Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Get off Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, please!

Because Facebook makes you dumb, Twitter is an abusive place and LinkedIn violates your privacy

That I hate Facebook and chose to opt out of it because I thought it is making me dumb is something I have articulated earlier. I’m happier for it. Quite honestly, I am not interested in knowing how people spend their vacations, their frustrations at work, nor will I bother to hit a like on their “oh-so-cute" family pictures. Add to that Facebook’s privacy polices that milk every ounce of you that it may make the billions of dollars it is sitting on.

But as recently as last week, in this series, I posited that I continue to remain on Twitter because of the news feeds it offers. And on LinkedIn because it allows me to look up the backgrounds of people.

But that said, a part of me continued to argue there is a larger problem that I was unable to put my finger on. This debate with the self ended when I stumbled on two interesting arguments on what is the problem with Twitter. May I point you to “The End of Twitter" in The New Yorker and “Why Twitter’s Dying" on Medium? I couldn’t agree more with the sum and substance of both the arguments.

Twitter has an existential crisis on hand because it is struggling to remain relevant in a world being overrun by social media platforms of all kinds. The fine minds who thought up Twitter are leaving in hordes in order to create newer platforms. And the folks coming in to replace them are trying to figure out how can they continuously reinvent the platform so that they stay on top of the game. Cash is not an issue. With the kind of valuations it currently commands, Joshua Topolsky points out in the New Yorker article that it can continue to exist in its current avatar for 412 years.

So, what is the crisis really? And why is it being overrun? Umair Haque argues eloquently on Medium that over time, most social media platforms have morphed into platforms for abuse. And Twitter is the one that amplifies abuse the most.

“The social web became a nasty, brutish place. And that’s because the companies that make it up simply do not just take abuse seriously... they don’t really consider it at all. Can you remember the last time you heard the CEO of a major tech company talking about... abuse... not ads? Why not? Here’s the harsh truth: they see it as peripheral to their ‘business models’, a minor nuisance, certainly nothing worth investing in, for theirs is the great endeavor of... selling more ads," he writes.

And damn right he is.

For a moment, consider how things are in India now. Twitter has degenerated into a place occupied by three warring tribes—“bhakts", “libtards" and “presstitutes".

“Bhakts" have come to mean anybody who is on the political right and supports the current ruling coalition. On their part, “bhakts" describe anybody who doesn’t agree with their world view as “libtards"—short for liberal retards. And finally, “presstitutes", a term contemptuously thrown by both “bhakts" and “libtards" to describe people like journalists, writers, filmmakers or anybody, for that matter, who belongs to a tribe that may not subscribe to either school. I confess I have fallen victim to the crossfire, have indulged in name calling with both “bhakts"and “libtards" and am now labelled a “presstitute".

When I think about it, this isn’t what I had signed up for. Twitter was intended to be a worldwide community of people who shared thoughts, links and ideas, all in 140 characters. And what a lovely place it was!

The easiest thing to do now is just get out of Twitter because it is no longer what it was intended to be. But that would be a cop-out and giving in to the warring tribes. So, what am I to do? Because at the end of the day, there is no taking away from the fact that when you dig deeper, meaningful conversations can be had on Twitter.

On my part, I have started out by giving up on the theory of reciprocity, which meant that if somebody started to follow me, I followed them back as a gesture of acknowledgement to their existence. When I think about it, it makes no sense.

Add to this the fact that I am seen as an influencer of sorts on Twitter by many folks—not because I have accomplished anything significant, but because it is terribly easy to be seen as an influencer, and because I had deployed some devious techniques and a few hundred rupees to be seen as one. The network effect kicked in and now people of all kinds follow me for whatever reason.

By falling into the “follow back" trap, the voices of people who really matter to me get drowned. This is because Twitter moves incredibly fast. By the time you finish reading this sentence, back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate 40,509 tweets will be published. And by Twitter’s acknowledgement, half a billion updates are posted every day. So, the chances of me finding what I am looking for is lower than that of looking for a needle in a haystack.

So, I have started on a painful exercise that will take a while to complete—to start unfollowing people who don’t add value. The easiest way to get out of this trap is to start out by unfollowing everybody I follow right now. On Chrome, my browser of choice, this can be done by using a plugin called Twitter Unfollow. Every browser has similar tools that allow you to do it.

I have chosen to take the longer and more tortuous path. When I have time on hand, I review the profile of people I follow and slot them into lists. A list, on Twitter, is a curated group of accounts. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing the timeline on a list will show you a stream of tweets from only those accounts present on that list.

In my case, for instance, themes I am interested in include media, psychology, medicine, philosophy, books, entrepreneurship and politics among others. So, I have started looking up people interested in these themes and am convinced are on top of their game.

Each time I feel the need to look a theme up, which is pretty much every day, I go to the relevant list and look at what resource they have pointed to or what comment they may have to make on a theme. What it offers me, in turn, is a completely personalized experience. Everything else that exists is noise and opinion that gets filtered out. To put it politely, everybody has an opinion. And opinions are like orifices at the bottom end of your rear. Everybody has one.

Over time, my intent is to follow nobody but those on the lists I am interested in. Whether or not I choose to make these lists public is something I haven’t made my mind up about. I am inclined to keep it private because a public list that others can subscribe to tells everybody what my interests are. The downside to a private list, though, is that it goes against the principle of sharing, which Twitter, or any social media platform for that matter, as it was originally intended is based on.

This isn’t a technique I thought up. But something social media wonks such as Luis Suarez have perfected over the years. The outcome of the many years of his experience and how he got to mastering Twitter that it may be leveraged for maximum impact is well-documented on his blog. I owe Harold Jarche, whom I had written about last week in this series, a hat tip for the pointer to this hack.

Then there is LinkedIn. At the time of writing and preparing this dispatch, I have deleted my LinkedIn account. I don’t see any value in it any more. All of its default settings are intended to spam my personal account. My initial position was that I stayed on LinkedIn since it allowed me to look up backgrounds of people. But when used effectively, Google is such a sneaky tool, it allows me to get into pretty much wherever I want to.

And heck no, LinkedIn is not where I go to look for career opportunities or make fresh acquaintances. Nor do I fancy posts from self-styled “thought leaders" no editor would touch with a bargepole. The only reason most people put their posts there is to tom-tom their accomplishments or congratulate people for something as trivial as moving from being an assistant manager to manager, show off to idiotic recruiters and human resource people how wide and deep their networks really are. How much more daft can organizations get?

I don’t really know most of the people I am linked in on LinkedIn. Nor do I care for them. Add to all of this the fact that premium users who subscribe to LinkedIn can view all of my personal details. Unacceptable! What firmed my mind up are two snarky provisions I noticed in the Terms of Service under the provisions for Privacy.

2.2: We offer a premium service to recruiters and others, which can be used to search for, organize, and communicate with potential candidates or offer business opportunities. In some cases we allow the export of public profile information. You can control how your information is exported by changing which parts of your public profile are accessible to search engines.

2.5: We may share your personal information with our affiliates (meaning entities controlled by, controlling or under common control with LinkedIn) outside of the LinkedIn entity that is your data controller (for example, LinkedIn Corp. may share your information with LinkedIn Ireland, or other LinkedIn operating entities) as reasonably necessary to provide the Services. You are consenting to this sharing.

We combine information internally across different Services. For example, SlideShare may recommend better content to you based on your LinkedIn content preferences and the articles you read on Pulse, and LinkedIn could present you a better tailored network update stream based on your SlideShare activity, whether or not you tied your SlideShare, Pulse and/or LinkedIn accounts (e.g. by signing in SlideShare or Pulse with your LinkedIn account), as we may be able to identify you across different Services using cookies or similar technologies.

Plainly put, all of my personal information does not belong to me. The sharks at LinkedIn can trade me for a few dollars and I don’t have a say in it because by accepting their terms and signing in to use their service, I have given all of my rights away to them.

Thank you. But no thank you. I would much rather spend quality time with my little girls who are curled up by my side, waiting for me to wrap this piece up, so that I may entertain them with magic tricks and share the warmth of a few giggles and laughs I bring with my faux magic tricks that can only impress little girls who look up to their dad with awe. The joy, I suspect, will last only a few years before some joker tries to woo them, while I look back wistfully at the years they worshipped me. I might as well spend all of my time doting on them.

Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel Publishing.

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

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