When it comes to the usage of connected platforms on the internet, most prominently social media networks, a continuous debate between proponents and adversaries has grown and existed about as long as the platforms themselves. I’ve been on both sides of this debate. It was not until the end of high school when I would start using Facebook or WhatsApp, it was not until some months into organisational responsibility in a university context that they would form part of my daily life.
The comfortableness and the struggle
I’ve grown to use them daily, to some extent nearly hourly. Quite frankly, they were and are useful if you count their networking potential too: Assume I hadn’t connected with as many acquaintances on these platforms, I guarantee I would’ve forgotten about names, stories, existences of people, even about some of the people who are reading this text right now. Establishing a link when we got to know each other, and keeping it up through sharing content on these platforms became a central cultural activity.
It’s a nice cultural activity! In principle, at least. But then there’s the sheer difficulty for any information on the internet to be forgotten. The knowledge that the companies preserve and archive (meta)data, and keep them as long as they please. And exhibit them to the world as long as you don’t intervene. They don’t even hide this eternal character of the storage of data, they rather try to make profit from it through offering memories, creating artificial anniversaries and bringing up whatever has happened in your life before (at any given opportunity). Ever tried downloading your Facebook data? You’ll be surprised what you’ll find. Does it mean you should stop using it? Enough people argue that, and rightfully so. But maybe there’s another way.
Principles for a New Culture of Sharing for Social Media Networks
The path I will follow is attempting to utilize social media networks in my interest instead of assuming the behaviour these platforms designed me to employ. In easier words: Reclaiming social media networks as our tools instead of letting them use us. I arrived at three fundamental principles upon which I develop what I call a New Culture of Sharing for Social Media Networks:
- The usage of platforms in absolute awareness of all tools at the user’s disposal, if possible and beneficial against the pre-determined design.
- Respect for a limited timeframe in which the cultural activity of sharing content and information is performed.
- The global re-emancipation of the user over their data in form of active ownership and controlled self-presentation.
And here’s what I will do: I will delete all content in my Facebook and Instagram timeline every week-/-month, save currently highly relevant information for understanding my context.
Social networks should be networks, and not archives. Vivid, dynamic, and after a week everybody has probably already seen everything anyway. And if somebody missed out on something – well then it happened. Maybe, it’s also a path out of the like-crisis. Out of the constant self-comparison and self-optimization in the pursuit of social validation: If I don’t know how many people reacted to the content I produced before, I don’t have the pressure and urge to adapt and be influenced by this for the content I share now.
Applicability and boundaries: Other networks
What about Twitter and LinkedIn then? I (for now) won’t apply the same policy to those two networks. That’s because they serve different purposes (at least to me) than being a social network, but in two completely different ways: To me Twitter is a political network, LinkedIn a professional network.
On Twitter, a lot of discussions between many people take place. It is in my interest as well as in the interest of the general public that these discussions can be understood and reconstructed properly. The awareness and respect for the timeframe is always already given through the very momentous platform design. Twitter is not my way of interacting with friends or new acquaintances, it’s not a cultural leisure time social activity, but more of an activist outreach and discussion tool. Do I need to apply my New Culture of Sharing for Social Media Networks to Twitter then? I don’t think so.
My attitude towards LinkedIn however can be described much briefer: As it is serves as a portfolio for possible employers, I’ll manipulate it at any given time either way, thus, there’s no sense in pretending to follow a seven-day-deletion-policy.
A useful step?
So, did it hurt deleting the photos, the videos and petitions on human rights violations, and the proof of my activity in the world for the past years? Definitely. And yes, of course it’s nice to scroll through your timeline and stumble across the picture from the last vacation with your friends somewhere on a beach. But the new cool person from yesterday’s houseparty doesn’t necessarily need to know which rock you were sitting on in 2014.
I transferred what seemed relevant to me on this website. And last time I checked, that picture from the beach was also very well stored in a folder on my laptop. Alas, I cannot eradicate all metadata collected on and around me, or have full control on the data I generate – but it’s a start in pushing against the system that never forgets. And maybe the full switch to the fediverse will follow in a few weeks!