Remember when social media was fun? I joined Facebook back in 2011 and it was wonderful to reconnect with friends and family that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. Seeing how their lives had changed over the years with kids and grand-kids, moves to other parts of the country, milestones in their lives that they were excited to share. Throwback Thursdays were a fun way to remember them the way they were. Wishing each other Happy Birthday. And then meeting new friends – sometimes from other places in the world and keeping in touch over thousands of miles. It was great!
And then gradually it wasn’t. It didn’t happen overnight. And it wasn’t just one thing – it was a bunch of things. Advertising started to take over the Newsfeed. A casual Google inquiry about mattresses turned into an onslaught of ads from every manufacturer. How did Facebook know what I was doing on Google? Recently I noticed that when I used Facebook on my phone there were ads EVERY THREE POSTS in my Newsfeed! But when I used Facebook online on my computer – no ads in my newsfeed. So I decided to take Facebook off my phone. I use the Firefox browser and added their “Facebook Container” making it even harder for them to track me. Paranoid? No, I just didn’t like the idea of being tracked and targeted all the time.
And then I started noticing that posts were changing. Less happy moments being shared and more angry ones. Politics – both sides equally loud. All the time. People were sharing links to news articles from publications I don’t subscribe to so I couldn’t read them anyway. Conspiracy theories. Misleading memes that were shared thousands of times before anyone took the time to fact check. Just this morning I saw someone post how happy they were that the President had contracted Covid. So I’ve started un-following friends on Facebook. Not unfriending them, just taking their posts out of my feed. The constant barrage is more than I can handle. I sadly realize that I am probably missing any of the good stuff they post about as well. But sometimes personal mental health preservation is more important.
I have a Twitter account. I don’t use it much unless it’s to retweet something from one of our actors to promote a new show or series. I recently found a new author I like so I followed her on Twitter and tweeted my admiration for her writing. She responded and that was nice. But every time I started to really look through my Twitter feed it was so negative. So angry. So many trolls and bots trying to rile things up. And I realized that Twitter figured out pretty quickly how you felt about things. Based on your tweets, retweets or who you followed you’d get recommendations for “like minded” accounts. Why look at both sides when you can feel supported by those who feel the same way you do. Because you’re right. And everyone else is wrong. I took Twitter off my phone too.
Instagram was something I came to a little later. I post occasionally but not that often. I don’t really care that I don’t have a lot of followers because I look at IG more to find things that interest me. Home décor, photography, health. Things that aren’t inundated with politics. The same with Pinterest. I LOVE Pinterest for finding new things to cook or ideas for a haircut or how to organize a home office. And no politics. No arguments. No finger pointing.
Recently I watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”. If you haven’t seen it, I HIGHLY recommend it. If you don’t have Netfix – sign up for a free trial or just join for a month. It will be the best money you’ve ever spent. It made me realize even more than I already knew about how manipulative social media is. How it feeds your brain and is like a drug. In fact one of the best quotes from the film is ”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
The people in the documentary are the people who created social media. Who figured out how to monetize it. How to get you hooked. You’ll see that all of them are listed by their former occupations. Because they’ve all left Google and Facebook and Twitter.
So, where am I now at the end of all this? Well, I haven’t deleted my accounts…yet. I go to Facebook less often. I bypass or completely block the negativity. There’s enough going on in the world without it being in my face every day on a platform that was supposed to be fun. I’m spending more time reading and writing. Painting and cooking. Working on this blog. I don’t look at my phone first thing when I wake up. Or last thing before I go to bed. I’m re-watching one of my favorite TV shows from the early 90’s – Northern Exposure. It makes me happy. And happy seems to be a rare commodity these days.
Finally, I joined a non-profit organization that one of the presenters in the doc co-founded. It’s full of recommendations on how to navigate social media, they educate on how technology works and how to avoid its many pitfalls. They show the science behind the dopamine rush and how it’s affecting us – and more importantly our kids. There’s a lot to unpack there but they have an excellent website if you want to learn more: www.humanetech.com
In the end, it’s about balance. Mental health. Recognizing that you may not always agree with each other about a lot of stuff, but it shouldn’t mean you stop caring about each other.