Social media has taken the world by storm, especially our generations of so-called “digital natives”. If you’re not sure what that term means you can just Google it. When did we start using the word “Google” as a verb, anyway? I digress; a study by the New York Times Consumer Insight Group concluded that there are five major reasons why people share on social media:
- SUPPORTING A CAUSE
- SELF FULFILLMENT
- SELF EXPRESSION
These are great reasons, of course and social media can offer many positive effects. Think about the impact of the ice bucket challenge, which significantly raised the awareness of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). We cannot overlook the huge power of the hashtag – like #metoo, #nomakeupselfie or #lovewins. The likes of Joe Wicks have been able to utilise social media to have a significant impact on people’s lifestyle choices. And, while employers backgrounding candidates on social media can be a potential risk to some, LinkedIn should be part of any job seekers tool kit. A well organised and intentional social media presence can be a shop window for one’s skills, passion and knowledge.
There are darker aspects to social media though. Sean Parker, founding president of the Facebook Company was speaking at an insurance event, and described how likes and shares were created to give user's brains a "dopamine hit". That “hit” compels them to post more content in pursuit of more dopamine. Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook's one-time VP of user growth took this a step further;
We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded with short-term signals--hearts, likes, thumbs-up--and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth, and instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that's short term and leaves you even more--admit it--vacant and empty than before you did it. It forces you into this vicious cycle where what's the next thing I need to do now because I need it back. Think about that compounded by two billion people.
A survey of state and independent schools in England, by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) and Digital Awareness UK, found that 57% of young people had received online abuse and 52% said it makes them feel less confident about themselves. Some 60% thought that their friends show a fake version of themselves on social media. Social media exposes us to a practically endless stream of others’ experiences, some of which are authentic but many are stage-managed; heavily “Photoshopped”, or staged photographs and videos. This can create unrealistic expectations and leave people to be drawn into drawn into comparisons (often appearance-based) as well as inevitable feelings of self-consciousness, inadequacy and/or dissatisfaction.
The fact is that negative interactions such as bullying have become even easier. Think about an “exchange of opinions” on Facebook or an argument in the sub-threads of Twitter; reading digital comments is a minefield of caps-locked rage! A simple expression of opinion can result in attack from disinhibited “Trolls” who are only too pleased to point out that you're wrong and (usually) why! The phenomena of "friendship" is now often defined by a false sense of “connectedness” that just isn’t real. Friendship does not exist just because someone thought your last post was funny! The constant tugging on our attention from our devices is creating a lack of resistance to boredom and to quiet – we are more distractible. This worrying trend is supported by those suffering anxiety, lower mood and lower life satisfaction due to “Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)”.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement published a report #StatusofMind in 2016. According to the findings 91% of 16 -24 year olds use the internet for social networking, but their findings shows a growing link with social media and increased rates of depression, anxiety, depression and poor sleep. That said, the same report also highlights that social media can improve access to expert health information and also emotional support through the experiences of others.
What does all this mean for your own social media use? Only you can decide. Social media is an inextricable part of life for most of us. Perhaps we just need to think more about the pros and cons, and maybe make some different choices. We should definitely aim to develop strong, meaningful connections. The best way to do that is to HELP others; rather than blatant self-promotion and collecting a few more “likes”, approach it from the perspective that it’s not solely about you. Share positive news; be constructive, supportive and promote others. Only comment on things that you “like” and definitely don’t be dragged into negative exchanges. Here are some other ideas;
- Avoid overshare – especially when you are feeling tired and/or emotional. That also means no more cryptic or “cliffhanger” posts.
- Remember the “THINK before you post” acronym; T – is it True? H – is it Helpful? I – is it Inspiring? N – is it Necessary? K – is it Kind.
- Before you post, think about how might feel if you start to get negative response or comments. Is it worth holding back that post for another time?
- Moderate the amount of time you spend on social media. Rather than being a distraction or a preoccupation, have some boundaries.
- Consciously avoid completely relying on social media as a means of communicating with close friends and family.
- Make it a habit to only share private and sensitive information face-to-face or by phone with people you know and can trust.