A personal odyssey through the ghost land of social media
I’m MK, 25 years old and I would describe myself as a sociable person. But you already know that, of course. I just wanted to tell you or any other person who might read this that I quit most of my social media, because it got really annoying. This „letter to the NSA“ is not a story about how I quit social media (because that can be done in a few seconds). It’s about why I started in the first place.After a long time of resistance against the power of peer-pressure, I decided to join Facebook in 2013. Why so late? Because I did not need social media until I started my bachelor in another city. In university, most events, lectures and projects were being organized and discussed via Facebook. Whenever I said „Sorry, I don’t use Facebook“, people would seriously get angry at me. Aaah, you special little snowflake, you are such a brave jedi knight, do you want a golden medal for not being like us? By this reverse logic I was convinced for a while that the problem was me and my fake individuality. So I joined Facebook and used it for about three years. First it was exciting and addictive, like everything else that your friends think is cool. I could tell everyone my opinion about stuff and they could only „like“ it or shut up about it. But this concept led me to believe very fast that everybody has to either like me or shut up, in real life.
As somebody who keeps their real life mostly private, I started to have problems with trolls who where projecting their own insecurities on me. One of my German-language articles about being broke af and in Paris was commented on by a random troll who called me a „sexless whore“ (whatever that is supposed to mean) for pretending to be rich. Instead of blocking that weirdo, I decided to ask him why he was so angry at me, a stranger. It turned out that he had never read the article, had just lost his job as cameraman and was now extremely insecure about his income, masculinity, sexuality and social status. He had only read the title and thought I was a wealthy woman who was making fun of poor people. After he took notice of this misunderstanding, the problem was solved.
Well. Except for the fact that I had spent days of my life explaining my thoughts and ideas to a random guy online. When I was younger, my parents taught me: Do not speak with strangers, do not walk alone in dark streets or through the graveyards and forests of our village. I did all of those things anyway, of course, but I wish I had known some kind of really bloody and death-bringing martial arts back then. Online, it works similarly, but your defence technique is your „thinking muscle“ instead of a roundhouse kick: Is it worth the fight or should I just block that person? Should I involve my company, the law, the police? In my case, I invested a lot of time to play that guy’s psychologist for a few days. He owes me a lot of money for this life advice.
But trolls are not the main reason why I got sick of social media. What annoyed me most was the fact that my friends turned into ghosts and I turned into a ghost for them. I have been friends with K. since a very long time. We are very different people: She is into make-up, she believes in god and she prefers to watch the Bachelor instead of the news. But those differences were the fuel of many great discussions. She is a brilliant person in real life. On the internet, unfortunately, I only see her make-up artist page, her pretentious selfies, a lot of vegan foodporn and pictures of her deceased dog. I see her wishes and her past. Not her. She is trying so hard to look happy and popular online that I was starting to ask myself who the fuck that person actually is. Probably she thought the same about me: Nice university, perfect relationship, always happy and healthy? MK must be lying! And I was. We were. To ourselves and everybody else.
So is it all the media’s fault? Is „the media“ generally evil? First of all, the human itself is a medium, so yes, it is the media’s fault. But are we all evil? Facebook is a mega profit corporation and the aim of that corporation is making money. That’s not evil, because we all need money to buy ourselves time and space, right? Actually, social media is helping a lot of people at the moment. Twitter, a for-profit company that steals our data and sells it to advertisement companies, has become an important tool for reportage during the Arab Spring. Instagram (a Facebook company – surprise, surprise) and the chat application Telegram are being used in Iran, where all other media is censored by the regime. Instagram is being used for protest in many different ways: The celebration of beauty and sexiness (harram!), the fight for freedom of dress, speech, love and above all: the individual choice.* For all of those reasons and more, I started using Instagram when I was in Iran, too. Getting around the regime’s censorship is very simple, of course. Just use a proxy server, internet akbar! But going underground slows down your communication and it is, to be honest, a bit uncomfortable.
And that is the actual problem with social media how we are using it today: It is the most comfortable way of communication. But communication is uncomfortable in its nature. It has to be! Dialogue is a clash of opinions, ideas, believes, cultures. And the best way, perfect way of dialogue is the enemy of the good.** While it makes a lot of sense to rely on social media when your government is oppressing you, it is rather dumb to let a private company get so rich and powerful by using your data that it can oppress your government, meaning, in the end of the formula, (yes, you’ve guessed it again): you.
Social media needs you, desperately. But you’re autonomous. Never forget that, please. Social media is just a tool, not more or less than a weapon of choice. And now, because you read nearly two pages more or less attentively, while being permanently distracted by other notifications, here’s a cookie:
Or as the great Persian philosopher Friedrich Rashkov would say: „Sometimes, just fuck the philosophy and let’s order pizza, MK.“
With kind regards,
MK Mashkour, 5th of November ’17
*Further reading: Masih Alinejad on Instagram (Farsi/English) and my article about an Iranian fashion designer for Der Freitag (German).
**This sentence was famously used by Voltaire, but in a different context, obviously.
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