Divestment vs. social media: a hard battle on a good day


This is going to be a long read with a lot of thoughts. If you’re not up for that right now, that’s okay. Come back later when you’re ready to read, absorb, and process.

A week or so ago, I was scrolling instagram and happened upon this post by YK Hong who goes by ykreborn on IG who does tech-focused anti-oppression work with organizations at Keep Beyond. If you decide to read that post, understand that they have firm boundaries for engagement that you’ll want to check out here.

On that post, YK says we should all opt out of Whatsapp. As it happens, Whatsapp is one of those tools that people used because (1) it was encrypted which people liked and (2) because it is used by a number of people globally to communicate. A number of opinions were expressed with the most common being:

  1. I live somewhere in the world wherein I rely on whatsapp for everyday communication.
  2. Good and fair, but what are the other solutions? Where do we land?
  3. Let’s do this divestment thing!

Let’s start a conversation around these things.

I live somewhere in the world wherein I rely on whatsapp for everyday communication

Much like some places have facebook as their only internet, some places have whatsapp as either their only or socially-favored communication for everything from family and friends to employment. Being second only to Facebook in the amount of users, it is easy to understand why.

This is especially true in the global south and the comments on the suggestion to move away from Whatsapp suggest this. Additionally, as is true in many situations, the impact of capitalism means that this is a difficult thing for people to extricate themselves from as a networking medium without having to sacrifice several things and usually with no direction as to how.

Good and fair, but… where do we land

As we have seen with the great shakeup and mini-migration from twitter into other platforms, leaving platforms normally comes with a one-two punch of these issues:

  1. What platforms are safe to go to?
  2. How do I bring my people to this other place?

There’s a lot to unpack here and this post simply cannot cover all of it in depth. At a high level, however, these are two very powerful and important considerations that I feel are often overlooked, under-addressed, or unaddressed when it comes to progressive movements across the board.

Let’s use twitter as an example. When discussing moving to another non-twitter platform, one of the platforms suggested was made by… the same person who founded twitter. There was talk of Threads which is owned by Meta who has been in literal senate hearings for disrupting the democratic process. There was talk of platforms that were missing accessibility features. There was talk of moving to platforms that were a bit more complex to use. There were places that we were asked to move to that had people actively hostile to the idea of people suddenly being there because they wanted more gatekeeping and exclusivity.

What even is safe in these conditions?

Additionally, once I pick that place to land, how do I bring my connections there? I can only plead my case, but that’s also asking everyone I know to move somewhere for me. With that request comes a painful choice of whether or not to leave one or several people behind because that’s what full divestment requires and I don’t know if the weight of that consideration is fully understood at times.

I am on social media to be social on that media. Those connections are on platforms whose only goal is to have you and your social circles entrenched in that platform. Additionally, every place I can think of to move to is suspect on some level.

  • I feel like anything with Meta is spoken for
  • Discord is always in some nonsense or other with AI

That thinking starts to spiral into every platform I use and places me at war with my connections to the world – of which my online connections are not a small part – and my allegiance to my morals. While we can all agree that the answer is doing the best we can, we definitely do not agree on what “the best” is. 

For some, anything short of full divestment is betrayal regardless of circumstance. For others, it depends on things like what those platforms connect them to, moderation features, accessibility features, whether or not the new platforms and other places they land are places their friends or other connections would go.

Let’s do this divestment thing!

Before we get into this subject, let’s use this definition for disinvestment (also known as “divestment”):

Disinvestment refers to the use of a concerted economic boycott to pressure a government, industry, or company towards a change in policy, or in the case of governments, even regime change. The term was first used in the 1980s, most commonly in the United States, to refer to the use of a concerted economic boycott designed to pressure the government of South Africa into abolishing its policy of apartheid. The term has also been applied to actions targeting Iran, Sudan, Northern Ireland, Myanmar, Israel, and China.


Movements like the BDS movement or calls for global strikes and so on urge us to step away from business that deal in destruction and genocide (argue with your mom). 

As we move away from those places, there’s the question we posed before about what replaces things like McDonald’s and Starbucks in our choices and routines, for example. In many cases, the discussion of divestment seems to revolve around “what should replace x” without some consideration of whether or not x is still relevant, important, helpful, or useful.

Recently, I find myself digging into that question and finding a lot of friction here in the form of well-intentioned, but intense questions like:

“What do you mean you want to not be on social media?”
“What do you mean you want to rethink how you consume things in general?”
“What do you mean….?”

This is where we should try to understand that it is important to be thoughtful about the approaches we take to things. Mindful about what shape our divestment from these companies and systems looks like. Some things do not need replacing. They have had their time and space and they need no more.

Do we need a mastodon and an instagram and a bluesky and a threads and a cohost and and and…

No. We don’t.

That brings us into a very uncomfortable part of divestment if we adhere to it and commit wholeheartedly: sacrifice. Namely, looking into your life and determining what is getting left behind.

Some of that is communication with people far away in order to bond with the people closer to you because you opt out of whatsapp, facebook messenger, or Discord. 

Some of that might mean that the larger online world is less accessible (not inaccessible, but less accessible) in general. 

Some of that might mean a selected set of group chats that get you the information you need rather than drinking from the firehose of information (including misinformation) that you receive passively from being online.

In sum, making the world different means making a path to one that is actually different rather than the same one but open source. This is, decidedly, the hard part because some of what we’re leaving is going to be the culture that capitalism built or at least as much as we can manage.

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