Book Review: Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

lanierJaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is disguised as a self-help book. I’m not sure why. It presents ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts, as it says on the cover, but the argument as a whole goes much further. Lanier is very concerned with the way social media manipulates people. The manipulation is usually called advertising, but also includes all the other ways social media directs our opinions and our lives in general.  It’s nothing like the advertising we refer to when we commonly use the term. The issues are serious, but Lanier’s style of writing is light and entertaining. For example, Argument Three states: “Argument 3: Social media is turning you into an asshole. […] Please take the possibility seriously.” Take it seriously, but don’t be too morbid about it. That, I think, is the point of the overall message.

I confess I was drawn in by the self-help façade of the book. I’ve noticed lately that social media makes me feel bad. There are many reasons for this and Lanier seems to check most of the boxes. Argument Seven actually says: “Social media is making you unhappy.” The problem is that you are constantly being judged by faceless people you don’t really know. When you are judged by people whose opinions you respect and really care about, this can be healthy. Criticism is not the bogey man. When all eyes are on you (even if this is not factually the case), you are powerless to decide which things or actions you are judged upon. You become a helpless victim of external and mostly random opinions that cannot contextualize what you have to say or what you do. The resulting noise is draining no matter who you are. Not having social media accounts is one way of escaping all this. Instead, you could write a blog or do a number of other things to decide what output will be judged and by whom. Not everyone can do this, says Lanier, which is of course true, but I’m one of those privileged enough to consider deleting my accounts.

Social media is a bullshitshow, to coin a phrase. We have fresh proof of this. Several news stories in Finland recently stated most of our plastic is shipped to China to be recycled and is not, in fact, recycled at all. The stories spread on social media like wildfire. Bullshit. All our plastic is recycled in Finland. Another recent story said that there were racist attacks online against the Swedish footballer Jimmy Durmaz during the World Cup. The Swedish football team strongly condemned the attacks, as they should. A Swedish IT professor later revealed that the racist accounts were fake. A very serious matter, but essentially all built on a foundation of bullshit. One person can orchestrate an attack like this and get a few other assholes to play along. They, in turn, make themselves look more important than they actually are, and like people we should actually take seriously. Fake, nefarious and harmful to all. This is the new normal for social media. Do I really want to be part of it?

I’m on social media because this way I can meet people I would otherwise not meet. Will I lose out if I delete my accounts? Probably not much, but I will lose out a little. Is the loss worth the perks? Could I think in broader terms and think of it as absconding from a movement I do not want to be a part of? Or could I stay and try to make things better from the inside? I really don’t know what to do, but Lanier’s book has made the options clearer.

There is also a great melancholy here that Lanier’s jovial tone does not always capture. It’s a tragedy what has happened to social media. It’s like a beautiful vine that has been polluted by a virus or an alien fungus. Lanier does say that the core of the Internet is still intact. We can email each other, visit websites, read good news sites, blog, create podcasts, and so on. But as products of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., we are not on secure ground. There are options like Mastodon and other ways of creating groups like Slack, and maybe even good old IRC, but they are fairly barren compared to the big players like Google and Facebook. The latter also tend to buy up all competition. There is hope, but hope will only get you so far. We need to decide what we want out of our social media. We need action. If we continue to comply, the shitshow will spread and the most we can hope for in the future is that our bot-overlords will be friendly. That’s a bet I’m not willing to take.

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