2485 days, almost seven years, ago I quit drinking.
Two years after that I wrote a book for Byliner about how I’d managed to get sober not through AA or any similar program but using my own system which relied on public accountability.
As I explained at the time, I probably wouldn’t have got sober were it not for social media. Back then I had around twenty thousand Twitter followers (all of whom I subsequently deleted along with my account, but that’s another story). It was those followers who, after close friends and family, were the first to hear of my decision to get sober. I wrote a short post on my blog (also long gone) explaining my reasons for quitting and also asking for help: Encouraging those who “knew” me through various social platforms to act as a cloud of virtual sponsors: To make sure that no matter where I went there was always a chance someone would be watching, someone who would notice if I fell off the wagon.
I made clear the method wouldn’t work for everyone but, 2500 days later, it has worked for me.
After the book came out I started receiving emails from readers who had tried the same method – publicly posting about their sobriety – and who, like me, had been overwhelmed by how supportive people were. I was genuinely stunned that I received no – as in, zero – snark or negative responses to my sober tweets back in 2009. In fact, in the years afterward that I was still active on Twitter, I could count on the fingers of a single hand the number of people who used my honesty about alcoholism as a way to attack me.
Contrast that with comments. In March 2012 the Wall Street Journal asked to extract a chapter of the book on their website and (I think, but I can’t easily check) in print. I happily agreed, figuring it’d be good publicity for the book but might also reach the vast majority of people in the universe who didn’t follow me on Twitter.
You can still see the comments on that article here (you’ll need to dig down a little), or read Sarah’s summary here. They’re amazing, and revolting. People hoping I’ll die, people accusing me of lying about being sober, insults, threats, loony conspiracies – the works. And this is in the Journal’s moderated comments.
I remember thinking: Wow, there’s something really special about Twitter that encourages people to remain human; something that’s absent in anonymous comments.
Fast forward five years and that’s pretty funny, right?
Actually, the idea that Twitter is a kinder, gentler place isn’t funny. It’s hilarious. Sidesplitting. Last week I wrote about how Twitter is becoming the social network of Trump, but even before that it had already become a cesspool of abuse and trolling and stalking and craziness. Even six months ago I’d say Facebook was better – thanks in large part to its dogged insistence that users post under their real names – but thanks to Craig Newmark’s study, we know that just as many people are attacked and abused on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform as they are on Jack Dorsey’s.
This time last year I quit using Twitter (again). It had just become too noisy and distracting and ugly, and I needed to step out of the room. I’m still on Facebook, but I don’t post anything even that might even loosely be considered personal on there – life’s too short.
All of which is fine. I’m nearly seven years sober and I was lucky to get that way at a time when you could be open and honest on Twitter without giving gasoline and a lit match to the trolls. I also made a decent amount of money from the book at a time when the advice it contained was good.
But the sad truth is, I probably wouldn’t be able to get sober in the same way if I tried again today. And, sadder still, if someone asked me for advice on using social media to fight addiction I’d be stuck for an answer. Except for this: Stay as far away from Twitter and Facebook as possible.