable. Which means that every time you initiate a chat with those other people, it's going to last a few minutes max, and then they're going to be distracted by the lure of an association with someone else.

This is broadly why, on social media, virtually no one makes what us Gen-Xers would describe as “real friendships”. Social protocols have shifted away from longstanding, in-depth communication with real laughs, real emotional nourishment, real reliability and real concern for each other's wellbeing. Until today, when we find ourselves in the age of the eternally-interruptable micro-interaction. And the biggest problem is not that these micro-interactions cannot remotely achieve the fulfilment that a real friendship would - it's that people are conditioned to believe that they can. When they don't - and they won't - we start to see psychological consequences.


On social media, people's brains are constantly assessing priority. Deciding who or what is most worthy of their attention at any given time. And simultaneously they're playing that off against the prospect of themselves getting attention. Not from one person or a small group, but from a crowd. It's about ego, and the outcome is permanently fluid. In fact, most people who use social media have so little interest in true social interaction, that for the social networks currently on new release or in development, friendship is not enough.

It's true. Try to find one new social network whose calling card is “come and socialise”. It might take quite a while. You'll find social networks that offer to pay you. Social networks based around polls. Social networks for business contacts. Social networks for publishers. Social networks for brand exposure. Social networks for this demographic with plenty of disposable income. Social networks for that demographic with plenty of disposable income...

And social networks for people who actually just want to socialise? If they exist at all, they're in an extreme minority.

So why can't social networks just be about socialising anymore? The answer is that the average social media user doesn't care about socialising. They know where their real friends are: offline. And online, they care about volume-maximising the amount of attention they can get. They care about their career. They care about materialism and consumerism. They care about their ego. And if, as a social network, you can't draft them in on any of those premises, you're basically going to have to wave the prospect of earning crypto in their faces. Just saying “come and make friends” DOES, NOT, WORK.

So if you're someone who wants to find friends online, it's vital to be aware of the above. To understand why it can be so difficult. It's not because you're a failure. It's not because you approached someone with the wrong line. It's not because of politics. It's not because “men are like this”. It's not because “women are like that”. It's just because social media is no longer about making friends, and it hasn't been for a very long time.

We should be calling it news media, or promotional media, or campaigning media, because it really now has so little to do with true social interaction that "social media" is a totally misleading term.


Internet logic dictates that the best way to find friends, if you're not doing so already, is to move to a place with more people. But we've already seen why that doesn't work. More people means more distraction, and more distraction means shorter attention-spans. Which means severed, micro-interactions that do not fulfil anyone's need for friendship.

So if you're looking to establish longer interactions, you should in fact be aiming to scale down the size of the environment back into line with local, geographical and status constraints. Because it's the infinite choice that is catching the attention of your potential online friends, and diverting it elsewhere.

That means getting away from huge platforms and moving onto a much more localised plane. Not necessarily localised geographically. Just localised in terms of reach. Whereas small networks within the Fediverse are near useless for ambitious publishers, they can actually be an improvement on the likes of Twitter and Facebook when it comes to making friends. Much smaller communities, with no celebrities or influencers, and fewer distractions. In my view the social media format is itself an inhibitor of real social interaction, but smaller is better.

And for me, email has been better still. Since I've been writing online, I've actually found email to be a lot more genuinely social than social media or forums. If you have a blog with a contact form, and your posts become visible on the search engines, people who share your interests will start to contact you. And very often they'll be people who don't use social media. Without the distraction of social media's never-ending bombardment, these email exchanges can become much more reminiscent of an offline friendship, and can even move offline on occasion.

Although getting a blog well established takes a lot of time and work, the time is much better invested in that than in headbutting the proverbial brick wall of social media. Why not give it a go? Learn about search engine optimisation and give yourself an independent presence online? It provides a focus to replace habitual social media use, while creating a much healthier potential for long term reward. That applies whether you want to promote a message, sell products, or just make better connections.

There is only ever one truly effective way to quit something. And that is to become 100% convinced that there is no point whatsoever in using it. Hopefully, this post has illustrated that social media is not an effective means either to socialise or to publish, and that you can't evade that reality by switching to a different social platform.

If you believe that, you are now closer to quitting social media than you ever would have been through merely deleting an app or blocking the notifications. I actually wouldn't recommend cutting social media off dead. Moderate your use to begin with, and after a week, come back and read this article again. Then moderate your use a little more, and come back after a month. As you steadily convince yourself that social media conforms precisely to the picture painted by this article, you'll lose the desire to use it. Then the spell is broken. Then you're free.
Bob Leggitt
Post author Bob Leggitt is a print-published writer and digital image creator, multi-instrumentalist, twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, web page designer and software developer.
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