Jeremy Sarber / The Bible Readers Podcast

Why I quit Twitter and will again (and maybe again and again)

I joined Twitter ten years ago in the midst of its first sizable growth spurt. Long before #deletefacebook was a trend, people hoped for an alternative to Mark Zuckerberg’s social giant. I did anyhow. My earliest newsfeeds were anarchy, an unappealing mess of political opinions, clickbait, and random pictures of food. Changes to the algorithm never helped. My newsfeed became only the most popular political opinions, clickbait, and random pictures of food.

Twitter’s simplicity attracted me. There were no photos, videos, link previews, or long-winded rants. Pithy statements in plain text were its users only option, and I liked that. Write briefly. Just read. See everything your friends post in chronological order. It was a 24-hour chatroom for the entire world to share.

Sadly, Twitter devolved into a quasi-Facebook imitation. It now includes all of the competitive features we’ve come to expect from a social network including an option to see the “best tweets” first and longer than 140-character commentaries. While I made use of the changes throughout the years, my spirit quietly protested. It’s still not as bad as Facebook, I told my inner curmudgeon. At least it hasn’t adopted games and quizzes where third-party companies can steal your data or groups where friends can add you without your permission.

Last year, however, enough was more than enough. I quit Twitter. I deleted my account with all 30,000 of its tweets. I disconnected from nearly 5,000 followers. I covered one more of my digital footprints in the pursuit of privacy and, even more important to me, sanity.

Allow me to explain both of my motivations.

Maybe I don’t sport the latest model of tinfoil hats, but I do care about my privacy. I will trade my personal data for a valuable service—that’s the exchange we make when using Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many other companies—but the deal must be equitable. It’s only fair that I get as much value out of the service as they get out of selling my information to the highest bidder.

Even before the Cambridge Analytica story broke, I said goodbye to Facebook. First, I don’t trust them. Second, I didn’t enjoy their service. Third, I don’t like their near-monopoly on social networking. Keep in mind, they also own Instagram and WhatsApp, and they are responsible for a high percentage of tracking across all websites. Big brother is still watching and profiting long after we leave facebook.com.

I’ve also walked away from Google for the most part. While I love many of its services, they practically own the Internet. I’d rather give its various competitors a fighting chance. Take, for instance, DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn’t track or save one’s history. Google, on the other hand, follows us across seventy-five percent of websites and stores every query we make. Plus, DuckDuckGo makes no attempt to serve personalized results which trap users in a comfortable bubble of familiar links. I prefer diversity based on my precise search, not what Google thinks it knows about me.

Twitter wants our data as much as anyone, but privacy played less of a role in me leaving than my mental and spiritual welfare. Like most Silicon Valley companies, its developers know how to design an app for maximum addictiveness. One finds himself scrolling long after it’s useful or even entertaining. If not for the encouraging tweets by so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I would have abandoned Twitter years ago.

A friend once told me he loves to give away his things. If someone should admire an item he owns, he asks them to take it. “If I can’t let it go,” he said, “I don’t own it; it owns me.” He found a successful, albeit unconventional way of combating addiction. His philosophy inspired me. I never thought of myself as addicted, but there was one sure way to find out, and that’s why I quit Twitter and will again.

I needed to prove I was using Twitter for the practical and edifying reasons I told myself, not slavish dependency or the self-centered affirmation I might get from likes and follows. Merely deactivating my account for a time wouldn’t suffice. I’d have to delete it entirely. Every tweet, a decade’s worth of followers—everything gone.

The experiment went better than I thought. For the next several months, the only residual effect was an occasional impulse to tweet a witty one-liner, but even that passed. I didn’t fear I was missing out or crave Twitter to cure my boredom. I actually felt freer. My departure eliminated any obligation to tweet or check notifications. I could use my time and attention elsewhere.

Even so, I missed my friends. Despite Twitter’s reputation for being a bot-ridden wasteland of spam, the platform is full of God’s people. Many cherished relationships have begun with an @ reply. Conversations abound which end with the phrase, “I love you, brother.” I have driven across the country to meet an avatar face to face because we first met screen to screen. While we could communicate other ways, Twitter served us well if not best.

Having proved to myself I can carry on a normal life in the absence of Twitter, or any social media account for that matter, I decided to rejoin and reconnect with old friends. Chances are, I’ll quit again at some point—I’m not marrying the blue bird after all—but I’ll enjoy brief, hashtag-filled chats for now. Mobile notifications, however, will remain permanently disabled.

You may follow me @jeremysarber.