Column: Why Jonah Hill and others are quitting social media

Maybe we should start calling it social fear media.

In recent weeks, Tom Holland has left social media to maintain his ‘sanity’; Jonah Hill announced that to deal with his anxiety, he will no longer hold public events, including social media; and Florence Pugh, who had no problem putting down those who found her nipple-showing Valentino offensive, revealed that she and Zach Braff have been split for a while, but she didn’t want to make it public because she couldn’t take the happy replies… on social media.

In many ways, the new trend of “silent quitting” started on social media. People, famous and not, delete their apps every day, with or without big announcements, and for all sorts of reasons: trolls, boredom, time management issues, misinformation, and calls for violence – and quite often out of personal fear.

Study after study has revealed the negative impact platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can have on mental health. Unregulated in both its creation and consumption, social media distributes alienation as freely as it fosters connection, and incites fear as often as it offers support.

In other words, it gives everyone who attends a small (or large) taste of glory, with all its roar and disaster. We’re all famous now, and have been for over 15 minutes.

Hill has been more outspoken than others about celebrity tributes; before deciding to retire from all “public” events, he spoke about the pain of being defined as a “fat” guy; In an Instagram post earlier this year, he asked his followers not to even politely comment on his body.

Apparently that wasn’t enough.

Social media used to be meant to help stars manage their fame by allowing them to interact directly with the public and thereby control their own narratives. Being less dependent on those harm reduction interviews and pro-project profiles that could lead to unflattering portrayals or “out of context” quotes.

A woman in a colorful outfit on the street.

Florence Pugh is among a growing number of celebrities who are stepping back from sharing on social media.

(Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, as many have discovered, Instagram apology posts don’t always work, Twitter doesn’t care about context, and the voracious public can read a lot into the lack of a like. (See: Pugh dislikes Olivia Wilde’s post on Don’t Worry Darling.)

And then there are all those unfiltered replies, mentions, and DMs where, as Hill pointed out, even the positive comments can go wrong. “Don’t look” is a solution, but who can’t avoid the answers? And aren’t the answers the point?

Why are you posting a picture of yourself if you don’t want others to comment on it? Why intrude into the public discourse if you don’t want the public to react?

This is the ancient enigma of glory. Not to be confused with size or stature or even success, fame is a state defined entirely by public interest, and an interested public can be very ebullient, demanding, and critical. Social media makes it easy for members of this public to be all of these things all the time, unfiltered by editors, reps, or personal assistants.

Ironically, social media hasn’t reduced the need for public appearances; If anything, its heightened sense of intimacy, coupled with the increasingly hectic needs of a struggling film industry and overcrowded television landscape, has increased the pressure on creators and actors to get out and sell their wares.

Which is exhausting and difficult even for those without anxiety issues. Hill’s future producers and studios may have some feelings about his vow not to promote his projects, but fear can be a crippling condition. No one should risk becoming paralyzed in the pursuit of publicity.

We know that. We’ve seen countless celebrities collapse and burn under the weight of fame, read hundreds of essays and memoirs exposing the depression and anxiety it leaves behind. Just recently, we saw Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles partially stepping back from their sporting careers to avoid punitive public expectations. We even have a beloved martyr on the dark side of fame: Diana, Princess of Wales.

In new documentary The Princess, Ed Perkins chronicles her late teenage and (tragically short) adult life, using only archive footage and photos. No interviews, no voice-overs, no narrative posters. Just recordings and photos. This is how famous Diana was before there was even a social media platform.

Twenty-five years after her death, we’re still fascinated by Diana and the royal family. The Crown may not be a historically accurate chronicle of the modern House of Windsor, but it is a masterful analysis of how mysticism has morphed into popularity and widening the gulf between person and personality.

Diana didn’t survive her attempt to bridge that gap, and we can’t help staring into it and not quite believing—how could someone adored by so many be so unhappy?

This question is often asked when a famous person reveals the pressure and pain that came with success.

A medium shot of a man in a suit.

Jonah Hill recently announced that he will no longer hold public events because they inspire fear.

(Dia Dipasupil/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

I’m not trying to equate Jonah Hill’s anxiety or Tom Holland’s need to get off social media with the brutal media obsession Diana faced, but you could certainly draw a line between the two. The fact that Hill, Holland, Biles, Osaka, and indeed Diana’s sons, are able to speak publicly about the toll fame can take on mental health is a sign of progress; Admitting the problem is always the first step.

Still, the public has an uneasy relationship with what we’ve learned about fame. While we’re more open to the damage that all kinds of mental health work can do, we can still be quite callous to the people who benefit financially and personally from being famous.

We may mourn Diana and all those chewed up by the demands of public life, but if we’re being honest, we expect fame to hurt. At least sometimes. At least a bit. Not in a stalker sort of way. But if you want to create such a super cool image that people will want to buy anything you sell, then you should be ready to take credit for your massive carbon footprint, or your bad looks in a bathing suit, or some poorly chosen word you are ever uttered to be summoned. It’s part of the job.

I’m right?

I honestly do not know. I don’t think that as a well-known actor, writer, painter, news anchor or whatever, you have to share your private life and private life with the world. If you help make something, it’s not unreasonable to expect you to help promote it, but not when it involves enormous personal cost. Nobody should be necessary to create a personality or brand, or use social or other media to build an audience for anything. There’s nothing wrong with that either; Many people shine on social media or at press parties just as others shine on camera or on the page.

But what’s true for celebrities is true for all of us (they’re just like us!): when you’re courting public approval for their own sake, especially on platforms you join knowing there are no editors and little oversight, is this unreasonable expect less than the full range of human reactions. Which is often not nice.

It would be nice to think that Hill’s announcement, or the many talks about the pressures actors and athletes face, would serve as a gut test for those who comment just because they can (in all sorts of media outlets, including this one). Maybe it will be.

Or maybe it just keeps getting worse and worse until nobody wants to be famous anymore. Column: Why Jonah Hill and others are quitting social media

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