Why I Deleted My Twitter Profile

When I quit my job and started freelancing, time management became even more important than usual. Unlike a salaried position where I took home the same paycheck every two weeks, how much I made while freelancing—and how long it took—was determined by my ability to stay focused.

If I could finish X assignment in one hour, my rate would go through the roof. But if my day got massively derailed by the internet? I could end up making less than minimum wage.

Still, I struggled to stay on task. At the beginning, it was not uncommon for me to spend the work day bouncing from tab to tab on my browser like a high speed ping pong ball. One minute I was reading an article, the next checking social media, the next responding to an email and the next trying to get back to work.

Sometimes, it felt like my brain was practically degenerating. I would get excited about something, but before I could really process it, I was somehow… on Facebook? I would try to remember what I’d just been thinking about—it had seemed so important!—but POOF, it was gone.

Productivity woes aside, it also felt really bad to live this way, as if I was losing all sense of boundary or purpose.

I decided to focus on social media as a way to take back some control. Though I never posted much myself, I consumed social media like it was going out of style, and Twitter was by far my worst vice.  

***

I have always hated Twitter, which seems to be an opinion shared by many of its users. Logging onto the platform can some days feel like entering the bowels of hell, that place you go to look up your favorite female writer, only to stumble on her many detailed rape threats.

For a long time, Twitter is also where I went to publicly despair about the state of the world, and this felt like a necessary part of my identity. I went to journalism school after all. I am very into the news, very into politics, very into social justice. But after 2016, it became clear I was doing a lot of despairing and not much else.  

No matter how many tweets I “liked,” I never did volunteer at that local organization or join those likeminded community groups or start meaningful conversations with friends or family. Hell, I hardly even called my representatives. I was all bark and no bite, my activism uselessly exhausting itself on the internet long before it made it to the real world.

Still, I stayed on Twitter for one big reason: As a writer, I had no choice in the matter, according to everyone, everywhere. Creatives need to be on Twitter. In fact, one of my 2019 resolutions was to use Twitter more—to strategically tweet about certain topics, to promote new bylines and to increase my follower count.

Yet I could never get past this idea that I was “performing” my career instead of just having one. Something about it felt like a lie, an intentional glossing over of what my writing life really looked like: Earnest, flawed, unglamorous hours spent digging alone in the dark.

I didn’t want to tweet about my work. I just wanted to do it.

***

All of this landed Twitter on the cutting room floor.

When I deleted my profile, I felt so uncertain about it that I actually set a reminder on my phone to log back in within 30 days, before my account would go from temporarily deactivated to gone, baby, gone. But that deadline came and went.

Within days (seriously, like, three days), it was as if my profile had never even existed. It felt like some eerie episode of Black Mirror. You think all these people are watching you or you should be watching them or just that there are people AROUND, and then you look up and realize no one has been there this entire time.

It’s just you, standing in your community, in the middle of your life, with the X number of people you actually care about. That’s it.

A week after I deleted my Twitter, I also deactivated my Facebook. I have a few social media accounts left, and I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, if anything. But I’ve been amazed at how much I don’t miss what I’ve already gotten rid of.

When you start to purge your social media existence, it’s a lot like cleaning house. Only the essential remains. Who are you now that no one knows what you’re doing? What work interests you if there’s no one to show it off to? What core personhood survives?

For me, it was my interest in current events, my forever strong opinions, my desire to watch animal videos and read funny memes and stay connected to the brighter sides of internet culture.

It’s the relief of realizing no one is, or has ever been, paying attention to me.

And yes, it’s also meant hours and hours of reclaimed time. The average time spent on my phone has decreased by three hours a day. I feel noticeably less scatterbrained. I have more time to work and to think and to be without needing to brand every facet of my existence.

Not all of it’s easy. I’ve missed a couple parties because I didn’t get the Facebook invite. I do tend to hear breaking news later, though sometimes this can be a good thing. An editor will never pay me more because of how many followers I have.

If you read this and think of all the ways Twitter has been instrumental to your career or has helped you form a supportive community or has amplified your voice when it would normally go ignored, you’ve seen the best of social media. You should keep using it. I’m still using (parts of) it. I may have a job where I use more of it again. I realize it’s not black and white.

But if you’re trying to establish some public Twitter persona, and you don’t really know why—if something feels insidiously bad about it or inauthentic or like you’re losing your unique perspective on the world—try logging off.

You might be surprised how easy it is. You might realize this online ecosystem that seemed so very important can actually be erased by a single click, begging the question, “How real was it anyway?”

Jackie Veling