High school was a source of constant self-cringe for me. Coincidentally, it was also the time during which I joined Twitter. Facebook was lame, and your parents weren’t on Twitter. Teenagers like me wanted something more private than FB, but in a shorter form than Tumblr (which I also used).
Early Twitter was great. Brands were on the platform, but their “memetic” potential had yet to be uncovered (looking at you, Arby’s). Interactions were between real people, and notifications felt like actual outreach. Favorites were still favorites. The Moments tab didn’t exist. For that last reason alone, Twitter was AWESOME.
But, things gradually changed. The UI became more FB-like. The favorite star turned into a heart, and the godforsaken Moments tab was introduced. The trends happening “in the real world”, and outside of your own personal circle of weirdos was now front-and-center. The experience became more and more news-focused.
Around 2016 I wager, Twitter became too self-important for their own good. In the throes of the election, the Moments tab became not a general reflection of actual trends and memes, but a glamorized editorial section hand-picked by Twitter’s staff. “Watch this funny dog video” became “This man’s CVS receipt sparked a conversation about racism in the produce section”.
I hate the Moments tab. I hate the artificiality of it all. It was the Moments tab that finally did me in and got me to leave the platform.
On the 22nd of April, a high school student with the handle @daumkeziah posted a handful of pictures from her prom, wearing traditional Chinese garb. Because there is no greater sin on social media than “cultural appropriation”, Keziah, a non-Chinese person, was not allowed to wear the dress she had chosen to prom. At least, that’s what I gleamed from the thousands of replies to her original tweet.
The original tweet has 7K retweets, and 16K responses. In Twitter lingo, this is called “getting ratioed”. In an unprecedented show of bravery, the original tweet is still standing. Keziah deserves a medal for keeping it up, ’cause Lord knows I would rather stab myself in the leg than listen to 16K people critiquing my prom dress on Twitter.
What finally drove me off the platform was Twitter’s response to Keziah’s situation. In a world were social media is known to cause much direct harm to people’s mental health, you would think leaving Keziah to her haters would be best for all parties involved.
Instead of leaving Keziah alone, Twitter decided to make a Moment out of her. Let me make this clear to any non-users or people lost in the jargon: A human being at Twitter saw the hateful replies Keziah was getting, the think-pieces being written about her in rags like The Root that included her profile details, and decided to place the whole mess front and center on the Moments tab under the asinine title “This high schooler’s prom dress has sparked a conversation about cultural appropriation”.
Is it a “conversation” when thousands of strangers online try to police what a high school age girl can wear to prom? If she had committed any other crime than “cultural appropriation”, then Twitter staff would be framing the Moment as “Sexist pigs police girl’s attire”.
Doubly deceptive is the “sparked a conversation” line. Writing the headline as such frames Twitter as this holy bastion of a site where fruitful “conversations” occur. Any actual user of Twitter can tell you that this is the exact opposite of the actual user experience. In its current iteration, all Twitter threads are closely monitored by topic and keyword. If you tweet anything out of line about anything from anime to zebras, someone, somewhere, will gladly chime in and tell you that you’re a hateful bigot who should be kicked off the platform.
By giving Keziah’s bullies legitimacy via the Moments tab, Twitter encouraged targeted harassment. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a complete fool. Young people are especially vulnerable to cyber-bullying, and instead of shielding Keziah from her attackers Twitter took the lowest of all possible roads by painting them as guardians of the culture, and Keziah as the insensitive imperialist that was infringing on their very lives.
Watching all this utter insanity go down in real time led me to reflect on my own experience on Twitter. My social circles had come and gone, and I had settled into a comfortable follower / following ratio. I was content. But as I endlessly refreshed my timeline day after day, I realized that Twitter is the place you go to “dunk” on people with a witty reply, or race to the top of the timeline with the stupidest, most click-baity headline, not a place for conversation.
Additionally, I’ve become more aware of just how much time I was wasting on social media. Whenever I would start a task at work, I would instinctually open Twitter and scroll through my timeline instead of focusing on the task at hand. Not only was Twitter full of terrible people, but it was negatively affecting my productivity. Simply put, I’m 22 years old and working full time. I’ve got better things to do than look at memes and social justice cyberbullies while on the clock.
I deactivated my account yesterday at noon. I will not be logging back in. After 30 days of inactivity, my account will be permanently disabled and I can put that chapter of social media behind me. The bookmark has been deleted from my web browser, and the apps have been deleted from my devices. A weird sense of liberation is beginning to set in.
Instead of Twitter, my sources of news have moved to actual websites and not social media. Though for kicks, I still use Reddit and Facebook.
I don’t suffer under any illusions. My time on Twitter has led me to a simple conclusion: Social media is bad for us. As a society. Dialogue has been replaced with comment threads sorted by likes. Thinking has been replaced by taking headlines at face value. Actual, meaningful interaction has been replaced with likes to remind people that you acknowledge that they still exist.
Eventually, I will delete my Facebook too and reduce my online presence to this blog and little else. Social media has done damage to my psyche, and yours too. The sooner that we realize this, and that social media companies don’t care that they’ve played a willing hand in this, the better off we’ll all be.
To steal the gist of a tweet I saw some weeks ago, I hope that 20 years from now we’ll look back on our time spent on social media and, like our embarrassing times in high school, wonder just what the hell we were thinking.