Should you delete your social media?

When youre addicted to something, youre obviously biased in favour of arguments suggesting its unrealistic to quit

Should you delete your social media?

Should you delete your social media accounts right now? The title of Jaron Laniers excellent recent polemic, Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, leaves no doubt which side hes on. His view is that Facebook, Twitter and the rest have sucked us into an addictive spiral of outrage, isolation and extremism, while making it ever harder for those who create the culture off which they leech musicians, artists, journalists to make a living.

But as this stance grows more popular, so does an objection: for many, its impossible. What #DeleteFacebook tech bros dont get, writes the activist Jillian York, is that leaving is, for many, a luxury they cant afford. Like it or not, people now rely on the network to run a business, stay in touch with friends and family, or even maintain their mental health, thanks to online support groups. Telling them to fulfil those needs elsewhere is unrealistic precisely because everyone else is fulfilling them on Facebook. Being able to walk away is a matter of privilege, a Slate essay argues. Its also another case of lecturing people about the need for self-discipline, when the real problem is capitalism and insufficiently regulated corporations bent on profit.

The thorny issue here when it comes to whether you, personally, should abandon social media is that the latter viewpoint has plenty of truth to it, yet also serves as a convenient excuse. When youre addicted to something, youre obviously biased in favour of arguments suggesting its unrealistic to quit. So, while some people may genuinely face social isolation by deleting Facebook, or professional ruin by leaving LinkedIn, chances are youre not among them even if you feel pretty sure you are. Its more likely youre telling yourself that story to spare yourself being deprived of social medias comfortably sedative effects, and being left alone with your thoughts instead.

Of course, thats easy for me to say. (And a bit hypocritical, since Im still on Twitter, and just about still on Facebook.) But that doesnt make it wrong. Sometimes the glib advice its easy for columnists to dispense is the right advice for you, even if youd rather it werent.

This is part of a broader hazard, whenever left-leaning people confront the world of self-help: were so primed to see things in structural terms as matters of privilege and power that we convince ourselves were more powerless than we are. Every individual-level happiness hack, from digital detoxes to meditation to therapy, is open to the retort that what we really need is a fairer, more humane society and self-help just serves to make us more accepting of the status quo. I dont disagree. But the danger is of what Jean-Paul Sartre called bad faith: convincing yourself you lack choices, when actually you dont, because its less scary than facing your freedom.

The truth is, you could choose, right now, to jettison social media, or indeed many other unfulfilling aspects of your life. You might choose not to, concluding that the downsides outweigh the upsides in your case. But you do have a choice. Even telling yourself you dont have a choice is a choice.

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One of Laniers previous books, 2010s You Are Not A Gadget, makes the prescient case that the web is leading us to digital Maoism, a collectivism that undermines individuality and slides easily into mob rule.

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