Editorial: It’s Time for a Complete Reset on How I Use Social Media

Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash

Early this morning, I deleted my Reddit account.

As many of you already know, I already deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts in 2018, followed by moving away from Facebook-now-Meta’s virtual reality hardware completely (I now have a Valve Index at home and an HTC Vive Pro 2 headset at work, using SteamVR).

And last April, when Elon Musk first floated the idea of buying Twitter, I began to reassess my use of that social media platform, too. I set up my first account on the federated, free-and-open-source (FOSS) microblogging platform Mastodon. So, by the time Elon strode into Twitter headquarters as its new CEO in the fall, I pulled the plug on Twitter as well. (Based on some good advice I got from infosec folks on Mastodon, I simply deleted all my tweets and chats, then left my account empty, without actually deleting it. Every so often, they appear to reload all my deleted tweets from a backup, but I just run TweetDelete again to batch delete everything.)

As for YouTube, I only follow selected channels via the excellent Feedbin app, which I had originally written about here (note that since that was written last October, I decided to unfollow everybody on Twitter completely; I only use Feedbin for newsletters and YouTube channels now). The biggest advantage to this setup (and well worth the subscription cost) is that I am no longer a slave to YouTube’s recommendation algorithm and its incessant, irritating inserted advertising!

Clubhouse lived and died and was deleted from my iPhone over the course of a year (but it was fun while it lasted, and a much-needed outlet during the pandemic lockdown).

Which means, that as of Valentine’s Day 2023, the only corporate-run social media I still used on a daily basis was Reddit. So, why did I finally get rid of that?

It’s a bit of a story. But essentially, something happened this morning that was my wake-up call that I was spending far too much time on Reddit.

Although I had been aware of Reddit for many years, I only bothered to set up an account in 2018. At first, I barely used the service, but I did notice that, as I moved away from Facebook and Twitter, I was spending more and more time on Reddit.

Originally, I had subscribed to all the virtual reality and metaverse-related subreddits (what Reddit calls communities). For a little while last year, I was glued to the daily post on the r/worldnews subreddit about the Russia-Ukraine war. And, of course, Reddit was a place where I followed the latest news about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Over time, I found that I was spending less time on those communities, and more time on what I call the snark subreddits—those communities which have spring up around a public figure (usually a celebrity or an “influencer”), full of sarcastic and often-hilariously-on-point criticism of their posts on Instagram and other social media sites, as well as newsmedia coverage about them.

One of those snark subs was called Hollis Uncensored, and it focused on the once-married (and now divorced) influencer couple of Dave and Rachel Hollis. Rachel had lucked into becoming an Instagram influencer and conference speaker, and had a popular book published, titled Girl, Wash Your Face. Dave, who was a successful executive at Disney, decided to leave corporate life and join the influencer/speaker/writer market with Rachel. They worked together (including advising married couples on their relationships) right up until the shock announcement that they were separating, which of course got some people quite upset that they were marketing themselves as marriage “experts”.

After the split, it wasn’t long before Dave Hollis hooked up with Heidi Lane Powell, a fitness influencer who was divorced from Chris Powell (that couple hosted the reality TV show Extreme Weight Loss for several years). In much the same way as Dave had latched onto his (ex-)wife Rachel’s business as an influencer/speaker, so he became a part of Heidi’s work and personal life as her business partner and her boyfriend. Seeing a pattern here? So did we, and we gloried in snarking about it!

Well, after breaking up and getting back together again several times, recently Dave and Heidi announced that they were separating as a couple (again). During all this, Dave had to abruptly cancel a men’s conference we was trying to sell, when he went for treatment at an addictions centre in California—something which Heidi accidentally let slip during a snapshot of a Zoom meeting posted to her social media, where a particularly sharp-eyed snarker did a reverse image search and matched the furniture and decorations in the room Dave was speaking from, with the treatment facility! There were also several frankly embarrassing attempts by David, coaxed on by Heidi, to participate in things like a triathlon (which he bailed out of) and a bodybuilding competition (where he came in last for his age range).

Needless to say, all this provided ample opportunity for the snarkers in the r/hollisuncensored subreddit! Every evening, before going to bed, I would lie on my sofa with my iPad, catching up on Hollis Uncensored and my other favourite snark subreddits. It was like I was sitting at the mean girls’ table in high school, gossiping and giggling about what so-and-so did to such-and-such!

However, over time, I noticed a disturbing pattern in my Reddit behaviour. Often, I would go back and forth between various subreddits (including my current favourite, the cryptosnark community r/Buttcoin), looking for new items to comment on. I would often stay up past my regular bedtime, restlessly checking for the latest snark, rechecking to see whether my comments had been upvoted. I was becoming addicted.

This morning, while brewing a pot of coffee and getting ready to head off to work, I signed into Hollis Uncensored, to read the shocking news that Dave Hollis had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Variety broke the story last night:

Dave Hollis’ death was a wake-up call that I was wasting entirely too much time snarking on Reddit

Dave was only 47 years old, and he left behind his ex-wife Rachel and their four children (the youngest of whom was only 5), plus his ex-girlfriend Heidi and her four children (from two previous relationships). It turns out that Dave had had a heart condition, and he had actually been hospitalized recently for it while attending some sort of influencers’ Mastermind summit in California (an event that seemed to bring together all the toxic-positivity grifters).

There has been much anguish expressed today over at r/hollisuncensored, and not a little soul-searching. Most people are still processing, and still in shock. Suddenly, all that snark about Dave’s, Rachel’s, and Heidi’s antics doesn’t seem that funny anymore. Some have suggested that the existing comment threads about Dave be deleted, even the whole subreddit be shut down, while others have pushed back on that idea. One much-upvoted comment in the aftermath of this shocking news reads as follows:

None of us wanted this, it was about holding [those] people, who teach on well-being and health while publicly doing harmful things, to account. It’s very sad. And [it] goes to show why we should take addiction and mental health seriously, from experts, not this self-help grift. Dave was a victim of self-help culture as much as a perpetrator of it. It’s very, very sad. I hope those around him who are also struggling from addiction and other mental health issues take this as a wake-up call that they need to seek professional, evidenced based support, to commit to it privately, [and] not to teach on it [un]til a long time after their own healing. Addiction and anguish are not something you can handle by changing your mindset or moving your body and journaling. This constant whirling around of epiphanies and anguish makes you sicker and further away from being ok. Do not follow self helpers, course creators selling no product, attend[ing] these conferences, masterminds etc.

May his family have comfort.

For me, this was my clear sign from the universe that I was spending far, far too much time on Reddit, and I just decided to delete my Reddit account this morning, cold turkey. (My previous posts and comments will remain up, but without my username attached to them. As I did before I set up a Reddit account, I could still go in and view the communities I used to be a member of, but I can no longer comment or post unless I set up a new account, which I have zero intention of doing.)

So, what have I learned from the past few years, and from today?

I have learned that I have a lamentable tendency to become addicted to social media, particularly in those apps like Facebook and Twitter, where the algorithm is specifically designed to keep you scrolling through your feed (all the better to strip-mine your personal data and sell it to advertisers, my dear!). Even worse, I tend to use social media as an escape from facing the own problems and issues in my own life. It’s time to stop discussing other people’s problems, and focus on my own.

I now consider it unlikely that I will use any corporate-run social media in future (except in cases like YouTube, where it is effectively filtered via Feedbin to avoid the recommendation algorithm). My experience over the past few years with social media has been an eye-opener, and it will inform my decisions and actions going forward. I used to avidly seek out new social networks to join, dating back to my time on Friendster twenty years ago; now, I tend to run in the other direction!

I originally looked at Mastodon as a replacement app for Twitter, and I had put a lot of my effort into building a social network there over the past ten months. The community there is great; overall, they’re a high-quality bunch of people. However, I have also decided to take a mental health break from Mastodon, too. Even though it was a far better place than the toxic dumpster fire which Twitter has become under Elon Musk, I am seriously starting to question why I feel the need to use any social media at all.

I still have and will continue to run my blog and my Discord server, but I do feel it’s time for me to step back and do a complete and utter reset of how I use social media, going forward. I’m probably going to have to fight through some tough Reddit withdrawal symptoms! But I do think this is the best step forward for me.

Wish me luck!

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