By Jenn Stanley
June 21, 2021
I worked remotely long before Covid, both as a freelancer and a full-time staffer for an online publication. About six months into the Trump administration, my boss’s boss privately messaged me on Slack to suggest I take it up a notch on Twitter and engage in a more confrontational, back-and-forth, troll-the-trolls kind of way. This was her advice for getting more followers and that coveted blue check mark that appeared next to most of my colleagues’ handles.
Despite growing evidence of the link between social media use and depression, many managers and gate-keepers have increased expectations around how writers, artists, and others with public facing work engage with it, creating a slew of labor issues. While I don’t deny that these platforms are a useful tool for many, our over-reliance on them serves their CEOs and shareholders to the detriment of the health and earning potential of workers.
Social media performance can make or break job prospects. Self-promotion and engagement have at least become an implicit requirement for many full-time staffers, and in some cases even more so for freelancers and independent artists looking to grow their following in a digitally dependent world. In fields where the social media celebrity reigns, the boundary between personal and professional blurs to the point of non-existence.
Two and a half years ago, a disagreement over my social media use provided the final force behind my departure from that full-time position. My boss found out I quit Twitter and Facebook, and was displeased I didn’t include management in my decision despite the fact that social media use was never officially part of my job description.
I have a good sense that my story isn’t particularly unique. Creative and media workers are seeing their jobs being eliminated and replaced by freelance labor. This is even more likely when workers start to organize; my own departure came weeks after management laid off a third of the staff the day before a union campaign went public. The same media companies slashing their staffs and resources rely on freelancers’ social media presence to drive traffic to their sites. The pandemic and our increased reliance on virtual connection has exacerbated this.
We’ve all heard how social media could be bad for our mental health, that it’s a place where disinformation campaigns, bad actors and bullies thrive. But not everyone’s livelihood is dependent on their personal use of it. I’m in my mid-thirties, so I was in college within a year or so of when Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to shame and objectify women. I didn’t realize how dependent my career would be on these platforms, and I wasn’t prepared for how dehumanizing that would be.
Like many, I lost significant work and income due to Covid-19. Still, for my own sanity, I continued avoiding Twitter and Facebook. I instead turned to my rarely used Instagram account in order to source stories, connect with artists and activists, and promote virtual events. It has not paid off financially, and is not worth the toll it takes on my health and ability to function. For me, social media means inviting social anxiety into my work, not to mention the cycle of dread that every moment I post, whether professional or personal, serves Facebook, Inc. more than myself or my community.
After more than a year without live shows and the kind of artistic serendipity that only happens in meat-space, I’m ready to say goodbye to social media for good and actively seek out other ways of connection, news gathering, and promotion. If you picked up a copy of this paper, you must be at least partly on that path. These platforms may still serve you or your business well, and this is not a call for you to abandon them completely. It’s an invitation to diversify our forms of engagement, and look beyond likes and too many interactions with strangers who too rarely possess the best intentions.