Hanging up the internet sword

This is a post about our relationship with social media, what it does to us and how one can change their relationship with it. It's a personal perspective you might find applicable to some or no extent but here goes.

A weird change in my social media activity

Recently I've ended up as one of six mods on a region-specific Mastodon server which "blew up" as many did, in early November. I'd joined as a mod a few years ago when the thing was a hobby project for a few nerd activists who dream of a better online world, based on things like privacy, collective ownership and sitting somewhere on a line from non-commercialism to anti-capitalism. My first post was the words "Nothing to report" and I didn't post anything else for about 15 months. This is the problem with creating a social media platform to be populated by people who don't care about how many followers they can get if it can't be done somewhere that suits their buzz. There was no chance or desire for a post to blow up. I kinda wandered off, it was quiet.

Things took off in November 2022, if you're reading this you know the hows and the why of it. It was a mad buzz, I felt high. Without giving the whole spiel, it felt like a validation of certain ideals that I'd believed in for most of a decade. The people were finally arriving. There was a banging hammer in my mind saying "You need this like a fucking hole in the head". I'm slowly getting comfortable with thinking of myself as middle-aged and even before this I was in the most time-poor period of my life that I can remember.

And you know what, these people flooding in, they weren't on my buzz either, not as far as I could tell. I don't mind people not being all in on digital rights or whatever, you kind of need to be knee-deep in the context to know if you care or not, but it was eh, everybody and anybody. It was "Irish Twitter" to some extent and I was never that on board with that dynamic. There was also just people with heads on them and you be there going "I know that kind of head", was it some kind of conservative takeover. Shit was looking like it might kick off and I had to decide if this was a set of people I'd jump on a grenade for or if it was time to say "Ok, gang, fun experiment. Let's turn this shit off and get plenty of sleep before work on Monday." At this point I'll say that none of the mods ever said any variation of that out loud. Even though there were a lot of arguments for it which could have been made. Not even one person walked. The mod team actually doubled, three people joined mid-shitshow.

The common thread

So what the fuck was I doing with my life, with everything else going on, joining a team of people with the unenviable task of getting a few thousand randos to always be sound. There was a few different things that clicked into place and when they did, well, actually it took me a week or two to understand what I knew but I knew something.

A crucially important aspect was the server rules. I didn't write them, but when I saw them they made sense. No bigotry, essentially, but for variants of it where it wouldn't be seen as bigotry by a lot of Ireland. Transphobia and anti-traveller* speech especially. Even when someone didn't seem like someone I'd find a lot to talk to about, that they were also someone who looked at those rules and said "yeah, I can work with that" was a big deal. People who can work with that aren't going to be too bad, even if we might each turn each other's faces white by revealing who we're going to vote for.

And look, I'll hold my hands up, I uploaded the crisps and pints emoji, I'm not too good to be twee and self-regarding as fuck when I want to be. And that kind of shit convinced some people it was "Audience at a Foil Arms and Hog Gig: The Server"** but sure whatever.

The big thing that I started noticing though, the common thread that wove through loads of these people, and through me, were the expressions of feeling so wrecked, so fucking tired, of trying to be themselves and express themselves and then everywhere you go it's just fucking "Raaaaaagh! Are you angry yet? You should be! You should always be angry, how else do you know if you're right about things." Or they're getting dog's abuse from every shithead going any time they reveal anything about themselves and their choice is shut the fuck up and leave the internet, or take it like a champ, cus those shitheads' eyeballs are just as good as yours at looking at ads. Of course, you can use the block tools. You can spend 50% of your time online cultivating your blocklist to make the experience feel any way humane. Whoop-dee-fuckin-doo.

So folks coming in were various flavours of tired and worn out and just needed a minute to get their shit together because their heads were melted. And my head was melted. It'd be a rare thing for a head to only be one kind of melted though, so I'll list my two, and I think there's a commonality on these with a lot of people.

I hated myself on Twitter

I'm off Twitter years. How cool am I? Don't answer that. But yeah, it was the wrong website for me, and I have to take half the blame for it. I think I've made and deleted three different Twitter accounts. Join up, follow people who make cool things and do mad clever things. Just non-stop entertainment. And then something big and controversial would happen and of course I'd have to have an opinion on it and strap on my armour and go and fight the good fight of, eh, wasting hours arguing with full-time arseholes on the internet. Think I got suspended once or twice too for calling people every cunt under the sun. They were though.

The first time I did this was a big fucking shitshow called Gamergate in 2014, where a bunch of online misogynists and bigots did a massive grift on the middle of the Venn diagram with themselves and online gamers. So I was there in the middle of it swinging my sword at MRAs and racists naming themselves after classical philosophers and generally wasting my free time when I should have been enjoying good telly. Properly ruining my evening, sitting there in a huff. And what was the fruit of my efforts, and those of people like me? Well the shitshow never ended and loads of really cool women in games and games writing left Twitter in particular and public social media in general, never to go back. Because death threats aren't worth it. And was I actually fighting the good fight or pouring oil on the fire, eh, probably the latter, these shitheads live on the attention.

There's also a horrible feedback loop in this stuff, you can be like a gambler chasing losses. "I didn't take anything out of that lad and I feel a bit ashamed of myself for wasting my time. Next time one of them pops up though, I'll demolish them. And you spend two hours doing research homework for the next argument you have with some incel instead of, you know, sleeping. What me and my mortal enemies had in common though? We were great feckin users. Our engagement levels were absolutely class. Sell that man a computer game!

And speaking of games, that's all I was doing - playing a game. If I cared so much about women's rights why was 99%*** of my time investment in it arguing online? Because it was just the medium through which I was trying to prove how sound I was. To who exactly? Well, probably myself. Yeah. So Twitter didn't suit me.

When I saw people who were fucking sick of Twitter, I had a deep well of empathy to draw on. And that's the only thing I ever got out of all those arguments. All the battles were pointless. The first rule of debate club is "debate club is a big ball of shite".

Remember that whole covid thing

That's the other half of it. Now I'm not going to do a deep-dive on what over means for covid and I know people for whom "over" is a sick joke. I'm lucky in a sense that nobody in my immediate family died from covid, although I think a few of us might have the long-ish flavour of it.

For me though, I'd have to say the whole covid/lockdown experience was nothing remarkable to anyone else. You know the line about "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - well that model broke fucking badly during covid. I've never known as many people to have the same inescapable relentless fucking stress for as long and at the same time. And I said families but there's a whole raft of other miserable formulas too. Living alone - you wouldn't be allowed do it to a prisoner. Having your relationship fail slowly. And these are the soft end of things, I won't talk about the hard end.

You know when you see people doing those mad endurance athletics things, and they finally drag their arse over the line and they get hugs and slaps on the back and everyone congratulating them. "You did it! Well done!" I think that's what everyone needed that magical day when officaldom decided "fuck it, be grand". There was no particular day to do it, cus it was such a slow, weird burn. Fuckin hell though, that thing of "normal life starts.....now! Shut the fuck up and get on with it!" is fucking weird. I don't know a better way of doing it myself in all honesty. It feels like aliens came down and robbed a load of people and said "Don't talk about it or we'll come back and rob more." So, yeah, a hug and a slap on the back would have been good. Or that chewing gum ad where everyone is hot and they all go out one day and ride each other, I'd be willing to accept that too.

Meanwhile back in reality though, the batteries are low all round. That's the context for "let's all go somewhere and take it handy on each other", I think. I'd say a lot of people have been running on fumes for a while and now they're going "what in the name of christ have I been doing with my time, and why". I wrote a few things early on which were a variation on the theme of "let's just feckin mind ourselves for a bit" and you know what, it's not the same as counseling but you have to wait two years for the free version.

"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice"

So what have we established so far:
- social media can be toxic
- covid was mentally draining
Give that man a book deal, if not a research grant. Using our time well tonight.

The thing is though, people on the server started saying different variations of "this is nice". And it was nice, and it is nice, and they needed something nice. And I needed something nice. And one fairly simple comment from someone made me sob. Not becuase I thought me being one of six mods on the server they were on made me some kind of hero and I had been vindicated. They essentially said it was something they'd been needing for a while, and they hadn't realised it could be a thing any more. And the probability waves I'd been juggling in my head, trying to understand why I was doing this mad thing, all collapsed into one, crystallised point, and I realised what I needed for me, why it mattered for me, and if I could make it work for a few thousand other people, it might make my life nicer too.

It actually has made my nice lifer too. I've seen people I've known ages start revealing things about themselves that they thought would be like painting a sign on their back elsewhere, and talking openly to hundreds of people about themselves. Someone I knew told me something on the back of me being fairly clear I had no time for a certain class of bullshit as well. I took it as a sign that I was going in the right direction.

And I've realised that there's a bunch of people on the server who I actually do think it's worth sticking my neck out for. Not in a paternalistic way, but I'll hold the line for them to keep things the way we need them to be. Kinship would be the closest thing.

And if that means someone else doesn't think the place has enough edge, or isn't credibly radical, well, fuck it. We'll live. They can do whatever they want. If we decide the right thing for us is a duck derby we'll have a duck derby and you can be incredibly correct about things on your own time. Best of luck.

* if you're not from Ireland, you might not know about a specific meaning for Traveller we have here. Short version is that they're a minority with more than their fair share of shit to deal with. More info at https://www.paveepoint.ie/
** no offence meant, I'm sure they love their children too - and I like the curry ads
*** Put up some posters for Repeal, go me