Here Is How The Defector Staff Uses Social Media
3:30 PM EDT on August 9, 2022
The other day some friends and I were hanging out at bar talking about the experience of hanging out online: Where we feel dread on the internet, where we feel at home, what friends we've made there, how it's shaped our thinking, how that thinking feeds back into our offline lives, where community grows, where conflict arises, how it all could be different. We talked about how the notion that "online" life is less real than "real" life seems out-of-touch, even willfully stupid considering where people organize and how information spreads and the internet's general totalizing effect on everything, but also how we crave the comfort and relief of gathering together in person, and what it means to take care of one another. It was clear from the conversation that each of us thinks about and uses social media, an annoyingly inartful catch-all phrase, in different and often highly specific ways. So I asked my Defector pals how they used social media, and here are their answers.
Barry: I have a pretty basic love-hate relationship with Twitter, the only social media I use. It’s indispensable for work, but it also makes me feel like I’ve turned on a firehose of garbage full-blast directly at my face. Which is why it’s a work-hours-only thing. I aim for zero Twitter usage at nights or on weekends, unless occasionally there’s a big sports thing happening or the president has COVID-19 or whatever. I’ve never used Instagram or TikTok (every video I’ve ever had people show me from TikTok is physically exhausting) and haven’t really used Facebook since college. I am, however, old enough to have once had a Geocities page.
Maitreyi: This is something I think about a lot, actually, the way my line of work demands a certain (uncomfortable-to-me) degree of presence and familiarity online. I tweet maybe once or twice a year and am so grateful to be employed somewhere that doesn’t value me any less for it. My “social media use” is lurking, mostly. Instagram’s nice for keeping up with friends and watching Killian Hayes make open-gym threes, but I don’t post there either.
Sabrina: Even though I know it has rotted my brain, stokes my anxiety, and exposes me to some of the worst takes on the planet, Twitter is my primary social media site. I like to read the subtweets, see strange and unsettling images with no context, and smash the like button when good things happen to people I love and admire. I use Twitter throughout my workday as a horrible little treat I can enjoy after sending an email or filing a draft. I also go on iNaturalist about once a week to see where the dreaded lanternfly has been spotted in my neighborhood and also to check in on the one person in my neighborhood who keeps uploading the worst, most indecipherable pictures of plants and labelling them as "'plants' in the Kingdom Plantae"—who is this for!!! Also I use TikTok in a way that makes me feel ancient and wizened by the scourge of time, but I love content made by teens! It's simply better than most content made by adults, including me.
Albert: Twitter is really the only social media that I use. I check Twitter a lot less than I used to, as it gradually went from a fun place to crack jokes about whatever stupid movie you were watching at 2:00 a.m. to a blighted radioactive hell where people seek out the worst poison they can find and spray it into their friends' eyeballs for no reason—but probably still too much. When I'm working it definitely can get as frequent as like once a half-hour, which is awful. I have an account on Instagram that, so far as I can recall, I haven't used since it was a phone app for, like, editing photos, a thousand lifetimes ago; I have a TikTok account that I created a few months ago so I could look at the stuff my wife would send me when she was browsing TikTok, but then I spent not more than five minutes on TikTok and wanted to scrub my eyeballs and brain with steel wool for a thousand years, and have never gone back.
Dave McKenna: I don't have any accounts. I avoid social media like I do guns and opiates. They'd only get me in trouble in the end.
Kathryn: I’m very much on Twitter and Reddit, mostly to keep up with sports news and hockey stats, though I don’t really participate except on my private burner Twitter that has, like, 10 followers and is mostly used to compliment my friends’ cats. Generally speaking, I think the less you tweet the happier you are, or at least I am, so I try my best to abide by that rule. This is how you avoid the temptation of turning your personal essay about the internet into a novel. Occasionally I will check Instagram when I remember that it exists, or if Instagram DMs are the chosen undignified method of communication with my friends who don’t live in the U.S. I do not have TikTok. Applaud me.
Patrick: I spend maybe 40 minutes per day looking at little Korean dogs on Instagram and trying to find the dumbest posts of all-time on Twitter, respectively. For a while in the winter, I deleted both apps off my phone, vowing only to use the web versions of each, which are both semi-busted in their own ways. This accomplished its intended effect—scraping gunk off brain—though I like to see when the climbing gym resets its problems and I like to find funny tweets to send my friends, so once I felt normal again, I put them both back on with the flimsiest half-measure of restraint built in: They'd be off my home screens, forcing me to search for them like a little rat waddling over to the pleasure button if I wanted to see posts. This is really more like a one-eighth measure. I felt clearer-headed when I was viewing fewer posts of people bullying elected officials or laughing at dumb-dumbs, but also, I felt far less connected than I wanted to. I think it's possible to be a hyper-informed media consumer and post-viewer without losing your mind, but maybe that's only possible if you are also regularly going outside and reading books and cracking open the odd oyster every now and then; you know, being a person. Also, I write posts for a living, so it's useful to keep myself up on the post-writing meta.
At one point in the deep pandemic, I would get stoned and watch like 45 minutes of TikToks (curated by Instagram users I trusted, not via the awful app), much of which I spent laughing yet always finding myself with twitchy eyes, a throbbing headache, and this sense of disappointment when I was done. I felt pandered to by a series of inane videos of people screaming or dancing, videos I didn't even like. It's not for me, but if you like to watch those videos of what teachers at parents teacher conferences really be like, enjoy. I like using BeReal right now because it's a dumb clunky app, and it's nice to see what my buddies are up to.
Ley: Like a lot of people who work on the computer, I spend much of the day allowing Twitter to dump concentrated doses of poison directly into my brain. I still keep coming back to it, however, because I follow a lot of people that I think are really funny and several times a day I will see something on there that makes me go, "Ha!" So that's nice.
Other than Twitter, the only social media app I use is Instagram. I don't post a ton on there, but I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to. The least fun I have on Instagram is whenever LeBron James posts a 37-part story that is just him listening to music in the back of a car, and I compulsively tap through all 37 parts for reasons that escape me. The most fun I have on Instagram is whenever the Food Boys post something new on the grid and I get to comment on it. The boys always chop it up with the fans and I really appreciate that about them!
Chris: The only social media I have ever used is Twitter, a nightmare website which makes me feel like hell every day of my life. I check it pretty thoroughly in the morning, then scroll it again pretty thoroughly in the afternoon, and then check in pretty regularly if one of my sports teams is playing or if there’s some big news thing going on. I try not to tweet very much because I’m bad at it, and lately I will often go back and delete recent tweets on the grounds that they are dumb and inessential and it’s a little bit profane that there should be a permanent digital record of me bitching about Victor Robles for the benefit of six Nats fans.
Laura: I mostly use Twitter for work and so I'm on it every day, for probably an hour or so in total, except the weekends. I have a public account where I share Defector stuff and other work I like, fragments of ideas, and occasionally Jake pictures. I'm much better about not engaging with clowns than I used to be. On one hand, Twitter is useful for my job, I like to see funny and smart posts from people I respect, and it allows me to find entry points into ideas and communities that I might not otherwise. On the other hand, I hate it for all the reasons everyone hates it—the bad news and bad takes make me feel anxious and angry, I resent the performing-for-strangers aspect of it, it's nearly impossible to have any sort of productive discussion—and I dream of logging off for good one day. (I took the Twitter app off my phone a couple years ago which helps keep poison levels manageable, but I still log on via browser sometimes.)
I use Instagram to see what's up with my friends and family and share what's up with me. My account is private because I like to have a little corner of the internet where people who I know and who know me can hang out. I also consume nature and cooking posts and swap animal videos with friends. IG sucks and the ads are so annoying and the algorithm feeds me videos that seem specially designed to repulse me, but I talk to pals every day on there and I value that.
I haven't used Facebook since 2015 or 2016 but I do use Facebook Messenger to exchange holiday greetings and life updates with a family who I nannied for in Sicily one summer in college. I'm not on TikTok but really appreciate my friends who curate nice or weird TikToks and send them to me or post them on their IG stories. I'm on BeReal which I find cute and goofy, and Alex and I share a Seek account on which we recently leveled up to "Biologist" with 83 species observed.
David Roth: I'm old, and as such have spent probably almost half the years I spent online on an internet that didn't really have social media on it. This is something I say to make myself feel better about how profoundly warped and wrecked my shit has become as a result of spending my days not just on the version of the internet that does have social media on it, but experiencing the internet in large part through that. I look at Instagram maybe once a day and click the little heart under pictures of my friends' kids and pets and vacations, but I don't post much there and have a private account; I try to keep that space a little more earnest and positive than my Twitter account, and the easiest way for me to do that is by not spending too much time there. I still have a Facebook account but I loathe the company and the experience so profoundly that I'd be surprised if I looked at it more than a few times per year. I've read enough stuff about how chaotic and miserable it has become—weird reels in which Viral Moms sit on a cake or rap or whatever, appearing unbidden; relentless advertising based on borked AI email snooping—that I'm almost curious about it, but the next step there is finally just getting rid of the account.The issue, and the social media platform I use the most, is Twitter. I keep it open on my desktop, in a window I keep minimized, and I look at it ... I don't know, honestly. A few times an hour, every hour, most of the time I'm on my computer. That's probably 70 percent of the time I'm awake on the average day, which is not necessarily what you want.
I don't post as much as I used to, which is saying nothing much; I probably still post too much, and certainly spend too much time there, although I spend most of my time on the site in a few DM's with friends, or other mentally ill Mets fans. I like Twitter, I think it's the social media platform that most aligns with what's wrong with me/what I find interesting, but I also use it in a deliberately un-thoughtful way; I follow thousands of people, don't use Tweetdeck, and so my timeline is like stepping in front of an algorithmically mediated firehose. I see a lot of stuff I don't want to see, but I also find things to read that way, and see the perspectives of people I find interesting or interestingly hideous. I see this all day long, and will probably look at it as soon as I finish sending this to Laura. I don't know why I do this, but I know I do it too much. I mean, I do know why I check it as often as I do, it's the fear of something happening and me not knowing about it; the part that confuses me, and that has made me try to check it less is that knowing all those things, which are usually terrible things or at least things that make me feel small and punted-around by things beyond my control, does not make me feel better. It doesn't even really make me feel better-informed. All day long, I learn about things I can't change or really even do anything about, awful stuff happening somewhere else, and I think "noted." I can probably do without that. There was a time, on the old internet, when I did. I don't know if I was happier then, but I did at least have less stuff on hand to be sad about.
Kelsey: I really try not to look at social media in the morning or in the evening, but also I do not consider TikTok a social media so I am an abject failure.
Twitter is important for work. I hope to one day be successful enough to not need it, but that day is not today, so I keep very strict parameters on my usage. I only keep Twitter logged in on my computer, so that's where I can look at tweets. But I also have an app on my computer called self-control that does not allow me to see Twitter for more than 30 minutes a day so I have to pace myself. You may be thinking, But Kelsey, sometimes you are tweeting at night, are you at your computer? No I am not. Thank you so much for asking. What I do is I tweet from my phone by texting the phone number Twitter has. This is how I tweet without consuming anyone else's tweets. Is this a sicko behavior? I'm not sure. I just don't want to be in the app, but sometimes I have jokes I'd like to make. I'm like that woman who got cancelled because she tweeted something and got on a plane. I never know how my tweets are doing until the next day. I don't care.
Instagram, I use more liberally. I like to see what my friends are doing! Plus, I do the Normal Gossip stuff, so that takes time. That said, I have a one-hour limit on my phone just in case.
I only use Facebook for two things: 1) reporting and 2) checking Facebook Marketplace to buy new furniture for my house. I love Facebook marketplace. I recently got a rocking chair from the 1930s on there for $100! It rules.
TikTok is the only social media app I do not have any restrictions for myself for because it is the only social media app that brings me any joy. I love it! I watch them at lunch and usually right after work. Then usually at dinner, Trey and I come together for what we call "the harvest" (we stole this term from someone else on TikTok) where we share the TikToks that we have found with one another. This is lovely and I recommend it.