Influence, Follow, or Ghost

Several years ago I chose to leave social media behind because it made me think too much while drowning away hours and days that could have been more productive. Like everyone else I became a sociologist studying my life and comparing it to others who seemingly had it better on some days, and worse on other days. Fear of missing out (FOMO) became a worldwide contagion.

The initial goal was to connect and share. Then it became a game; to outshine others, promote others, or simply watch others so long as an endorphin high could be achieved by staring at devices. The app owners would salivate over the user data given to them at no cost. The producers, self-promoters, and corporate marketers amongst the user population have successfully eked out livelihoods, and in many cases, achieved fame & fortune. The founders of social media tools ended up at the top of the pyramid. Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Reid Hoffman, and Zhang Yiming have left their mark. Elon Musk is now in the ring.

I left what was then known as Facebook. I started and never attempted to scale my Twitter account. Never began Instagram. I ignored TikTok and have fallen behind in a world addicted to it (link). I kept my LinkedIn account active to continue my work, sustaining livelihoods that include my family. Lately, I thought of hibernating my LinkedIn account but realized that I would punish myself by removing a primary identifier of my authenticity on the World Wide Web, apart from this obscure blog. I joined LinkedIn almost 20 years ago. It became my humble if not extensive professional biography. Getting rid of my LinkedIn account would rid my ability to make a living. I don’t plan to join Mark Zuckerberg’s alternate Metaverse. Nor do I plan to join Elon Musk’s pay-to-play Twitter.

The world awards social media influencers. Elon Musk knows that as a producer. It takes enormous effort (with some provocation) to move up the pyramid. The world also rewards followers because they are the consumers who help themselves and others with good ideas from influencers. The jury is out on the ghosts, the ‘so-called’ bots, and the silent conspirators who counterbalance a world controlled by influencers and followers. There are crazy trolls out there but likely not as many as the founders of social media companies would like you to believe. This is not a people or technology problem. It’s a governance problem. Twitter was made wholly sane because of the large employee pool dedicated to content moderation. Now, most of them are gone. The grownups left the room.

Capitalism created social media. The assumption is that everyone will embrace the benefits and avoid the pitfalls that come with these tools. Government should regulate the tools better. While I don’t abscond to this new virtual way of life, I completely understand why those who are neither influencers nor followers see inequity and totalitarianism.

Many are seeking alternate forms of reality at the expense of their mental health. Back in the 1980s governments discouraged people from smoking cigarettes every day. In the 1990s alcohol came with warning labels. Too much smoking and alcohol have proven to cause cancer.

Likewise, too much social media is rewiring our brains. It’s on the verge of creating societal chaos. Governments are starting to see the racket behind social media. Guardrails are needed to prevent these addictive tools from destroying freedom and democracy as we know it. For now, social media will continue until it becomes vapid and something else comes along to replace the human experience.

I don’t plan to re-enter social media to feed corporate monopolization, misinformation, and individual narcissism at the expense of my mental health and privacy. I understand how inextricable it’s become if your livelihood is tied to it. I just don’t need it for now. My preference is to ghost invitations to rejoin.

I’m open to new social media tools that are less exploitative and invasive. For now, LinkedIn suffices. 😆