Taking a social media break

By Adam Earnheardt

Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts. The conclusion will run next week.

Former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya recently spoke about the damage social media is doing around the world.

He named Facebook public enemy No. 1.

Speaking at Stanford University, Palihapitiya, who ultimately became Facebook’s vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his role in the social network’s massive success.

He recommended people take a “hard break” from social media.

This led me to consider what life would be like without social media, even if just for a few days. It’s something I’ve contemplated since last year’s presidential election.

The hatred and divisiveness drove many of my friends away from social media, not permanently, but certainly for a few days or months.

So, I’m thinking about taking a social media fast, per se. I don’t plan to abandon social media on a permanent basis. I still find great value in it, and I think there are ways to save it.

But I do plan to take a break, as Palihapitiya suggests. Sort of.

Do you sense my fear?

When I’m scared to do something new, I read about it. Usually online.

A few months ago, I found my social-media-cessation sensei, James Swift. Swift, an Atlanta-based writer and reporter, wrote “Why Now Is The Time To Abandon Social Media” for ThoughtCatalog.com.

He made me rethink the importance of social media, and at the very least, consider some of the therapeutic values in taking a social media break.

I caught up with Swift via email last week. Next week, we will dive into reactions from friends, and explore a time he could foresee rejoining the social media mob.

Q. What was the tipping point for you (e.g., I’m done with social media!)?

A. I suppose you could call it a perfect storm of annoyances. Generally speaking, after college, Facebook and Twitter lost their core utility – that being a place for people in a centralized area to relay information back and forth.

As an adult professional, however, social media turned into this weird goulash of vanity posts and shameless advertising masquerading as “updates.”

Instead of bandying about pertinent info about things that actually mattered, my alleged “friends” and “followers” seemed to subconsciously engage in a virtual game of “my life is better than yours,” with everyone jockeying for likes and shares as if they were actual commodities.

The death knell, however, had to be the politicization of the platforms. Every single day I was bombarded by propaganda from the right and the left about the hot button du jour, as if any of them had half a clue what they were talking about.

Factor in some grievances with the censorship policies and trending algorithms used by Facebook and Twitter, and that was all it took to virtually “de-person myself.”

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at acearnheardt@gmail.com.

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