How much of ourselves should we be sharing online? It is a question that has been haunting public discourse for some time now, yet it remains a tricky one. Social media allows us to make connections we never would have dreamed of having in the real world, which is a beautiful thing.
Still, it can also open you up to all sorts of abuse, and generally unpleasant experiences. It is a bit like deciding to stand on a stage and start talking about whatever it is that you find interesting. The bigger the audience, the more likely you will find both kindred spirits and malevolent pricks.
Of course, things can often get weirder on the internet; you may post something then find yourself on the receiving end of tedious abuse, purely because your words reached people it never should have reached. That rarely happens in real life.
This is why Twitter’s Circles function felt like such a good idea when it was launched. The idea was simple: pick up to 150 of the followers you feel closest to, and get the option to post tweets only to them. It was inspired by Instagram’s Green Circles feature, and was an instant success.
Not every thought is deserving of the main stage; some things feel like they ought to be shared, but only to a controlled audience, and with no risk of escaping containment. Well, felt; as of this week, Twitter Circles are no more. Why? No idea. Clearly, clown prince Elon Musk remains hellbent on killing everything that made the website he bought in any way enjoyable.
It is still possible, at time of writing, to post from a locked account, but heaven knows how long that feature will remain available for. Interestingly, it is not an option people have on Bluesky, the Twitter clone of choice for people addicted to posting but increasingly weary of Musk’s bile and instability.
This may be due to the app still being relatively new, but developers are yet to announce anything on the topic. For now, Bluesky users must post to all, or not post at all. It feels like an uneasy state of affairs, especially at a time when the way people interact with social media is changing.
There were truly great years, at the beginning, when it all felt new and exciting, and you could meet new friends, acquaintances and lovers simply by being yourself online and opening yourself up to the world. It seems fair to say that those years have now firmly ended.
There are still many upsides to being online, obviously, but much of what goes on social media platforms now feels needlessly unpleasant. “We’re all in the same place!” once sounded thrilling. It now feels like a threat.
The only way to deal with it is to have agency over what we post, where we post it and who gets to see it. It isn’t an unreasonable demand; we are adults, and should be able to exert some control over our own lives, and our own speech. The technology is there, so it shouldn’t be hard to let us choose who to communicate with.
Sadly, being online today means recognising that we cannot and will never have any meaningful control over what happens on our screens. Cynical and petty man-children will descend from the heavens and decide to change the texture of our lives, just because they can. For now, they have decided that our existence ought to be public. If we are to make them money – which is what we are here to do, after all – then we must all be out in the open.
It does seem worth wondering if this will, in the long run, prove to be a losing game for them. It is true that people like me, the chronically online, will have little choice but to keep going, resentfully, even if we do not like the direction of travel.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t in a minority. Many people use social media now but their jobs and social lives do not depend on them. How many more stupid tweaks and counter-productive changes can they make before they decide that, actually, it’s time to get off and return to real life?