I deactivated my facebook account and the sky didn’t crash down around me.
But wait, let’s back up and start this story at the beginning.
A few months ago I sat through a webinar about social media put on by one of my sponsors. I won’t mention what brand, because it doesn’t really matter, and if it’s a surprise to you that brands are using social media to market in increasingly insidious ways — well, did you sleep through 2018?
Most of the advice in this webinar sounded familiar. Post consistently. Interact with fans. Show your personality (but heaven forbid don’t be weird about it). Blah blah blah. Don’t buy followers or use sketchy services to grow your following, but by the way, we will be watching your monthly follower growth, so do make sure it’s growing.
The bottom line is that this company will be using an algorithm that calculates following, engagement, how many times you tag the brand, etc. to generate a number that tells them what an athlete is worth. It’s by no means a bad way of doing it, and if I were a marketing manager right now I would probably do something similar. I mean, honestly, I cannot IMAGINE having to wade through the sponsorship applications that this company gets. Helloooo nightmare. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will probably benefit from this system: my Instagram is usually pretty engaged and Macky and my Youtube channel has huge engagement and is growing organically.
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Thank you for all the kind, thoughtful, and heartfelt comments on my last post. It means a lot, and I hear you loud and clear — social media is (like most things) only as good as it is true 🙏🙏 Lots of good things on the horizon for 2019, and I will try to share them in the truest way I can. It won't be every day. It won't be polished. But it will be true, because if not, what the hell is the point?
But still, the timing was bad. It was hard to sit through this webinar only hours after Facebook was indicted over Cambridge Analytica, while privacy concerns were hitting a boiling point world-wide, while #deleteFacebook became a thing, hours after reading how Russian bots used Facebook to specifically target low income and minority communities and not have a moment of “ummm holy shit maybe I am way more complicit in this than I ever realized.”
Mind you, I’ve never had any delusions over my role as a sponsored athlete. I know that even though I have wonderful personal relationships with many of my sponsors, even though I really do only represent brands that I believe in and use on a regular basis, even though I really am as candid as possible on the internet, at the end of the day my value is a number in a column next to my name and that column is labeled ROI.
I want to be a good return on investment. I really do. And I don’t mind repping sponsored products on my social media, because, like I said, I make an effort to only work with companies who create products that are worth repping. But I want to be more than a return on investment. I want to be a good person who creates things (I cannot bring myself to call it “content”). And I want to wake up in the morning and do something other than check to see how many likes my latest Instagram post got. I’m really really sick of chasing numbers that are, essentially, meaningless.
My disenchantment with social media started about two years ago — November 2016 to be precise — when I sat on a plane to Arkansas crying my face off about the fate of the world and more specifically about a mean and ignorant post on facebook from a friend of friend’s uncle. And then I had this moment of “What the hell, Syd? You don’t even know this person. Why on earth do you care?” That was the day I deleted the facebook app from my phone. I thought I would reinstall it once the election fervor died down, but maybe it never did, or maybe I just realized how little I needed that particular IV drip of bull shit.
Around that time I had Macky install a desktop extension that limited me to ten minutes a day of Facebook on my computer. While I’ve been known to disable that on occasion (usually while up against a deadline and in dire need of procrastination), for the most part that limit has stayed. Ten minutes of Facebook a day was enough. Way, way, way more than enough, it turns out.
Throughout this period I still had a serious Instagram problem, partially because I was able to delude myself into thinking that growing my instagram following was part of my “job.” Interactions like the aforementioned webinar really drill this mindset in. Oh, I just spent three hours liking photos of people I don’t even know (whose photos I don’t even really “like” TBH), following people, unfollowing people to preserve that #ratio, etc. etc.? Well, it’s my job. I never purchased followers — because I guess I drew an imaginary line in the sand right around there — but I did, like pretty much everyone else with over 1000 followers who isn’t a Kardashian, try to game the system. And it worked. In a really, shallow artificial kind of way. And in a way that was detrimental to my overall mental health.
In December of 2017 I tried a social media detox. I took three weeks off social media completely, a project aided by the fact that I was in Thailand for the holidays with Macky’s family and going to the beach every day. (Avoiding Instagram is less hard when you can drink coconut water out of literal coconut and then go snorkeling with brightly colored fish. WHADAYAKNOW.) It was a good experiment for a few reasons, namely in that not much of anything happened. I lost a few followers but not enough to make a difference. My photos still got a reasonable amount of likes (define “reasonable” anyway) once I returned. The earth did not shatter. And when I came back to social media I pretty much stopped all best practices on Instagram. I no longer posted everyday. I no longer “interacted” (code for trying to game the system by liking an absurd amount of posts). My postings were random, unpolished and mainly cellphone photos. Since the beginning of 2018, I have lost about 500 followers, which is, frankly, a small price to pay for my sanity.
Unfortunately the other part of the equation that didn’t change was the gross amount of time I was spending on Instagram, scrolling through my feed, mindlessly exploring hashtags (not with an intention to grow my following, but just to satisfy my perverse curiosity about random topics) and generally just wasting time. After these scroll sessions I would come up for air and and wonder where the time had gone. And so, in early December of 2018, I deleted Instagram off my phone. I would use it every few days on Macky’s phone, to post a photo, answer some comments, have a little scroll, whatever. This was supposed to be a short-term solution, but now it’s February and I still haven’t put Instagram back on my phone.
And then I found myself lying awake one night fantasizing about something really strange: completely deleting my facebook. Why was this so appealing? Honestly, I don’t know. But suddenly, I had to do it.
Naturally, Facebook doesn’t make this easy. The process was further complicated by the fact that I have to keep my FB business page (see above comments about sponsor webinar), so I had to create a shadow account, which was hard because Facebook kept being like “hey sure you don’t want to log in to your old account?” “won’t you miss your friends?” “how will you even cope!?!?!” (Seriously, if you’ve never tried to delete your facebook, go give it a go. It’s eye opening. They literally send you photos of your friends and say “WON”T YOU MISS THIS PERSON?” It’s super creepy and weird and I can’t believe it actually convinces anyone to stay.)
The next step was deactivating my facebook to see how many things were connected via that “log in with facebook” feature. Turns out, lots. My Strava account stopped working. The meditation app I use every morning went on the fritz. Out of sheer laziness (clicking that “log in with facebook” button instead of creating a new account) I had allowed Facebook to creep into many unrelated areas of my life. Finally I fixed all these issues, and deactivated Facebook. I figured I would leave it for a few weeks, and then log back on, download all of my data, and delete Facebook permanently. I probably will do this eventually, but somehow it’s February, and I haven’t gotten around to it, largely because I just have no interest in logging into my Facebook at all. It feels gross. At the moment it’s just another one of those tasks hanging over my head like organizing my email inbox or writing our monthly-ish newsletter. (Don’t get this highly procrastinated newsletter? Sign up here).
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I WANT YOUR INPUT!! I've been taking some time off social media recently to refocus for next year. While Instagram can be great (and thanks for following me BTW 🙋 ), I find this platform difficult, especially at this time of year, and with recent news about how social media can be used to manipulate the way we think/buy/etc. The more time I spend on Instagram, the less I seem to understand what I am trying to do with the this account. Last year around this time I stopped posting daily and trying to actively build this following because, I guess, the whole "game" of Instagram started to feel gross to me. But I think there is good to be found here. And I'm determined to do better. Please leave a comment and let me know what you would like to see on this space and I'll try to make it happen ⬇️⬇️ . Photo from @skipajarito in July. I was so psyched to hit this jump 😁😁
I should be clear — my motivations for deleting Facebook are neither political nor motivated by privacy concerns, although both of those are completely legitimate reasons for throwing FB to the curb. But caring about FB’s privacy violations at this point would be a little silly, since I won’t be deleting instagram or WhatsApp and huge swaths of my life are documented on YouTube and this blog. And while I think Facebook created a platform for some really shitty, manipulative political actors, I’m under no illusion that me deleting my account will have any noticeable impact. So, it’s not a boycott.
Then what is the point of all this? I don’t know, exactly, but I do know that over the past two years I have slowly changed my relationship with social media. I am no longer willing to be a passive consumer. I still want to create, and share videos and writing and photos, and I want to be connected to other creative people, but I don’t want to be ruled by the technology. This has been a gradual process, and not the result of a single “detox” or social media diet – – and that process is ongoing. I’m sharing this because I think many other people are in the midst of a similar reckoning — how do we possibly use this technology wisely? And where do we draw the line?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you consider deleting Facebook and/or Instagram? Am I crazy? Or was I crazy to even use social media in the first place?