Settling My Social Media Dilemma

As I wrote at the start of the year, all of the ways in which social media—Facebook specifically— has been negatively impacting society on a global scale has really killed my engagement and interest in using the platforms. In the seven months since then, there have only been more reports of Facebook’s mishandling of user information and privacy liabilities, culminating in a $5 billion dollar fine they generate per calendar quarter so laughable that their stock went up after it was announced. With government oversight clearly not in play given the ineptitude and corporate influence rampant in the current administration, it would fall on its users to dole out the punishment via a boycott. However, Facebook is too engrained and diversified to be able to eliminate completely. Though I personally haven’t been using the social networks actively and have kept Facebook off my phone, WhatsApp is still the primary external communications tool at the day job. Even if I could delete all my Facebook-owned accounts, I’m keenly aware that user tracking technologies are so advanced that even browsing the web is feeding them data from me via their partner networks.

It’s a bothersome logical conflict between the idea that you’re losing out without gaining anything if you’re not actively using their services since you’re still providing them data anyway, but if you do use them, you’re opening the valve on the data hose and giving them far more information to mishandle & misuse; Facebook’s now primed to create the facial recognition technology stateside that could be used in nefarious ways as they do in China. And that’s just the concerns over domestic threats to society. Just a few weeks ago, I was alerted by a friend of an account that had uploaded my photos with their original captions, triggering a mention notification on their end. Who knows what we’re unintentionally providing information, visual data, and/or avatars for, but in an age of digital warfare and foreign election interference, it’s not so easy to just write it off as a “harmless” spam bot like in the early days of the internet.

iPhone screenshot of an Instagram profile with a Russian username using my profile picture and uploaded photos
A (seemingly) Russian account harvesting my photos

I’ve spent all of this year letting two perspectives battle it out: a rationalist mindset that accepts that change takes time and that there are, or the informed idealist that expects nothing good to come from either big business or government and opts out entirely. It feels irresponsible and unpatriotic to idle by and do nothing, and with the situation looking so bleak by way of solutions, evaluated against both the things I know objectively and my personal ideals, it feels like the best option would be indeed to follow the suggestions of Facebook’s former founders/leads and delete my own accounts. Keeping them open and using them whenever I rarely do makes me feel like a hypocrite, but conversely, one man deleting his accounts isn’t going to make a ripple, considering they’ve already been in a pretty much abandoned state. Then there’s the bigger picture to consider, that many of the problems with Facebook’s operations also apply to a majority of other tech firms, big & small. As a digital worker in today’s world, being able to tap into those networks is virtually required. Like it or not, that is where the public conversation happens.

I’ve known for a while know that I’ve settled, reluctantly, on the side of continuing to use social networking services, and hoping that eventually—sooner rather than later—government gets it together and finds a way to properly oversee & regulate these modern services. It’s just that despite the resulting consequence of not being up to date with what’s going on with many of my peers, not being actively engaged in social media has been so nice. A lot of time and mental bandwidth gets used processing a constant flow of information that largely can’t be acted on, and having reclaimed that for myself this past few months has been so enjoyable I haven’t been in a rush to give it up again. But as it’s said, all good things…


The Sting of BTrayal

So, the post title is a little on the melodramatic side, but some word plays can’t be resisted…
This past weekend, I was reading through the Twitter stream and realized that it’d been a good while since I’d seen a tweet from BT’s account. I found myself wondering if he’d given up on Twitter, since BT also happens to be the name of telecom provider in the UK, and due to the shared name, he frequently receives complaint tweets from UK Twitter users. I tapped over to his profile in my Twitter client and saw that my account was shown as not following his. I was a little perplexed, since I didn’t recall ever unfollowing him, and pushed on the button to resubscribe to his feed. That’s when I learned that I’d been blocked.
I was a little incredulous, and in a spout of denial, considered it may have just been errant behavior by my phone’s Twitter client. I fired up a web browser and navigated to his page, only to have my finding confirmed:
BT Blocked Twitter Account
At this point, I found myself dealing with two distinct reactions. The first was anxious wonder, trying to think of what could have possibly led to this. Maybe I’d been blowing up his notifications with constant tweets? A quick Twitter search ruled that one out. Perhaps something I’d said? Re-reading the content of the tweets in that search result, I saw nothing but my usual praise and support for the man & his work. And as I was running through the possibilities in my mind, the second reaction started to really take hold: frustration with myself, a freshly-turned-30 year-old man giving something as trivial as social media more importance that it should receive.
The thing is, it really did matter to me that much. Over the years, my passion for music has waned considerably. Where my teenage self had so many musicians and bands that I felt so passionately about, BT was one of the handful of artists whose output still managed to illicit a strong and legitimate engagement from me. So much that instead of just streaming, I actually bought his music:

As much utter disdain as I have for Los Angeles, I once happily made the trip out to catch one of his shows and waited until 2:30 AM for his set to start:

And while I don’t have a hard calculated statistic, I would guess that 1 out of every 10 tweets would get engagement from him via either reply or being favorited (which as of recent is now a Twitter “like”).
IMG_1124-2 IMG_0525-2
(I used to screen cap all of them, but those were the only two I could readily find and seemed sufficient to illustrate my point here.)
Just the other week, I had a friend that I’d turned onto BT’s body of work tell me that he thought A Song Across Wires was pretty much the best album ever, that listening to it consistently made him feel like being out in the desert out with all of his friends and blissfully dancing the night away. He is just one of the many to whom I’ve preached the gospel of BT over the recent years.
So, yeah, it’s “just the Internet”, but those interactions were my own slice of the upside-to-social-media pie, the direct engagement between artist and fan that I passively had with one of the few music artists that I still really cared about. Going from occasional reply/favorite to flat out blocked without any identifiable cause has left me (annoyingly) feeling somewhat like a teenage girl/gay wondering why the guy hasn’t called/isn’t returning texts.

Substitute “Friendship” with “Support” and this meme feels pretty on point.

Buuuuuutttt…all that said, my adult self recognizes that in the pre-mobile internet days I grew up in, this would have never even happened. Maybe it was an unintentional block, maybe he had a reason for it, who knows. Aside from the fact that I do admittedly feel less inclined to promote his work word-of-mouth, it doesn’t change my enjoyment or respect for the man and his work — A Song Across Wires is still easily sits towards the top of the “best albums I’ve ever heard” list.