Permanently Deleting Social Media Changed My Life
My personal journey in erasing my online identity, one platform at a time.
The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of colour, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.
More than ever before, social media is considered a vital organ to communicate with others, find content, and share each other’s work. But over the past few years, I believe I am not alone in feeling very disillusioned with it. It wasn’t always like this.
Some of my earliest memories were falling in love with MSN Messenger as a child, making new friends at school and continuing our friendships in the evening after school was finished. I remember signing up for Facebook and Twitter back in 2008 and feeling so excited to be connected with others in a brand new way.
I was 11 years old at the time, and most social networks required you to be 13. I didn’t see what the harm was then — they’re just websites, and I felt certain that I wasn’t going to befriend my local paedophile. Yet at 23, the harms are more transparent than ever before.
Retrospectively, I was majorly addicted to social networks at a young age — not just because many are designed to be addictive, but because I grew up in a rough area. My parents didn’t want me going out too much, and getting involved with a lot of crime around our area. So all social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram — were the only way that I could reach out and socialise with others.
It’s no exaggeration to say my entire social world was based on these apps. It shaped the way I saw others, and in turn, the way I viewed myself. I don’t necessarily think in all cases that these platforms cause damage. But considering my unhealthy attachment to them, to the extent I say them as completely identical to socialising, they were doing me more harm than good.
It’s been a gradual process, but as of writing this, I have since permanently deleted all my social media accounts. I don’t know many people who have done this, so I decided to write a eulogy to commemorate my past, and anticipate the future that awaits me.
Rather than philosophically analyse the harms as I have done in previous articles, I just want to keep it casual and personal. I think it’s an interesting story to reclaim a social life outside of these platforms which have gradually become a necessity, rather than accessories to aid our social lives.
Generally speaking, I still find Twitter to be the more innocuous platform out of the lot. I would regularly go onto my timeline and bask in a refreshing honesty from the people I was following.
In the early days, it was amazing to be part of a collective stream of consciousness where people voiced their innermost thoughts, engage in interesting dialogue, and feel understood beneath pictures of people appearing happy and successful (like Facebook and Instagram, but we’ll get to that later).
But I soon discovered Twitter to be a double-edged sword. I began to realise this when I was obsessively using Twitter as a teenager, projecting my half-baked thoughts and opinions towards both people I knew, and people I had never met. In fact, many people I would come to meet in real life actually knew me from Twitter. Because I was tweeting every single one of my thoughts, they seemed to intimately know who I was and quote things I have said before I had met them.
Sure enough, that can be considered a good thing. A lot of ice is broken. But there was so much worrying about that.
I didn’t feel like my thoughts were private anymore. I built a habit of immediately externalising my thoughts towards an audience of people, subconsciously seeking their approval by saying something relevant, catchy, funny, etc.
Don’t get me wrong — people had a lot of positive things to say about me, and I had a fairly large following there.
But the mystery of meeting someone for the first time seemed to almost immediately disappear. I came to saw myself a bit like a cartoon character — tweeting stuff that was ‘on-brand’, and saying things that didn’t completely represent me because I was thirsty for retweets and likes. Looking back, it was remarkable that I felt the courage to outwardly voice my opinions at a young age — most of which should have just remained as idle thoughts in my mind.
This all felt like stuff that I should keep in a personal diary so I can reflect on my thoughts. That way, the approval comes from me rather than others.
I permanently deleted my Twitter in 2018 and haven’t looked back. I felt lighter and freer. I wasn’t glued to my phone and soaking in the opinions of people I had already agreed with.
Conversely, I wasn’t going to get angry at someone’s ignorance and waste an hour of time’s sorting them out. Out of the major social media platforms, I think Twitter mostly has an echo chamber problem.
There were a lot of interesting people there, and I actually made some friends I still speak to. But the dialogue was hardly ever cross-cutting. I just followed people who already agreed with my opinions, and I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough in my views.
Since deleting it, I became more introspective, kept a diary for my own thoughts, and felt less pressure to say things that were relevant and funny just so I could maintain my high follower count.
Yikes, Facebook. I’ll try to keep this one short.
Facebook was really cool in the beginning. People used it in a similar way to Twitter, where they would post about their day, see pictures, and genuine conversations were had.
But it slowly devolved into an algorithmic soup of content tailored towards its user’s interests. Which by the way, is due to the way Facebook tracks you on other websites even if you don’t have a Facebook account.
By far, it’s the shadiest one of the lot. The Cambridge Analytica scandals had proven this and made me feel certain that I wanted nothing to do with this company. But the only thing pulling me back was the fact that all the people in my life were there.
What if I needed to message them? What if I wanted to reconvene with old friends?
It took me a while before I had the guts to leave most of it behind in the past.
In an early interview with Mark Zuckerberg, he claimed one of the appeals of Facebook is to connect with acquaintances, work colleagues, and old friends again. I think it worked in the beginning, and I’m sure many people did reconnect, which is a beautiful thing. But it soon became rather toxic.
Going on Facebook eventually meant comparing your life to others. Seeing perfect representations of imperfect people turned it into if anything, an anti-social network.
I’m learning the merits of leaving the past behind, including people. We don’t need to be constantly connected to everyone we’ve ever met — we managed this long before social media, and I believe the universe tends to have a way of reconnecting you with others in the most serendipitous of ways.
Truthfully, I hardly spoke to those so-called ‘800 friends’ that I had on Facebook. After I deleted it, I still didn’t.
When you delete Facebook, they rather sinisterly show pictures of some friends and say each of them will miss you to try and lull you back in.
For me, this manipulative effort demonstrates the very way Facebook works — essentially hoarding personal data, and rewarding it back with dopamine rushes of being liked and approved by others. So I haven’t looked back.
It surprised me to hear that some people didn’t realise that Facebook Inc. owned Instagram and WhatsApp. But certainly, the same kind of social engineering on Facebook is at work on Instagram.
I’ve kept Instagram the longest for a few reasons — everyone in my generation seems to be there in some capacity and I don’t want to feel the dreadful FOMO. But it isn’t exactly like Facebook.
It’s a supposed great way to share these articles and my art with others, and it’s a very minimalistic social media platform. Yet for me, I would say it’s one of the most toxic.
There’s no nice way to put this, but Instagram essentially ‘stole’ the Stories feature from Snapchat. I liked it at first because it was like a television screen into people’s lives. But it goes back to my point about Twitter — it removes the mystery of what people are doing that day.
I still ask people what they did on the weekend, and they’ll often say:
“Really, you didn’t see my story?”
It reduces the fun in sharing our lives with others in conversation, which I find to be one of the most enjoyable things about socialising with others.
Other than that, there’s so much stuff I consume on Instagram, that I end up thinking quite a lot about people I don’t know. It’s like they have real estate in my mind — even people who I have fallen out with and don’t like.
I decided to deactivate Instagram whenever I wasn’t trying to promote COSY or my music, so I could enjoy my life without this anchor that attaches itself to my self-worth. I ended up feeling less anxiety, and giving my head more space to daydream.
But even when returning, it felt like I was thrust upon a stage, performing to people who probably didn’t want to hear what was going on in my life. I felt a lot of passive resentment.
Maybe it was an illusion, but I think everybody in some capacity is subject to this toxic attitude of comparing oneself to others, which I maintain is learned rather than innate behaviour in human beings.
So I decided, after much thought, to pull the plug permanently on Instagram — which would basically be the entire end of my social media presence. It’s safe to say that what happened next, floored me.
I announced my exit with a rather dramatic slideshow — clearly stating my intention, changing my identity, and directing people towards COSY and my art on Sumire. Truthfully, there were many acquaintances on Instagram who I thought I would get along with if I only got the opportunity to engage more than a passive double-tap like.
Transgressing anxiety, I decided to reach out for people’s numbers — even if I didn’t know them. Without expecting much, I found my DMs full of people who agreed with my decision, and wanted to connect. I got the numbers of about 20 people who I’ve either never spoken to, or haven’t in years. I had some great conversations, arranged to meet up with many, and discovered that I could have a social life completely independent of Instagram.
Sure, some people found my method too forwards and strange, and didn’t want to go through with it. How can I blame them? It’s not a social norm to message people and ask for their number when you don’t know them (anymore). But I believe the pandemic has almost made us crave new connections with people, and to put down the phone and enjoy the simplicity of meeting someone over food and a coffee.
I deleted Instagram with the ending from the Truman show, which felt super fitting for the moment. Weeks after, I felt like I might have made a mistake.
Honestly, I sometimes feel like I made the wrong decision. Because I connected with so many people on Instagram, did I amputate my only recourse to meet new people?
I’d usually wake up in the morning to launch myself into my social world, connecting effortlessly with the lives of others. It’s a habit I honestly kinda miss.
Yet overall, I’ve just felt happier. I can message my new friends. I find my attention span is less fractured, focusing on tasks for hours. I don’t feel like I need to take a thousand selfies and post the right one to improve my self-esteem — a glance at the mirror is good enough for me.
The expectations to post things on a regular basis has faded. I’ve forgotten most of the strangers whose lives I used to follow every single day. To a greater extent, my social anxiety has diminished in the face of excitement to meet them in real life. I’ve also been on my phone so much less.
What remains is the very real desire to express me. So I’ve downloaded a great journaling app called Day One to post whatever I would ordinarily post on Twitter and Instagram.
I’ve been doing it for a month now, and it’s been extraordinary to maintain this inner dialogue with myself without retweets, likes, follows, views, and anxiety.
Deleting, rather than deactivating everything, has been a gradual process for sure. In doing this, I thought I would experience severe isolation and FOMO. But strangely, I’ve felt less isolated than I have ever before.
Receiving messages feels so much better than receiving likes.
Daydreaming feels so much better than doom-scrolling.
Liberating myself from external validation has allowed me to feel myself.
Permanently deleting social media has permanently changed my life.