Why I turned away from social networks

jaron lanier

Jaron Lanier: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. ISBN 978-1-847-92539 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I left Twitter today. Time will tell for how long. The business model behind it will have to change radically before I become an active user again. I logged out and I deleted the app on my smart phone. I did the right thing. I heeded Jaron Lanier’s advice because the ten arguments he exposes in his most recent book all make very much sense to me. Being part of a planetary wide scheme to manipulate people’s behaviour – because this is what social networks like Twitter or Facebook and the behemoth called “Google” do – was not part of the deal as I understood it. I was naive and Lanier opened my eyes. I am very grateful for that.

So what about these arguments? Social networks made an addict of me. We all long for social recognition, don’t we? Social networks bet on this psychological weakness and offer us easy rewards. We post a cute picture, a witty idea, a cool video – and we get “likes”. Such an easy reward. And we feel good since we “like” other people’s stuff too. The trouble is – it’s all fake. We do not know most of our followers, they could be real, they could be bots, and still we attach a lot of emotions to those “likes”. And to our ever-growing number of followers. Both taken together make us change our behaviour. We spend more and more time on social networks which is precisely what the algorithms in charge want us to do. Because they want to show us advertisement.

Profiling on a global scale

Finely tuned advertisement that fits our profile, a profile defined by all that we share on social networks and aggregated with millions of other similar profiles. The profile defines what we see on social networks. It’s not us who define it. We have little say in that. Furthermore, according to Lanier, living on social networks – often anonymously – stimulates us to behave badly, to lose our natural inhibition. Negativism attracts people – good news is no news – and makes them stay on social networks. Glee and social pressure are the keywords here: We are more easily tempted to howl with the wolf pack and engage in collective misbehaviour. The algorithms behind social networks encourage us to do so. Free will? Forget it. We are being manipulated. Welcome to the bubble that traps us for life.

“See what’s happening in the world right now!” That’s how one of these networks tries to lure new subscribers. To see what’s happening in the world I read newspapers instead. I read two paper editions and several foreign online editions every day. I can pick the piece I want to read while social networks show me what it’s algorithms thinks I may want to read. That’s not the same. Or it shows me what it wants me to read because somebody paid for my profile data and has a custom-tailored message for me. No, thank you. It opens the door to fake news, distorted news, hate speech and political propaganda on an unseen scale.

Less empathy, less happiness

Lanier comes up with many more arguments: Social networks destroy the context of what people say – a source for misunderstandings and manipulation – and lower our capacity for empathy. It makes us unhappy – addictions always do. Social networks make rational politics difficult as Brexit and the US election have shown and – worst of all – they try to supplant our individual spiritual landmarks by their own, exclusively economic values, geared towards making a few people – the operators of the networks and their advertisement customers – rich. Do I want to be part of such a scheme? No, I don’t.

It took a while until I reached that conclusion. I had made a short stint to Facebook and was horrified by the meaningless stuff I read there. Twitter at least limited the trash to 140 characters at the time. My Twitter presence started in December 2014 and had two objectives: First, to engage with people interested in books and music. It rarely happened, and when it happened we quickly switched to emails and letters. Yes, letters. Very old school. Second, to promote my two blogs. Initially that worked to some degree, but once the number of my followers stagnated, Twitter became useless. Visitor numbers grew, but not because of Twitter.

A real life with real emotions

Something had been brewing there. I have been unhappy with the time I devoted to Twitter for a long time. I realized how stupid it is to look with anticipation at the numbers of followers and “likes” and retweets. Looking at the happy face of my child when we do a barbecue and hearing the cat purring on my lap is much more satisfactory. True love! It can’t be found on social networks. Real life matters. Virtual life is at best a delusion, at worst a blatant lie. The business model behind social networks is a perversion of human interaction.

The only reason I do not delete my Twitter account yet is the fact that it has 289 followers of which some might like to be informed when a new post will be published on this blog or on my music blog. But I won’t monitor the account, I won’t like, won’t comment, won’t retweet. If you decide to unfollow me, that’s okay. If you decide to leave social networks, and wish to stay in touch nevertheless –  I use the Swiss messaging service Threema; my ID is S2NMB3F4. It comes with an initial investment of 2.5 Euro and it uses end-to-end encryption like WhatsApp. Contrary to WhatsApp it does not ask for your phone number. It works without US servers prone to legal and illegal snooping, it stores no content on its servers and its operation is governed by Swiss data protection laws. Signal is the free US alternative with all the drawbacks free apps have.

Social networks as they are set up right now are a threat to individual self-determination and as such a threat to a democratic society. Freedom is a value I cherish. Some fight for it with weapons, others with music. Here is a delightful piece of music about the battle for liberty, Ludwig van Beethoven’s incidental music “Egmont”, Op. 84:

Liberty, sacrifice and charming madness

P. S. A much better review on Lanier’s book was published by The Guardian, a really good newspaper by the way, which I try to read every day.