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The quest for privacy when you can't quit social media

How to step back from social media and the web to gain some privacy without completely checking out.

As part of an ongoing mission to claw back some time, privacy and sanity, I've been reviewing all social media of late. It's been something of a challenge in terms of business because my ventures somewhat rely on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to share updates and drive traffic. And they're a great way to stay in touch with people and the creative industries.

But the question has always been: how can I maintain these networks without completely checking out? How can I still be on there for business but be massively unavailable, too? How can I manage my privacy and feel more in control?

The first to be tackled was Facebook in 2016. I started a fresh account with a dummy name, adding myself as 'admin' to Creative Boom's Facebook page. I then deleted my original account. (I later got in trouble with Facebook for using a dummy name but managed to talk myself out of being banned and eventually had to add my real name. I just ensured my privacy settings were so watertight that no one could find me or request to be "friends".)

Next, Twitter. It's only been this past week that I chose to unfollow everyone on both my personal and business accounts and deleted a huge amount of old tweets and likes, too. (You can read more about why and how here.) How's it going? It's made a massive difference. I feel lighter and happier, and that feeling of dread is disappearing. Fewer people can message me, and I've reduced my screen time.

Instagram followed suit. I deactivated my personal account and removed both Twitter and Instagram apps from my smartphone. Thankfully, Instagram has just made it possible for us to add content via the desktop, so there is now no excuse to access the platform beyond my computer. I can't see myself returning to Instagram on a personal level.

With Creative Boom's account, I'm in the process of unfollowing everyone. There's no easy way to do this. I've searched Github for clever hacks and looked at various apps, but there's no quick solution to bulk unfollow. Instead, I'm having to do things manually via the smartphone app – which I've downloaded again as unfollowing people via the desktop forces an additional "pop-up" window, making it a tedious task. On the mobile app, you simply click 'following' next to a username, and that's it. I went from 1,800 following to 1,436 before Instagram blocked me from doing anything else. I now have to wait a few hours before trying again. I can see this is going to take a few days, but I'm determined. Plus, it's so satisfying going through this process. Meta can make life difficult for me, but they can't stop me from unfollowing everyone.

Then there's LinkedIn. There is no easy way to bulk-disconnect everyone. However, I did find a helpful mass unfollow connections hack that worked beautifully. Sadly, that didn't address the issue of anyone being able to message me privately. So today, I've started a new LinkedIn account with solid privacy settings. I made myself a 'super admin' on Creative Boom's LinkedIn page and deleted my original LinkedIn account. I was connected with 1,700 people. And now it's gone. Phew.

As far as Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter go, there is now little chance that someone can send me a message via all four saying, "Did you get the press release I emailed five times?" Honestly, life as a journalist can be challenging. We get hounded. Well, after nearly 13 years of being totally dedicated to Creative Boom, I've had enough. I'm now unavailable. This doesn't make me unfriendly. You can still email me via the usual routes. But I'm not instantly available. I'm not managing four different networks, four different sets of messages, or having the additional pointless task of following people back because I don't want anyone to feel ignored.

The other thing I've been doing is removing photographs or videos of myself. In some cases, I've had to approach other people to request deletion. With my own social media profiles, I've been adding a 'K' icon instead. It might not feel as personal as a portrait photograph, but I certainly feel better for it.

Essentially, I've insulted everyone equally, stopped people from contacting me in multiple ways, reduced my digital footprint and upped my privacy. You can't altogether remove yourself from the web. I suspect that's impossible. But you can take positive steps to manage your online presence.

I know that once social media becomes less of a necessary marketing tool for business, that will be when I delete everything. In the meantime, the priority lies in building my own platforms and email subscriber lists while managing existing social media accounts because that's something I can control.

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