We’ve all been there: We see a post by a friend, either real or virtual, with which we totally disagree, and we’re off to the races with a contrarian point of view. With all that’s going on in our world today, there’s a ton of controversy: Covid, politics, BLM… hell, people are even arguing over whether pineapple should be allowed on pizza (it shouldn’t).
Sitting on social media has become as habitual as smoking. It’s not only a bad habit; it’s a dangerous one. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics warned about the potential for negative effects of social media in young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying and “Facebook depression.”
For adults, the by-product of the negativity on social media is equally as damaging. I’ve seen family members and long-time friends tear each other apart on a Facebook thread; people who don’t even know each other say the most appalling and hateful things that I know they would never say to that person in real life. People bickering back and forth, throwing out insults, name calling, and spewing nothing but anger and hate.
What does this say about us as individuals, or as a society? Sure, there are plenty of positives when it comes to social media: connecting with friends and family, sharing photos and videos with friends and loved ones who are far away; sharing ideas, bringing awareness to certain issues; building and networking with new friends and communities. It has been a game-changer in the nonprofit world as it helps spread the word on the issues we fight every day.
However, there is a very dark underbelly of social media. In addition to ruined relationships because we tend to let down our guard and act like complete assholes, there is an increase in feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety, inadequacy, cyber-bullying and self-absorption.
Facebook’s former vice president for user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, recently stated: “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” and advised people to take a “hard break” from social media.
Studies revealed those who spend a significant time on Facebook reported worsening well-being. The authors hypothesized that comparisons and emotions triggered by Facebook were carried into real-world contacts, perhaps damaging the healing power of real-world relationships.
Not only is arguing with someone on social media a complete waste of time; it triggers the release or cortisol aka the stress hormone. The result is an increase in heart rate and energy as part of the fight-or-flight response. Too much can cause fatigue, irritability, head aches, insomnia, depression, weight gain, and increase in blood pressure.
Humans are social creatures. We crave a sense of community and connection. However, when the constant exposure to anger, negativity and violence comes into play, it’s time to wean yourself off social media and find more positive ways to connect. Here are a few suggestions:
- Start a in-person or virtual shared interest or hobby group — book club, hiking, dog walking, or jogging group; wine and cooking group, knitting club, Bible study, etc. This will not only allow you to develop deeper, more personal connections; it allows you to share your interests with and learn from like-minded individuals.
- Keep it positive. As compelling as it is to speak your mind when someone posts something of a political nature with which you disagree, don’t. You’re not proving anything by doing so. You’re not going to change their mind. It’s a fruitless endeavor that only harms you.
- Keep it kind. If you absolutely must say something, try to keep it neutral in tone and not nasty, sarcastic, condescending, or snarky. Be reasonable and rational. State your cases as if you were in a courtroom because well, you are in the court of public opinion. Everyone can bear witness to your behavior and screen shot it. Remember, you’re not the only one with an opinion. It’s not all about you. Be mindful and respectful of the fact that the other side is allowed to have an opinion too.
- Manage the amount of time you spend on social media. Sure, we all say: “I’m going to take a quick break from work and check my Facebook page for a few minutes.” Hours later, you’re still messing around. That’s the addictive part of it all. It’s also somewhat egoistical. You comment or you do a post, and you want to see who’s liking, commenting, arguing, etc.
To better manage your time on social media, set a timer and once that timer goes off, so must you.
- Reach out personally. Yes, actually pick up the phone and call someone and see what they’ve been up to and how they’ve been doing. We tend to just pop over to someone’s Facebook page to catch up on their lives. “Oh look! They had a baby!” You type “congratulations” in the comments and scroll through the new baby pictures. Next thing you know, you’re looking at the pregnancy photos, wedding photos, engagement photos… You got all caught up, but that doesn’t equal the heightened positive emotion associated with actually picking up the phone and speaking with them personally. In the time you were trolling their Facebook page, you could have had a meaningful phone call.
There are many tangible benefits to social media, but only when used for your well-being and the well-being of others. The most important part is to manage how you use social media and the amount of time you spend on it. Gain control over your use of it. Treat it like the connectivity and communication tool it was designed to be and not as your own personal soapbox of negativity and a chance to wreak havoc.
The world needs to heal. What if the 1.2 billion Facebook users only posted about kindness, love, joy, and gratitude? The world would definitely be a better place.
How could you use social media for good today? Post a comment here and help others use social media for good too. :)