The GDPR represents a huge legal shift, which is arriving simultaneously with a technical shift (mass adoption of ad-blockers, which Doc Searls calls the biggest boycott in human history) and an emerging normative shift in the form of the #DeleteFacebook movement, which is on its way to treating your friends' insistence that you use Facebook to communicate with them as akin to insisting that you inhale their second-hand smoke as a condition of socializing with them.

-- The GDPR might actually create an "attention economy", Cory Doctorow via BoingBoing (emphasis mine)

I've talked about social media before. My feelings about it have been on a steady decline since 2011 or so. They're pretty rock bottom now. What's the benefit? Why should I waste my time to perpetuate knee-jerk outrage and be advertised to and tracked? I like Cory's point: social media is the cigarettes of the modern era - culturally pervasive, seemingly innocuous in small doses but with growing evidence of addiction and harm.

Actually, some backstory:

In 2004, I joined thefacebook. In 2007, I discovered the digital civil liberties crowd (mostly via Cory Doctorow's Creative Commons-licensed sci-fi). In 2010, I started thinking I should delete Facebook. I was noticing that I would "perform my life" for status updates and likes, that I would lurk on the profiles of ex-classmates and compare myself to them (and mostly feel bad, or feel a sick gloating feeling), that I was spending way more time on it than I wanted to. In 2013, I joined Twitter for work, had fun - and then Gamergate happened.

In 2014, I deleted Facebook - prompting one hour of panic, followed by years of contentment. I'm still on Twitter, since I feel like I need to "market" my "tech person" "brand", but I've been implementing all sorts of "tying Odysseus to the mast" stuff to limit its dark patterns, and generally treating it like a dangerous animal that I'm locked in a cage with. (Uh, the cage is my mind? Or societal norms?)

More ranting

One narrative is that social media is on its way to derailing our democracy - thanks, 2016 US election. The addictive potential and the automation of propaganda has led to the rise of "alternative facts" and multiple realities; the power of leveraging social networks to reiterate people's inwardness and cocoon everyone from different realities, only exposing them to the extremist worst of the "Other" (e.g. "You wouldn't believe what this girl brought to her Kent State graduation!" - saved you a click: someone was obnoxious somewhere). The monetization of outrage! It's the stuff of dystopias.

I'm actually equally horrified by two things: (1) the global pervasiveness of the social media addiction, and (2) the way my most social media-active friends seem less themselves and more homogenized mouthpieces for whatever the latest outrage meme is.

body snatched!

On the latter: After the 2016 election, especially, I started to notice that some of my friends - especially the most outraged and social media-active - would tell me stuff that felt... packaged? Like, they didn't feel like themselves to me anymore, not like they did 5 or 10 years ago: their personalities were getting subsumed by whatever Facebook/Twitter/IG meme was flowing around that day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style. Like, since when do you know what Hamilton said in the Federalist Papers? Wait, and why are you mad about X, but not about equally-repellant Y? Wait, where are you getting your news?!

Then I remembered. Back in the early 2010s, I often thought that Facebook was "where I get my news. How will I know what's going on in the world?" I think a lot of people think that way. But that is, ahem, VERY BAD.

Like, they've become the amalgamation of their Social Media Outrage Diet - they don't have their own worries, their own thoughts. They don't pursue their causes; they pursue the causes that an algorithm designed to maximize their engagement (for advertising dollars) has fed them. That's what it feels like. I know, I know, I'm on my high horse, I'm reading minds, I'm just as manipulated by cultural fads as everyone, blah blah. This is just a feeling I have.

None of my friends have quit social media. My feelings are generally pessimistic; that I'm screaming into the void about it. Oh well.

Tutorial: Defang Twitter

So, anyway. Imagine, if you will: Thunderdome. Me and Twitter are in the cage together, circling each other. How can I win!?

The best way to defang Twitter (and any social media), I think, is to defang all its "viral" properties. I don't need to see the latest tweet that got 100k retweets and 200k likes by someone I don't know or haven't explicitly followed. It probably went viral because it scratched some reptile-brain itch in my in-group; some outrage about "the Other" (e.g. the Trump voter, the coastal elite) being horrible, or some pithy witticism. I can live without pithy witticisms! There is more to my life than that. I want more to my life! Okay, enough ranting.

How to turn off retweets

Twitter obviously doesn't want you to do this. They want you to be "engaged" (i.e. to be on the site), addicted. Thus not seeing viral stuff goes against engagement. Anyway, first: turning off retweets. You can do this manually, profile by profile, for each person you follow. This is intentionally onerous.

Or, you can use Julia Evans's little webapp, https://turn-off-retweets.glitch.me/, and it'll automate through your list of follows and turn off retweets. Twitter gets MUCH MORE QUIET. Good!

How to turn off so-and-so liked

This is the same deal: you need a bit o' JavaScript and HTML tags. I used AdBlockPlus (which already blocks stuff using HTML tags, I'm guessing).

On Chrome, go to:

AdBlockPlus -> Options -> Advanced -> Edit Filters

And add in:

twitter.com##[id^=stream-item-recap_entry-]
twitter.com##.tweet.js-stream-tweet.js-actionable-tweet.js-profile-popup-actionable.dismissible-content.original-tweet.js-original-tweet.tweet-has-context.PocketAdded

Looks kinda Greek to me. Here's what I think it parses into:

  • twitter.com## = Anywhere on Twitter.
  • [id^=stream-item-recap_entry-] = Any HTML element whose id tag starts with stream-item-recap_entry-. (I'm guessing that caret, ^, is regex?)
  • [.tweet.js-stream-tweet.js-actionable-tweet...] = Any HTML element with any (or all?) of those classes (e.g. .tweet class).

You can also do some trial and error with AdBlockPlus's Block Element button.

Further reading