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The Quad: A millennial’s take on the impracticality of social media abstinence

(Sarah Goldacker/Daily Bruin)

By Aneesh Gowri

May 23, 2018 2:18 p.m.

During the past few weeks, Mark Zuckerberg, among other tech moguls, has been under intense scrutiny from Congress for the role social media played during the 2016 presidential election. Many political analysts argued that outside forces, from Russian troll farms to Twitter bots, dealt a large blow to the U.S. fair election system.

These congressional hearings were the product of recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that used your Facebook data to help the Trump campaign target voters. The consulting firm has since shut down, but the controversy surrounding Zuckerberg and Facebook’s privacy policy persists.

Following the congressional hearing, Facebook experienced a mass exodus led by the hashtag #DeleteFacebook. Tech titans such as Elon Musk, and musical icons, including Cher, deleted their Facebook pages in an attempt to protect their privacy and to let large tech companies know there are consequences to breaching the trust of users.

While many, including the members of Congress who grilled him during his testimony, blame Zuckerberg and Facebook for the data violation, some digital activists argue an incident like this was inevitable.

No matter how ironic using a hashtag to announce your departure from social media is, I can’t help but wonder if quitting social media – or even just Facebook – is practical for millennials. Many say quitting social media is the only real way to protect your privacy, but what are you – and what are we, as students – losing in the process?

In an effort to answer these questions and many more, I took on the herculean task of quitting social media for a week. At first, I thought I could just quit Facebook, which seemed like the largest perpetrator. But I learned upon further exploration that most tech companies use your data in less than savory ways. I figured that if I were quitting Facebook, I might as well quit Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, Venmo, GroupMe and LinkedIn, several of which are also subsidiaries of Facebook.

I have to admit I am not the biggest user of social media to begin with. I rarely post myself, and tend to only like pictures and posts from those I am genuinely in contact with – with the exception of the few posts that truly resonate with me. I probably interact with news sources just as often as I do with people on both Twitter and Facebook.

With this in mind, here’s how my week went, platform by platform.

  1. Instagram: Quitting Instagram was one of the harder tasks during my week off. Instagram is the most recent addition to my social media presence – I joined less than two years ago – but I realized just how much I use it only when I had to stop. I mainly use Instagram to entertain myself during class and study breaks, but that time does add up. It got easier to avoid as the week went on, but I still found myself sitting down and instinctively opening my phone to kill time. In the end, Instagram is one of the more fun social media platforms, as it uses carefully curated images to keep up with old and new friends – something I’m just not ready to give up.
  2. Snapchat: One easy app to quit was Snapchat, a platform that I had basically already quit after the company’s most recent update. That’s at least what I thought, before my unopened Snapchats started piling up. I’m not sure I use Snapchat the way most others do. I only really consistently snap 10 people, and keep my friend list pared down to about 50 friends because I honestly don’t care about staying updated on others’ lives through Snapchat. Snapchat seems frivolous and unnecessary – an app that does only half of what Instagram does, and worse than Instagram does it. Quitting wasn’t horrible, but it was really satisfying going through all my Snapchats at the end of the week.
  3. GroupMe: Quitting GroupMe was a blessing because I never really liked it in the first place. I don’t know what it is about GroupMe, but I feel like something about the platform brings out the most annoying side of people. I deleted it during my week off and I’m never going back. Many student organizations, however, rely on GroupMe as their main form of communication – leading to a whirlwind of unopened messages and notifications. But if you’re looking to cut down on your social media use, GroupMe might be the easiest one to go. Facebook Messenger and Slack do the same thing – they just do it better.
  4. WhatsApp: I only use WhatsApp when I’m outside the country. Quitting it did not affect my life at all, especially because I can use iMessage to text most of my international friends. If you’re looking for an alternative, try Telegram. It’s just like WhatsApp, but protects your privacy through an advanced encryption algorithm. Though WhatsApp may serve international students well, if Facebook is really going through all our messages, this might be the one to cut.
  5. LinkedIn: LinkedIn was one of the harder platforms to quit, not because it’s my favorite form of social media, but because LinkedIn has been a staple during my internship hunt. LinkedIn is a great resource, and for someone who is getting increasingly desperate to nail down summer plans, quitting the app may not be the best way to disconnect.
  6. Venmo: Another difficult platform to quit was Venmo. Even though Venmo is a more untraditional form of social media – you’re literally sending money to people from your phone – it might be one of the more trustworthy forms due to its contracts with most major financial institutions. Today, most restaurants, stores and student organizations accept Venmo because of its convenience. People pay club dues on Venmo, buy tchotchkes and snacks on Bruinwalk and even pay rent through the service. Since the age of cash is winding down and digital forms of payment are on the upswing, getting off Venmo was more tedious than the rest. Definitely a keeper.
  7. Twitter: Twitter was another social media platform that I missed during my week off. Not because I frequently tweet, but because it’s one of the ways I keep up with the rest of the world. I follow figures such as former President Barack Obama, and pages such as the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly. This was another app I found myself instinctively checking in moments of boredom. I’m not sure how much Twitter goes through our private messages, but if there were any real political or social reason to quit, it would be that it gives a platform for some users to spew lies and encourage destructive discourse.
  8. Facebook: Unfortunately, the the biggest abuser was the hardest platform to quit. I’ve been using Facebook for years, and it has become a staple in my daily routine. I can keep up with all the things my friends and family are doing; I follow The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other news sites – making Facebook my primary news source. I plan and RSVP to events, so Facebook helps me plan my life. For a college student, it seems impractical to quit due to its indomitable reach and incomparable services. Facebook groups like Free and For Sale and UCLA Ride Share have become integral parts of my college experience, facilitating connections between myself and fellow students. It’s one of the best tools we have to reach broader audiences than the generations before us, and to share diverse ideas and expand on our own.

People who threaten to quit Facebook are just like those who threatened to leave the U.S. if Donald Trump were elected president: Their dramatic rhetoric is meant to garner attention and make a statement, but fails to address the underlying problems. Facebook has become our digital nation and rather than abandon it, we must try to fix it.

Social media isn’t all bad; just look at the #MeToo movement. Online platforms have the power to create immense change, and if we should protest anything, it’s the institutions that let corporations abuse consumers like us.

2018 is a big year, and if we want to reclaim our autonomy, we have to start now. So instead of quitting social media, follow your favorite activists, share important stories, retweet those campaign ads and message your representatives. We can create change, and we need a platform to make that happen.

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Aneesh Gowri
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