Most days I just want to quit, you know? I get so annoyed, so tired, so aggravated, so disheartened, so infuriated, so depressed. It’s like this repetitive loop of crap on top of more crap, with a little bit of hope sprinkled in every now and again. But then a new pile of garbage is thrown on the heap and not even a cute kitty can make me feel better.
I’m talking about social media, of course.
I quit using all social media sites for two and a half years, and I have to say: it was GLORIOUS. There were some photos I didn’t see, some announcements I didn’t hear about, some news stories I didn’t read. I had no idea a girl I went to elementary school with, but hadn’t seen in 25 years got fake boobs. I had no idea my friend went to Target that one day. I had no idea your cat wore a sweater for Christmas. And it was, let me say it again: GLORIOUS. My life was not the worse for wear for having cut out social media. In fact, I relished being able to say I wasn’t “on Facebook,” so “no, I didn’t see that article about how all the things are bad for children.” But things changed. I decided to start blogging and reluctantly I reactivated my old social media accounts. That was in February of this year. I think we can all agree I picked the worst year ever to rejoin the world of social media.
Now deciding each day to continue using social media sites is one of the biggest conflicts of my adult life. And I’m not upset about everyone’s “highlight reel,” though that has its own effect on peoples’ lives. For every good, cute, sweet, hope-inspiring story/article/post I see, I see two about ugliness, fear, hate, judgment, divisiveness, and so much sadness it brings my soul to tears. I worry about the anxiety, frustration, and anger I feel after using and engaging in social media, and I worry about how this carries over to my son and other personal relationships. I worry about our children growing up surrounded by fear and hate. I worry about how our next generations will view and behave toward their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. I just plain worry. But I want to get a little more specific because, after all, the devil is in the detail.
Part one of The Social Media Conundrum
When you express yourself via social media with a statement, an image, or an article, you are opening yourself up to opportunities for hostility.
You’re probably thinking, “Whoa, what does that mean? Are you trying to say I should keep my mouth shut? Are you saying I shouldn’t express my opinions?” Let’s break this down a little bit.
First, what does that mean? It means you are creating an opportunity for someone to respond to your opinion. That in and of itself is not the issue. The deeper issue is that by creating that opportunity, you are opening the door to someone who may not agree with you. You are opening the door to someone who may be very angry with you and your opinion. You are opening the door to someone who may greet you with a barrage of hostility.
Now, I want you to think back over the past few months and focus on a situation where this occurred (we all know it did). How did that interaction make you feel? Were you able to sway your naysayer to your side of things? Did your naysayer have a miraculous epiphany about how you were right and they were wrong? Was your naysayer able to sway YOU to their side of things? Or did it end in a pile of putrid and steaming vitriol, saliva dangling from the edges of your lips, your head on fire, your heart about to explode out of your chest?
That’s the hostility I’m talking about. And I’m not just talking about hostility being directed at you or hostility you may be directing at others. I’m talking about the hostile environment you create inside of yourself when you get into these back-and-forth arguments. I’m talking about the angry defensiveness you feel when someone disagrees with your worldview. That type of defense of your own opinions and worldview actually has a name: it’s called the Backfire Effect.
Here’s the science behind the Backfire Effect, where the effect is defined as: An “instance…in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.”
Or here is a perfect article in layman’s terms on the Backfire Effect, where the effect is defined as: “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”
Basically, you will never win. And neither will they.
I recently read an article on South African apartheid in an old National Geographic magazine I had laying around. This quote by Tshepo Madlingozi, a lawyer, a human rights advocate, and a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, resonated deeply with me when thinking about recent political events and online word-wars:
“…[T]his isn’t just about winning. It can’t be about winning. If we only want to win, then there will always be losers, and how is that so different from the way things were?”
Am I saying you should keep your mouth shut? No!
Am I saying you shouldn’t express your opinions? No way!
But what I AM saying is that you should be aware of the doors you’re opening and what might be lurking behind those doors when you choose to express yourself via social media.
Part Two of The Social Media Conundrum
When you quit using social media, you’re giving up your immediate connection to family and friends, your constantly updated news sources (or fake news sources), your ability to share your highlight reel, your platform to share your thoughts/feelings/opinions, your multitude of birthday wishes, your group camaraderie, and your regular influx of positive validations.
You’re probably thinking, “Whoa, those are some pretty important things! I don’t think I can give up on those things. I don’t think I want to give up on those things.”
So, what’s the answer? Do you keep fighting the (sometimes good, sometimes bad) fight? Do you give up on all social media? How can you use social media to maximize the positive effect it has on you, your children, your relationships, and your sanity? Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve heard people saying all of the right things:
“It’s all about balance.”
“Find empathy and compassion for people with whom you disagree.”
“Meet people in the middle.”
Or, my personal favorite: “Off with their heads!”
Just kidding about that last one…
All kidding aside, for me it comes down to minimizing opportunities for hostility and maximizing opportunities for positivity (shout out to Dr. Kelly G. Wilson for introducing me to theses ideas a few weeks ago at his workshop on self-care). If that means I take a break from social media, so be it. If that means I “unfollow” recognized opportunities for hostility, so be it. If that means you and I can’t be friends anymore, so be it. I have to protect and take care of myself FOR myself, and for my son, my husband, and my loved ones. Feel free to do the same.
“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.'” –Aldous Huxley