The Existence of the Social Media Non-User

The social media non-user exists. He doesn’t lurk in the shadows; he lives in the plain light of day. He goes to the grocery store, does his laundry, and even has hobbies. But in his face-to-face social interactions, he may have to explain himself. Facebook and other social media networks inevitably come up, and he admits that he’s not on there. Cory Bullinger and Stephanie Vie wrote an article titled “After a Decade of Social Media: Abstainers and Ex-Users, ” in which they examine how social media users view non-users; how non-users view themselves; and the stated reasons why non-users do not use social media. In this, they dissect the non-user as a part of the technological revolution. After all, he is part of it just as much as social media users are.

People who don’t use social media are rendered quite simplistically into oddities, remnants of an old age, and ill-adapted to contemporary society. Moreso, they are even regarded as dangerous and poorly socialized. Bullinger and Vie say that “The literature written by users about non-users (including non-adopters or ex-users) largely discussed the costs of non-use….non-users were framed as abnormal, suspicious, or deviant. ” Vogue even wrote an article on non-users, citing that “One of Slate’s digital advice columnists has said, ‘If you are going out with someone and they don’t have a Facebook profile, you should be suspicious.'” A news outlet even made a claim that abstaining from Facebook could be an indicator that you’re capable of horrendous acts like being a mass murderer, like James Holmes.

The social media non-user is placed in a critical position of needing to publicly defend himself.

Why do we feel an intense pull to have a presence on social media? Why do we regard those without it as suspicious? The social media non-user has become the pillar of oddity, instead of being just another participant in society who has his personal reasons not to engage. We have become socially self-policing in our suspicion of those without profiles on the primary social media networks. The trouble is that the grasp of social judgment has fallen to non-geographically specific levels. Rather than belonging to close-knit communities, we detach ourselves under the pretense of more connectivity. The more far-reaching we are in the social sphere, the more superficial our communications become and the more tailored they are for the broadest audience possible. Whereas in real life we separate our friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, with social media we communicate with all of these groups simultaneously.

photo by Irene Dávila

The trouble is that social control has reached such a serious level around social media that those without it are regarded as obtuse and even socially dangerous. Self-exclusion has been transformed into an imagined admittance of guilt. The assumption is that those without social media must be hiding something. The fact that an individual cannot be found in the Facebook search bar implicates him with serious reservation and suspicion. Part of the fear is in his invisibility. “As researchers like Cynthia L. Selfe (1999) and Dennis Baron (2009) have argued, the pervasiveness of technologies renders them invisible; we would argue here that the ubiquity of social media now renders non-users nearly invisible as well.”

It’s no secret that some potential employers are screening applicants by searching for them on social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Questions may fester in their minds if they can’t find someone. Are they using a different name? Did they deactivate their accounts before applying for new jobs? What are they hiding? Abstaining commands far more suspicion than having social media does in our current world. As a non-user myself, I have written in defense of my decision to abstain in the past. I felt propelled to explain myself, even though I was not explicitly prompted to do so. Even this action is somewhat demonstrative of a fear that I will be misunderstood and misconstrued. The act of explaining a decision publicly points to the obvious insecurity in the ability for others to understand why a decision was made.

The social media non-user exists, but he stands on uneven ground. At once, he retains the dignity assigned to making the personal choice to abstain. Concurrently, he finds himself in a socially precarious position, regarded in deviant terms and even being rejected from potential jobs and other opportunities.