This is My Brain Off Twitter
A few months ago, I talked about my decision to pull back on Twitter. Not long after that, I "left" Facebook (i.e. made my account 'updates only') for the same reasons. For those of you considering pulling back from socials more permanently, I thought I'd give an update on how it's going so far.
The Withdrawal Phase
I won't lie. There was some withdrawal involved. Often, I would find myself picking up my phone instinctively, and then realizing I have nothing to check. I felt a bit adrift, and maybe even depressed, as I entered this phase where I wasn't getting constant dopamine hits. I did aimlessly scroll on Instagram (my chosen platform) more than I should, but that reduced over time as I realized there was for the most part nothing but lovely pictures. I didn't feel compelled to click on comments. I just looked at what I wanted to. That's when I discovered another thing about socials: there was nothing to make me ANGRY on Instagram. After I figured this out, the epiphanies started coming fast. How much of the last six years had I spent scrolling just to find something to be angry at? Maybe it was subconscious, but I'm guessing a TON. Along with the dopamine hits, this had become a fundamental part of the structure of my day. And it was making my moods swing harder than Giancarlo Stanton (yes, I had to look that up, I don't sports).
The Internet is Not the Place for Nuance (or Anxious People)
When I stopped instinctively picking up my phone, I noticed something. It wasn't just that I was spending more time with my family. I was 100% there in a way I was incapable of for the past several years. I didn't find myself looking for a bat signal--something to tell me that something awful was happening on the internet and I was a terrible person for not "breaking my silence" about it. To be a "good" social media user, one has to be tapped in 24/7--at least, if you have social anxiety as severe as I do. People like me will see a post/tweet about how disappointed people are that someone isn't "weighing in" and they will immediately think they've done something wrong. They will feel compelled to post a public response to [x situation] and then they will breathe easy knowing that they did what was expected. The problem with this? Nobody clocks that they are the 100,000th person to weigh in, and that this accidental pile-on could could hurt a real person.
Now, before you headline this post as "Katryn knocks cancel culture!" I want to make sure you hear me. One of the results of widespread online critique is the shifting of opinions on people who are so powerful that this doesn't touch them. Another result is that people can get it wrong (and they do, often) and it could hurt a person who is marginalized or doesn't have that privilege. Even if a person initially makes a mistake, was the pile-on a proportional response? Many times, no. A good example can be found with Constance Wu, who wrote an admittedly unprofessional tweet a few years back. It was a tweet that could have impacted her storyline on Fresh off the Boat, or gotten her in hot water with producers, but what followed was frankly terrifying. It will come as no surprise that intersectionality comes into play in situations like this. I've had to step back from queer and disabled affinity groups for this very reason. People sometimes seem delighted when they get an opportunity to call out problematic behavior from another marginalized group and, let me tell you, it's not a good look. It doesn't make me feel like I'm "among my people." It just makes me feel gross. And, because I was so afraid of pile-ons, I didn't do nearly enough to stop it.
What bothered me the most about situations like this was one huge point: how a critique or appropriate call-out turns into a pile-on. The right loves to quote so-called 'cancel culture' when what they're really mad at is accountability. It's caused people to rail back, but I have to point out the biggest issue with this. To channel Inigo Montoya...they keep using that word; I don't think it means what they think it means. Challenging power and calling out its harms is not 'cancellation.' Last I checked, they're still making JK Rowling books and she's still profiting. It's critique, which has been around for pretty much ever. And it's necessary. But here's the problem I see online, in stages:
1) Someone (often time a marginalized individual) states an opinion or critique. They are 100% right.
2) People start rallying behind the statement with likes and retweets. Then, the non-marginalized people show up. They want to make sure we know what they're about, so they add their thoughts. Oh, so many thoughts.
3) What started as a critique and call for change becomes a pile on. The headlines read: "Woke Mob Comes for [X]!" Then, when you click on the article, the name and handle of the person who did the original critique is the only one mentioned by name.
4) The person who was 100% right gets hate and even death threats.
5) The non-marginalized (and let's be honest, primarily white) people from the pile-on quietly disappear into oblivion, Homer-into-a-bush style, and they are never held accountable for participating in this. Or for being a huge part of why the original commenter was targeted. They tell themselves "I'm just one person, it wasn't my fault," when thousands of voices will later be made into a single person in the headlines: "The Internet."
*Let me be clear here, too. I'm sure I have done this. While I find pile-ons extremely triggering and I go out of my way to avoid them, I'm sure there was a time I unintentionally added my very unnecessary voice. And, if I did, I was letting my anxiety and my desperation to be perceived as 'good' as a shield at best (a weapon at worst).
How it's Going
I'm so, so glad to have removed myself from this narrative. It's helped me to step back (as I'm not interrupted every two seconds by my worry over what's happening on the internet) and see why I don't want to live in this space. For one, my mental health is about a thousand percent improved. I'm still angry all the time, but I don't let "the internet" dictate what I'm angry about or how I'm angry. Nuance has come back into my life like a welcomed old friend. I know why I participated as intensely as I did for so many years. But, ultimately, it only stole time I could be using to make the world better in more meaningful ways. For years, I've been staring at the screen with full cringe face, as if I'm looking at a bad accident. It's kept me suspended in the same spot, frozen like I was for years when other kids would approach me on the playground. Leaving this space has freed my mind and my time. It's made me a better and more effective writer. It made me a better spouse, and a better mother. I'm pretty sure I'm a better person overall. For anyone who is considering stepping back permanently, I'll say this:
Leaving social media: 10/10, would recommend.