I recently purged nearly a decade's worth of tweets on my Twitter account last month, going from over 51,000 posts to around 1,500. There's been a lot of talk about this sort of thing around the internet, in the wake of alt-right trolls tanking the careers of movie directors or attempting to do so to former colleagues. I'm certain that in the ten or so years I've been on Twitter, I've never really tweeted anything controversial, but if there's any one lesson out of some of these instances, it's that there's a lot that can be taken out of context and warped in ways that are unpleasant.
This comes at a time when I've been really thinking about the uses of social media and been thinking about how I approach talking on the internet. Last year, I interviewed horror author Joe Hill, and the topic of Twitter and social media came up, which provided some real revelations for me, particularly in how he notes that sites like Twitter and Facebook can really isolate people and bring out their worst behaviors. As social creatures, we're really not well suited to working in really large communities. In smaller structures, we can easily self-regulate our behavior: someone who steps out of line will get attached with a considerable social stigma, whereas when they're able to network and pool their personalities together, that job gets harder — a job that companies like Twitter, Facebook, and others have completely ignored. Angry people is good business: it helps with engagement when you can rile yourself up in your own little echo chamber.
The actions of various companies over the last year have really only reinforced this perception for me. Bad behavior that is really, truly detrimental just doesn't have consequences attached to it. It's weird, because when I was a teenager exploring the internet, the forums I belonged to were typically moderated. Bad behavior would earn you a time-out or a ban. The new wave of companies that followed prized growth over healthy communities, and now we're in today.
Facebook reminds me that I've been on the platform since 2006: I remember the hype around it when I first joined: an exclusive, college-only social network that wasn't as ugly as MySpace. Looking back on those early days, I cringe as the types of things that I was posting. There are conversations, complaints, and memories that would have otherwise faded with time, preserved in silicone and electrons. As a historian, that long tail of thoughts is really cool, because I can go back and mine that past for contemporary thoughts on ... whatever it was I was vaguebooking about. But it's not healthy to dwell over, or to have hanging over one's head, especially when there's the threat that it can be weaponized against you.
This never really seemed to be a problem with blogs: Facebook and Twitter are great for dashing off thoughts that might have otherwise been deleted in a longer blog post, and the various services out there have tools to reward such impulsive thoughts, with Like buttons, favestars, and commenting sections. It's hard to ignore the rush that a bunch of notifications brings!
But chasing the endorphin high that those reactions bring just isn't healthy in the long run, and they should be treated like the short-term missives that they are: available for a short while, then thrust out of mind. I've found myself being more thoughtful about what I post to Facebook and Twitter. I've gotten tired of the inane and continual outraged grind when it comes to politics and culture, the people shouting into the voice because it feels like it's better than doing nothing. I've muted vast chunks of my friends list on Facebook, and consider who I follow on Twitter. Social Media is a firehoses of information, and we provide a conduit straight into our brains. Cutting out the aggressive connections with no interest in anything other than mindless anger is a huge relief — not because it provides me with a nice, safe echo-chamber, but because pulling out the loudest voices gives more space to those who are measured and thoughtful. In theory. I'm still muting and hiding people, but it's at least manageable.
I've often said that if I didn't need Facebook or Twitter for work, I probably wouldn't have them. I don't know how true that actually is, because I like what these services provide: connections to people I know (even if I don't necessarily want to see what they have to say all the time). It removes some of the cost of staying in touch, which is a valuable thing. But I'd like to keep drawing back on my reliance of them, going instead to longer-form blogging and online journals that I came of age with.