Deleting Social Media

(To the reader: This is both a blog and a book review)

We at HCG have been considering deleting our social media accounts for quite some time, but were caught in the (erroneous) belief that doing so would be too detrimental to our work (getting our work out and keeping up with the work of others). We had an inkling that these platforms were not on the up and up given Facebook’s value as a multibillion dollar enterprise (roughly $139 billion as of July 2018) while offering a “free” service to 2.3 billion monthly active users. Nothing is really free in the realm of the corporatocracy and thus Facebook’s services, Google’s (3.5 billion searches a day and worth over $239 billion) search engine and gmail, and the like…none of them are really free. Not being very tech savvy, however, we were not able to pinpoint exactly “why” we did not trust these venues and the benevolence of their services and so we stayed.

Adding to our discomfort was the persistence of trolling on these platforms and the ease with which even the most affable of folks turned into truly awful people, saying things they would never dream of saying face to face. Lindy West wrote about her troll (Shrill, 2016) and noted that when she met him, he seemed like a nice enough guy who really had no idea why he chose such a cruel response to her – it just seemed so easy and he kind of went with it. The combination of the shadowy nature with which these platforms operate, the social detritus that they seem to encourage, and the way they influence our society in lowest-common-denominator ways all pointed to “leave social media”. And yet, we still did not. It’s gravitational pull was quite strong, and that coupled with a little FOMO made us stay. Additionally, it did not appear to be a decision anyone else was making and so we were hesitant to do it. Then the switch flipped. A year of problematic headlines for various social media giants, the most visible of which were the revelations regarding the 2016 presidential election and our reading of Jaron Lanier’s book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, 2018, tipped the scales and convinced us to leave all social media. Viewed as one of social media’s / the tech world’s key players, it is all the more poignant that he advocates abandoning the current iteration of social media. Not being a “tech skeptic”, and definitely not a luddite, his insider reasoning is clearly laid out in ten arguments (listed below). Embedded across his “ten reasons” are a few key themes that were compelling to us and perhaps they will be to you as well.

In one theme he underscores how the business model for these platforms pushes them to increasingly mine, store and sell every bit of personal information you share. Some social media users often compare this to TV ads and say they do not mind the data sharing given that services are free. What almost all of us do not understand about this process, however, is that the data then gets utilized by algorithms designed to craft and cater information in line with that personal data. Thus, there is an ever-increasing “bubble” effect. More insidiously, the algorithms use this information to deeply but subtly manipulate the user into increased behavior modification that serves the corporations buying the data – what the platforms call “user engagement” but what Lanier describes as intense and ongoing manipulation. He highlights how social media users may “think” we are exercising free will when expressing interest in a particular product/headline/action, but in fact we are being constantly (and he means constantly) manipulated, herded if you will, in one direction or another. The free business model is not at all free and we are not the users of social media, we are actually the commodity major corporations (the real users) are buying from social media platforms. Our free will within these settings is, in the long run, a myth as the highly sophisticated algorithms continually adapt to our “preferences” and feed us more of what we think our “preferences” are.

The second major theme is what this does to us as people. In short, he says it makes us “assholes” (argument three). The algorithms arc to what sparks strong reactions in us. Citing cognitive psychology sources, Lanier says that tends to be negative emotions, comments, or responses. The loudest jerk, then, gets the most attention leading the algorithms to adapt in that direction. In this light the corresponding erosion of our public discourse on social media makes a lot more sense – if the platform algorithms respond to the most robust responses, and if negative responses are easier to trigger, land more loudly and energetically, and in the end are the more “robust” then the algorithms more consistently adapt in that direction. Social media celebrities who are brazen and off the rails get more hits and likes than do those who make measured critiques, consider multiple views and are grounded in care and respect. The quintessential example he gives is Donald Trump whom he says is by no means an anomaly, but is instead the likely outcome of social media platforms whose core programs favor that tonal narrative. Of course, everyday folks fall into that trend as well. In the end, to get more views, likes and to be validated on social media, you have to be a bit of an asshole.

The third major theme is what social media does to our society. Lanier says it makes us callous, it deeply obscures truth and the need to be truly well informed, and it herds us into what appear to be highly polarized camps, even though US society is actually not as polarized as mainstream media would have us think. As the algorithms continue to show us the bubbles of our “choices” we lose the ability to understand someone else’s point of view. One of the most vital elements of a democracy is the ability to talk across difference and find some measure of common ground. These platforms make that virtually impossible and thereby erode one of the basic needs of a thriving democracy. Place on top of that the ease with which interests outside the US are able to influence our democracy, and we have a toxic combination for a democratic society (which can eventually lead to the loss of that same democracy). Lanier points out the parallel rise of increasingly authoritarian regimes with the rise of social media platforms. He is not at all directly blaming these platforms, but he is noticing that in their current form, they are easy and powerful tools for authoritarianism – an ideology that does not encourage critical thought, lives through curt slogans and xenophobic frameworks, and encourages conformity to the power structure. He does acknowledge that certain social movements of late have benefitted from the wide reach of social media (BLM and #MeToo) but then says the short term benefits of these do not actually outweigh the power of the wizard behind the curtain. And to the extent that these movements are able to gain traction, the algorithmic wizard(s) are more expeditiously working to co-opt, manipulate and redirect the work of those movements. Thus, the net is a loss for our society, a loss that no short term gain can justify.

As a book, Jaron Lanier’s ten reasons are a bit repetitive and their interrelation makes the identification of ten seem a bit inflated. I understand this move in terms of having catchy points as well as the need to repeat points to help the reader “get” what are often abstract and opaque dynamics for the “everyday” person, but it makes for dull reading at times. The lack of literary prowess should not deter one from reading this book and taking on its core points – the major social media platforms are not good for our society, they are not good for our personal growth and well-being, and they are not the “open” platforms we think they are. Rather, they are the tools of mega rich corporations for other mega rich corporations. Social media as an idea is not the problem, but social media that operates as these companies currently do is. Thus, deleting our accounts is the only way to get the attention of these companies and will eventually (hopefully) pave the way to the creation of other, more democratic social media platforms.

But beyond deletion being a strategic approach to forcing complete reform of these systems, there is of course a deep moral imperative here. Lanier references in one of his points the work of Sherry Turkle (Reclaiming Conversation, 2015) and uses her comments on our connectivity to broach the notion of what it means to be human and how these platforms do not well serve our humanity. AI advocates might suggest that as menial work is taken care of, we are able to actually be more human and explore greater arenas of thought and action than before. Perhaps, but that is not this. What we have here is a deep loss of who we are as humans. The very notion that one can govern via tweets let alone address the complexities of the human experience via Twitter, Facebook, What’s App, or Instagram is absurd, and yet each day we increasingly accept it as the norm. A range of contemporary articles have shared how much better the authors feel about themselves, the world and their relationships after getting off social media. Similar studies have piled up regarding the deleterious impacts on self-esteem, interpersonal communication, and empathy as a result of the ongoing use of social media as a primary source of news, communication and relationships. This clearly does not serve social justice.

A tenet of social justice work is to take action and live as part of the solution. We at HCG do not pretend even for a minute that we “have arrived” with respect to living socially just lives, but we do commit to the interrogation of our choices and an honest appraisal of their support of justice. And for us, social media does not at all support social justice. To organizers – yes, there is great power in social media, but is it possible that we / you are being allowed to organize so the conglomerates can find ever more insidious ways to manipulate us? To those who say it creates access – is it possible that we are being granted access only to then create more avenues for control? I could go on, but it is easier for you to read Lanier’s book. At the deepest level, it is critical to ask if these platforms truly serve justice and our society. Having had a moment to consider it and take in more information we unequivocally say no. Justice is transparent, it is rooted in love, it is connected in ways that are abiding and authentic, and it serves the greater good. Learning what we have about social media, there is no way that it, in its current form, can be framed as serving the social good.

To be sure there are those for whom deleting social media accounts is not possible economically, politically, or socially. But, for those of us where it is possible, it is a critically important move to make. Thus, HCG has deleted all of its social media accounts as of January 31st. If you would like to be in touch with us, please feel free to email us at the link on our website or at the top of our newsletter.

Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social media Accounts Right Now”:
1. You are losing your free will
2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times
3. Social media is making you into an asshole
4. Social media is undermining truth
5. Social media is making what you say meaningless
6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy
7. Social media is making you unhappy
8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity
9. Social media is making politics impossible
10. Social media hates your soul

Keynote: 2018 Equity in the Center Summit

Dr. Hackman will be one of the featured speakers at the upcoming 2018 Equity in the Center Summit in Baltimore, MD.

2018 Summit themes will include decolonizing the social sector, addressing race equity in an intersectional context, and the role of foundations in driving race equity funding strategies.

Building on momentum the EiC network has gained since the 2017 Summit, their goal is to provide opportunities for leaders and organizations to increase capacity to drive race equity internally and across the sector. Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders will provide case examples of how organizations have successfully moved through the Race Equity Cycle, as well as share insights on the funding and capacity building strategies and tactics necessary to make progress toward race equity within organizations, across the social sector and in society broadly.

Post-Conference Workshop: To Rise, We Need Critical Conversations About ‘Unsustainable’ Race, Class, & Gender Privilege

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating this workshop at the upcoming AASHE conference. While attention to the ways dynamics of racism, classism and gender oppression target people of color and native people, poor and working class people, and cisgender women and trans* people is critically important to our sustainability work, too often the “other side” of these dynamics are left invisible and thus unchallenged and unchanged. More specifically, while some campuses are willing to consider the impacts of racism, sexism or classism on their sustainability work, less frequent is the willingness to look at the ways white, owning-class and male privilege has impacted that work.
This post-conference workshop is designed to help participants dive more deeply into the complicated and often fraught conversation about race, class and gender privilege in the service of developing more collaborative campus sustainability efforts.

Conference Session: An Introduction to the Role of Race, Class and Gender Issues on Campus Sustainability Work

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating this session at the upcoming AASHE conference. This introductory session explores the powerfully important ways that dynamics of race, class and gender (RCG) impact the efficacy of our campus sustainability work, and then suggests how a racial justice, economic justice, and gender justice framework can substantially deepen that very same work. The session begins with a brief framing of the connection between RCG issues and sustainability, followed by the outlining of a social justice lens that can be used to address them.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Developing & Utilizing a Social Justice Lens in Order to Achieve Global Goals for Sustainability

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this workshop at the upcoming AASHE conference. As evidenced by this national moment, a lack of critical understanding of social justice issues makes achieving global sustainability goals near impossible. Conversely, thoughtful attention to social justice issues affords any individual or organization the capacity to rise to the challenge of complex global work across lines of race, gender, class and disability (to name a few). More specifically, doing sustainability work through a social justice lens supports the urgent need for national and global collaboration with respect to climate, environmental and sustainability issues and greatly improves the likelihood of the development of deeply rooted and long-term climate, environmental and sustainability solutions.
As such, this cross-disciplinary workshop is designed to take campus sustainability work to a deeper level, via the use of a critical “social justice lens” (SJL), so as to improve its efficacy, deepen its reach and power, and ultimately align it more closely with 21st century climate realities. Based on workshops Dr. Hackman has presented across the country, this interactive session begins by setting forth the core components of a critical SJL, then makes explicit connections for its use and transformative import in this current climate change / sustainability moment, and concludes with the presentation of concrete steps regarding the application of a SJL to sustainability work on our campuses.

Radio Show: Hidden Edges Radio 950 AM

Listen to Dr. Stephen Nelson, HCG consultant and member of the MN Health Equity Leadership Network, as he goes on-air with trans-activist Ellie Krug on her Hidden Edges Radio show. Tune in to AM 950 in Minnesota or find the interview here after it airs:

Pre-Conference Institute: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be facilitating a pre-conference institute at NCORE this May. This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that Race, Racism and Whiteness (RRW) serve to unnaturally divide us and violently disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and this knowledge can serve as a powerful framework for uprooting racial oppression and achieving racial justice. Thus, the dismantling of RRW is not actually something we have to “work toward”, but rather a “coming home” to our rightful human interdependence. And, it is in the space of this interconnectivity, rooted in our bodies’ own knowledge, that we can find the deep sources of racial liberation and healing.

Keynote Address: Race and Racism’s Impact on Health and Equity

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be delivering this keynote address at CentraCare Health’s 8th Annual Diversity Conference: Embracing Diversity to Thrive: Strategies for Business, Health Care, and Community.

Conference Session: The Healer’s Power: How Whiteness Kills

Dr. Stephen C. Nelson will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. This session will highlight how racism and whiteness affect the health of people of color. Even when the social determinants of health are equal, people of color have poorer outcomes in the United States. I will share my personal role and responsibility as a white male physician in racial health inequity. It can be very difficult to sustain social justice work at any institution. It has been especially difficult within healthcare. There is much resistance to this kind of work. We will examine the greatest barrier to health equity and institutional change…..the power of whiteness. Dr. Nelson will describe experiences and we will discuss the types of resistance to establishing social justice work. We will discuss tools and interventions to help break down these barriers. This will be a highly interactive session as we work together to build our super powers for breaking down institutional and personal barriers to social justice work. Participants will leave the workshop with: 1) A clearer sense of how racial bias and systemic racism impact the health of persons of color, 2) A clearer sense of the institutional barriers to social justice work, 3) An understanding of how we can break down these barriers with specific tools.

Conference Session: The Body Already Knows: A Framework for Dismantling Race, Racism and Whiteness and Achieving Racial Justice

Dr. Hackman will be presenting this concurrent session at the White Privilege Conference in April. What stops any of us from taking action, what hampers our courage, what slows our resistance to injustice? This workshop is based on two key ideas: The first is that the creation of Race (and the system of racial oppression it supports) serves to unnaturally divide us from each other and disrupt our inherent human connection. The second is that the 50 trillion cells in our bodies already know how to live in just and supportive community and these patterns can serve as a powerful framework Thus, the dismantling of Race, Racism and Whiteness is not an idea or reality we “work toward” but rather a pathway that helps us all “come home” to our rightful human interdependence and find deep sources of racial liberation and healing. The workshop (1) begins by grounding into the body in myriad ways and helping participants explore the notion of “embodied racial justice”. To be sure, this is not a watering-down of critical race work and instead helps participants be more present and more capable of leaning into the complexities of racial justice work. (2) We discuss concrete concepts regarding Race, Racism and Whiteness such as the power of the U.S. “racial narrative” and the role of the White Imperial Gaze, (3) examine the innovative framework of “cellular wisdom” and then (4) practice using it to upend the divisive patterns of racial oppression and replace them with ways of being that speak more truthfully to our human connection and the core principles of racial justice. The workshop ends (5) with small group discussion and dedicated time for concrete application of this framework to participants’ lives and to their racial justice work.”