Social Media is What You Make of It
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen several of my Facebook “friends” disappear. Why is that in quotes? I’ll get to it. Sometimes they’ve just faded away, other times there was a goodbye cruel world post. It’s too negative. I’m tired of being lectured. I can’t stand all the <<insert topic>> shaming.
I totally get it. Social media can become a cesspool of misinformation, trolling, banter and negativity. If you let it. I’ve taken breaks from it myself, though usually just in the form of removing the apps from my phone.
But like it or not, social media has a place in our society. I’d go as far as to say it is a major feature in our society. It’s a way we spread information (and misinformation), communicate with our peers, and often validate our own opinions and emotions. That last one gets tricky. Sometimes our mess shouldn’t be validated. But I digress.
Speaking personally, I don’t want to do without the socials. They are valuable in connecting me with the people who read and buy my books. They help me share statistics and get advice from fellow authors. They keep me connected in a world under quarantine. And, most importantly, they remind me that the world in my tiny little bubble is not the only world in which to live, which makes me a stronger ally.
Having said that, I agree that social media should not be all-consuming, nor should it actively influence how I feel when I’m not “plugged in.” So I dug deep into my therapy toolkit and set boundaries that keep me from going down rabbit holes or getting lost in the comments. Here are my top seven.
Schedule your Screen Time
Part of my writing career is regular posting and connecting with my readers and followers, so I schedule time to catch up on my feed. Unless I’m overly tired, want to put myself in a foul mood, or just feel like I need to punish myself, I don’t sway from that schedule. This helps me keep a comment or post from leaking into my actual life, maintains my connection to the people in front of me, and stops the time suck from getting lost in a nasty thread.
I still get to catch up with my “friends” and I still get to connect to people. I also see what is going on in the world and, on a tiny scale, how the world is reacting. I do not keep social media apps on my phone. The habit of checking Facebook or Instagram every time you have a minute or two free is bad. Trust me and break that habit. You aren’t missing anything.
Remember that Social Media Lacks Nuance
My dear friend and contributor put it best – most of what you see on a social feed is a highlight reel. I know there are countless times that I’ve posted a happy family picture without discussing what happened after. Just a few weeks ago, on our Colorado hike, I got this great shot.
Then one of those smiling kids pushed the other one to the ground. I’m not naming names, I’m just saying.
Political arguments, religious discussions, and (oh my goodness) neighborhood groups are especially guilty of lacking nuance. Here’s a pro tip that you probably already know logically but should apply emotionally: if a statement is unequivocal, absolute, outrageous or far winged, it’s most likely full of false logic. It’s highly possible to feel more than one way about something, particularly in highly complicated situations. Keeping that in mind will help you avoid reacting to those statements and the ones who post them.
People on the Other End are Not Invisible
You know why we sing in the shower? Yes, acoustics – we think we sound great (we don’t). But also? Something about being enclosed makes us think we are alone. When I was 18, I traveled with a group to support a friend who was applying to college. The four of us stayed in one hotel room, and as soon as I went to take a shower, I farted. It was that “I’ve been holding it” fart. The kind my daughter lets loose when she gets in the car at the end of a long school day. It lasted a while, it echoed, and it was an enormous relief. I regret nothing.
Stay with me, I have a point.
For some reason, I thought being in the shower closed me off from the rest of the room. I forgot that the people outside were people – with ears – and could hear me. Needless to say, as soon as I came out of the bathroom there were a lot of smirks and giggles. The same philosophy applies to social media. The people we are chatting with should not cease to become living, breathing people in our minds. We see a small avatar and a name and we react.
But the vast majority of not bot participants on social media are, indeed, humans doing the best they can. People who may be struggling or angry. They aren’t all great – I’ve come across my share of internet jerks – but they are still people.
Friends is a Misnomer. So is Followers.
I hate both terms. I’m not saying I dislike the people I am “friends” with on Facebook, nor do I want to cut contact with them. However, when it comes down to it, they are vastly acquaintances and casual friendships. My true friends and I do not talk on Facebook very often, at least about the important stuff.
Keeping that in mind provides two benefits. First, it’s easier not to take things so personally. Second, and this is important, it’s ok to unfriend, unfollow, or ignore someone on social media! There are people I come into contact with because our kids go to the same school or we both write on the blog. I see their feed and know they are not my people. Most likely I’m not theirs either. And I’m totally ok with that!
If I see there is no common ground, well, that’s what that unfollow button is for. I don’t have to read the things they post that might make me angry or affect my day-to-day life. I can still communicate with them about school or work without carrying resentment or tension around.
Ignoring the Outside World is a Privilege
It’s really nice to live in a bubble. But it leads to the false notion that our experience with the world is what the world looks like. Look at your friends and followers and actively work to diversify your feed. Expose yourself to other perspectives and viewpoints. Life is not all rainbows and puppy dogs and you are not doing yourself any favors by complaining that your feed isn’t a super happy fun time. Especially right now when your fellow humans are struggling to work, getting sick, losing loved ones, and feeling ignored or dismissed. Be there with them, because they need your voice and your support. Even when it’s hard. When you do this, you’ll see a lot more variety in what people post and it will keep your mind from closing.
Fact-Checking is Easy
This one is less about what you see and more about what you put out into the world. It’s very, very simple to verify a link, meme, video, or article before you share it. If someone shares one that’s false, let them know in the nicest way possible that’s bull. Learn which news outlets or websites are far leaning or post unverified stuff. Be willing to hear things about “your side” that you don’t like, but by all means, check them first. This is how we enable communication, even when our opinions differ. Now, let’s clarify. A difference of opinion differs greatly from dismissing science and fact. I’m all about the former, but I have zero tolerance for the latter. In my opinion (see what I did there), you should too.
Compassion in the Digital Era
As a super, duper, cape-wearing, card-carrying member of the Enneagram Two Club, social media could be a disaster for me if I let it. All those wild emotions and slinging insults could eat me away inside. I could lament that everyone isn’t friends. I could wring my hands that the world doesn’t always agree with me. But I don’t. Instead, I step back, embrace my badass three-wing, and set healthy emotional and time boundaries that let me plug in without getting sucked in.
It’s not for everyone, but I highly recommend taking some time to find the place for social media in your world – even if that is realizing it has no place at all. Once you find that, you can accept it for what it is without diving into the very real pitfalls of our beautifully open and uncensored world.