Serge Serge Dec 15, 2022 · 5 mins read

Slow Social Media

Babka/Mastodon users saying they experience a sense of “something missing” at first but then after a few days, they feel happier on Babka than they did on Twitter. Let’s talk about why that is, and how it might be effecting you.

In 2004, Morgan Spurlock released the documentary Super Size Me. In the film, he only eats McDonald’s for 30 days. He discusses how much sugar and salt McDonald’s food has and the hormonal impacts that their food has on his body. These foods, Spurlock postulated that their food is made in a way that leaves the consumer craving more and more food, even after they’ve eaten a full meal, leading them to a form of addiction.

Traditional social media, like Twitter and Facebook, is designed to keep someone in a constant state of arousal. This isn’t speculative1, we know that psychologists at Facebook and Twitter have been involved in making a product that gets their users “hooked”, addicted to an experience that leaves them in a state of constant arousal.

Twitter and Facebook are advertising companies and for that reason, their goal is to keep you on the site as long as possible. They call it engagement. Engagement measures how much time someone spends on a Tweet, or if they react to it, through a Like, Retweet, or Reply. Tweets that trigger engagement are valuable to Twitter because they keep other users on the site longer.

The problem is that tweets don’t have to be good to have high engagement. Tweets that make us angry or that contain misinformation can be more engaging than those that make us feel happy or satisfied. As we express our frustration, hurt, or outrage[^twitter-misinfromation], these feelings activate our fight-or-flight responses, increasing our adrenaline in the short term, and in the long-term leaves people feeling anxious and unsatisfied. This imbalance makes them go back to social media sites to feed the addiction, resulting in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol2. We also know that adrenaline has effects on dopamine, the hormone that is often responsible for joy and other emotional regulation.3

From a social perspective, Tweets that have high engagement can be happy, but they can also be the most negative or tragic, but because they’re voted higher, traditional social media increases their visibility, while posts which may be more positive may never show up at all because the social media companies have decided that they’re not likely to keep a user’s attention and keep them addicted. That’s what “the Twitter Algorithm”4 is.

With all of this, what happens when we take the same person from Twitter and take them off? People use the term “Social Media Addiction”5, but in reality it’s not social media, but the way that these companies have manipulated our hormones to make us crave more and more stimulation.

When many people join Babka or other Mastodon servers, they feel like “This is nice, but it’s not as engaging, or exciting as Twitter or Facebook is”. Without the algorithm keeping you addicted, people are seeing posts in chronological order, as they come in. The result is seeing posts you might not have seen, or missing posts that Twitter might have pushed to the very top of your feed.

That feeling is “loss” is addiction, and it can take some time for that feeling to fade, but once it does, many people have expressed a feeling of being less stressed and starting to enjoy social media again, or sometimes experiencing it for the first time. I’ve heard people talk about it like “the early Internet”, which makes sense because early Internet services weren’t tuned and driven by engagement metrics.

Babka Social is a Mastodon instance for Jews and Jewish allies, and for Jews in particular, it can be quite a shock, as we realize that while antisemitism is a serious issue, antisemitism has been amplified and weaponized by social media to keep us outraged, which in turn fuels our engagement. Once that artificial rage supply is cut off, what do we have left? Community.

Instead of outrage and fear, we have connection, joy, and arguments. As Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof put it, “And among ourselves, we get along perfectly well. Of course, there was the time when he sold him a horse, but delivered a mule, but that’s all settled now.”

Discussion and debate still exist, but are not artificially propped up. Antisemitism exists, but it is not weaponized. Individual stories and personal experiences are not buried, and people have the opportunity to engage with the Jewish, and non-Jewish world in a way that doesn’t trigger your stress hormones or raise your blood pressure. You can enjoy social media again, or experience joy with it for the first time.

This can take time to get used to, to reset our brains from being on edge to being relaxed and happy.

You can join us by going to Babka Social today.


Written by Serge

Founder of Babka