Shutting down my Facebook account is what started off my digital privacy journey several years ago. The switch from WhatsApp to Signal happened not long after that, when I discovered these platforms were both owned by Facebook, now Meta.
Given Instagram is also owned by Meta, it seemed logical to delete that account next. While deleting Facebook had been a relief, and switching to Signal painless, I found I was not eager to delete my Instagram account. The rapid posting cycle in Instagram had boosted my musical creativity, and its far-reaching hashtag network had connected me to a many musicians and listeners.
Instagram and creativity
I have been a musician most of my life. I jumped onto each online publishing platform as it appeared. I hosted low quality mp3s on a basic, ugly HTML homepage provided by my Internet Service Provider, then discovered MySpace, then Facebook, SoundCloud, various musician forums & platforms, and finally learned about digital music publication through sites like CD Baby.
Instagram drew my attention when I was stuck in a rut. I would spend a month working on a track, then post it on SoundCloud to only a handful of plays and responses. With the vast musical output being posted by bedroom musicians, it seemed impossible to reach an audience.
A friend was using Instagram to publish music. I noticed he would post short clips of rough ideas, more like a musical diary. Instagram is a visual medium, so he would always some sort of video footage, but the audio was clearly meant to carry each post.
I found the idea of posting quickly and often an interesting approach, and joined Instagram as a musician.
Humans are susceptible to processes where outcomes are only somewhat predictable. I found the 'hit and miss' aspect of Instagram's response to my posts addictive, and this compelled me to create more music. I began publishing new ideas almost daily, which meant I had more ideas to choose from at the end of the month, when considering which tracks to develop more fully.
Instagram proved to be a fantastic boost to my creative output; thus my reluctance to delete my account.
The alternatives to Instagram are not great. I looked into Mastodon, which had not yet received much media attention at that time. Mastodon confused me more than anything. While it seemed possible to connect with other musicians on this network, I found the idea of federated instances hard to understand, and I missed the sense of pitching to a very large crowd, something Instagram did provide.
Some recommended Pixelfed as an alternative to Instagram. While Pixelfed also belongs in the federated social media universe, I found it easier to set up a profile here. I posted some music and tried to find other musicians. Pixelfed is a platform with the closest potential to be an Instagram alternative, but, again, there simply weren't enough people active on it to have meaningful experiences.1
I also looked into a video platform called Odysee. I set up an account and posted several short videos to share my music, but the low engagement meant I didn't experience the addictive drive to post regularly and thereby increase my creative output.
I walked away from trying out these less data-hungry platforms realising that the main value of a platform like Instagram, aside from well thought-out features, is the ability to connect to a very large audience, even if only briefly each time you post something new.
So why did I quit? Looking back, there's no clear-cut answer to that question.
There is an argument for compromise in decisions around online privacy. I am not running from a government; my threat model is nowhere near that severe. I maintain a LinkedIn account to this day, because it might help with my career (more about that in a future post). Why not make a similar compromise with Instagram for music and creativity?
In the early days of my journey towards online privacy, acting on conviction and being consistent was key. Deleting Facebook and WhatsApp whilst hanging on to Instagram, all three owned by one company, seemed rather wavering.
I had by this point also experienced the relief, joy and freedom that comes with deleting social media accounts. Owning a Facebook account created the problems of potential anxiety, disappointment and fear of missing out, and with the deletion of the account, the problems disappeared, too.
While an addiction to the posting and response cycle of my music encouraged a more prolific creative output, it seemed unhealthy that being 'liked' what was driving this creativity. Also, the engagement on Instagram is short and superficial: with a constant flow of new content and connections, music posts have a brief lifespan.
So, I was in two minds about Instagram: the increase in creative output was good, but losing time due to its addictive features wasn't.
I had already discovered from deleting Facebook that the costs there far outweighed the benefits, and so I decided to disable my Instagram account as an experiment.
Disable, then delete
Meta provides tools and information that make quitting less painful. On both Facebook and Instagram, you can disable your account if deleting feels too drastic.
My Instagram had over time become a musical diary, and I didn't want to lose that.
After disabling the account, I missed the push to publish rough musical ideas but enjoyed the extra time not spent engaging with the platform. It cleared my head. Being off the platform also felt more consistent with my beliefs to disengage from Big Tech as fully as possible.
It didn't take long for me to decide to delete my account after that. I found a way to back up my posts. From quitting Facebook, I had learned to warn online friends in advance. I posted a final message pointing to other locations where my music could be heard, then deleted everything a week or two later.
My creative daily output dropped, but I did not stop making music. I discovered Bandcamp, which does not have a strong focus on privacy, as far as I can tell, but does focus on musician ownership. Bandcamp is a good networking tool, and quite an effective way to find music in your favourite genres. You can sell your work on Bandcamp, which is satisfying, and it has quite good tools for viewing statistics.
Bandcamp does not have the built-in, psychologically addictive features Instagram does. I never feel like I have lost time on Bandcamp.
I dropped all alternatives to Instagram: Pixelfed, Odysee and Mastodon. They were depressingly dead places for music and not worth maintaining. I have since rediscovered Mastodon for this blog, and found the privacy communities active and interesting.
Subjectivity should not be the only motivator, but similar to Facebook, the finality of deleting my Instagram account brought a sense of positive relief.
There might be scope for a privacy-preserving, interactive notebook platform for musicians and other types of artists. The process of producing lots of ideas quickly is good for creativity, and having your sketch book online can motivate you to create more.
Perhaps there are developers out there who can envision and build such a platform, and manage to draw in enough of an audience to create a meaningful experience.
What Is Big Tech?
Gunther's Guides - Mastodon
Determining your threat model
The New Oil
Disable, backup, delete Instagram
-----Discuss on Reddit-----
Subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed.
Find me on Mastodon and Twitter.
Back to Blog
I now use Pixelfed to host the odd image for this blog, and I still don't see a lot of active user engagement on the platform.↩