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Deactivism: The Pleasures of Life without Social Media
Finally, on February 21 (2018), I decided to completely withdraw myself from the two main social media accounts that had kept me busy online for nearly a decade: Twitter and Facebook. My account of leaving these two so-called social network sites is not any more special or deserving of attention than any of the countless others. All I have done is to rejoin the overwhelming majority of humanity which, regardless of all the hype designed to promote social media, remains wholly disengaged and indifferent. Being like any other person in this majority is hardly a special achievement, worthy of a lengthy essay, but I do feel regret for not giving a proper farewell to the nearly 8,000 who subscribed to my Twitter feed, and the nearly 5,000 in Facebook.

The final straw, but not the primary reason, was finding on the last morning that just overnight (precisely, during the night), I had been stripped of dozens of followers (others reported losing many thousands). For three solid months I had seen a mysterious pattern—the exact moment I logged in after a few months’ absence in late 2017, I instantaneously lost 84 followers (and I had not even typed a word). For the months that followed, and for the first time ever, my net gain in followers was consistently negative. Constantly I saw that former followers had been either deleted or suspended, or the total number of accounts they followed was always reduced to zero—they were forced to follow nobody. I also saw a political pattern: the accounts were always those of libertarians and conservative populists, especially Italian, British, and American. On my last day, I investigated further and found that each of the accounts that had been stopped from following me or anyone else, had a statement posted on them by Twitter: “Caution: this account is temporarily restricted”—as if it were some radioactive contaminant. It was reported by many others that a purge was underway in Twitter, focused on anti-liberal accounts, which only added to previous rounds of shadow bans, account deletions, censored trending topics, etc., with similar measures to suppress posts and persons in Facebook. The idea that I was spending time on sites where unseen managers would decide what I was permitted to see or read, was absolutely galling. My continued presence simply validated the censorship, by taking the selfish line that as long as I was not directly and overtly censored (yet), then the system was still acceptable. Why should I? Who made me do it? How many insults can one take?

This moves us to much larger issues, and I would encourage others to both experiment and reflect on their practice. First, I had taken several periods of absence from “social media” (to use that idiotic term)—sometimes an absence would last mere days, other times a couple of weeks, and on three occasions it would last several months. For a few years, I refused to post anything on Sundays or during major holidays: the idea was not to cheapen treasured days of rest and celebration, by being obsessively focused on building content for Twitter and Facebook. What I noticed from each of these absences was how immensely beneficial they were for me: the peace of mind, the increased clarity, the development of new plans, with more time devoted to exercise, relaxation, spending time with those that matter to me, and reading serious work…as in books. As a result, over the last year I deliberately began to scale down my involvement with sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Second, those absences reminded me of all the ways I had grown to resent the intrusion of the Internet as such, the Internet as a whole, remembering how much better things were before 1994, when I first started using the “World Wide Web” (and even then because a professor at SUNY-Binghamton forced me: to compel us to get email accounts, he decided grades would only be communicated to us via email). I did not own my first computer until the late 1990s. I have thought of the millions of jobs lost thanks to the Internet, and the way that daily social interactions had been perversely altered. Displacement and dispossession of economies and geographies is the ongoing gift of the Internet.

Gathering information was once a fully social and even multi-sensory experience. Sometime in the 1980s, when I needed an Amnesty International report for a research paper after reading a reference in a newspaper article, I could not just visit a website and download it. I could telephone their office in Toronto and ask them to mail it, but there was the issue of paying for it, which had to be done in person. So getting this document meant setting aside time on a Saturday afternoon, showering, getting dressed, walking, taking a bus, then a subway, seeing people, a chance encounter with a friend downtown, then walking further downtown, visiting the people at the AI office, getting the document, having a conversation (and obtaining further leads), and then doing the return journey, with a stop at a café along the way, and then a record store, all the while enjoying a beautiful sunny day. By the time I reached home, I had already read the report in full and made notes. That was life without the Web: slower, healthier, and friendlier.

All that has been replaced by sitting in a chair for hours (murder for one’s health) and harvesting a vast number of PDF documents, which I rarely have the time to read, and which I sometimes re-download forgetting that I already have them. Fast yes, but also unhealthy and isolated—efficiency without substantive gain. Working at a computer could just as well be done in prison, because at this stage surroundings no longer matter.

The fact of the matter is that we do not need the Internet, we do not need social media, and we certainly do not need “smart phones”. What are you, a brain surgeon, that you always have to be available in case of an emergency call? Listen to what people say when they use these “essential” gadgets, as I listen to the hordes on campus—the most typical utterances are: “Hey, what’s up? Yeah I’m on the escalator. Ok, see ya later”. Impressive. Clearly, it’s money well spent. It is almost as if individuals have become afraid of a moment of silence, possibly because they intuitively fear discovering that inside, they are empty.

Third, there is the political economy of social media, whose nature I find entirely objectionable. All of us who use these “social media” are doing free labour. It is work, where we generate content, promote engagement, and build audiences for advertisers. In return, we get none of the revenue—so our work serves to make certain individuals immensely wealthy and powerful. In return, they arrogate to themselves the right to decide what we can read, what we can say, and how to say it—there is not even basic respect in return. Some argue—almost righteously, as if they had pounced on a major discovery—that Twitter, Facebook, etc., are private corporations, that supposedly owe us nothing: “they’re not public utilities”. Exactly, and therefore they deserve none of the public’s support. Moreover, even when dealing with paying customers, like RT, which spent hundreds of thousands advertising on Twitter and Facebook, they were treated like a dog turd in return: bans, limits, stripped of advertising revenue, and their private business with these agencies was promptly reported on in detail by executives for these companies, who testified at various congressional hearings. A private company that “owes nothing” even to paying customers, is hardly one whose business should be sustained.

Fourth, there is the question of national hegemony. It ought to be plainly clear to everyone by now that these so-called globalized social media, are simply just American media. When tensions build, they are all too ready to remind us of this fact. People outside the US, who are impacted against their will by the US, are not allowed to share their opinions about US politics on such platforms, because that’s “meddling”. Well, if you want it for yourselves, then keep it to yourselves, and stay out of our affairs while you’re at it. But don’t go around preaching that you stand for globalization, openness, inclusion, diversity, the free market of ideas, free speech, democracy, etc., etc., ad nauseam, because you are not fooling anyone (save for those who are already fools and cannot be repaired). Social media then are just the latest tools in the armory of US cultural imperialism, and deserve to be shunned.

Fifth, add to the above the ways in which this tool, developed for the US military, is a gift that keeps on giving back to the military-security-intelligence state. Why would we voluntarily place ourselves under its surveillance? People have lost their jobs, or job opportunities, over a single tweet or Facebook post, as part of the growing totalitarianism that is post-liberalism—and these acts of exclusion and punishment are ironically performed in the name of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. Encourage people to become engaged, but then don’t tell them how they can suffer the consequences—ordinarily, this might be called entrapment, and it was supposed to be illegal.

Sixth, there is the abominably debased quality of the “social” in “social media,” specifically where political debates are involved (or “deadbaits” as I prefer to call them). Any media that pride themselves on “virality” should be enough of a warning sign: what is ultimately being promoted is instantaneous mass orchestrated reaction. Social media are thus the preferred training tool pushed by globalists—such media prioritize acceleration, instant consumption, and mass response over slow, careful, critical deliberation. Me-tooism is the new brand of mob formation. “Dragging” and “calling out” are low-calorie substitutes for lynching. What prevails in the moments between “viral” events is nothing better. Crusades of outrage are routinely … [more]
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