Five Problems With Social Media

This popped up in my social media (ha!) feed today, and I figured why the hell not. I’ve been ignoring my blog; I should probably give it some love.

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As you can see, the first prompt is “Five problems with social media.” So, let’s have at it.

1. The Echo Chamber Effect. 

To quote wikipedia,

In media, an echo chamber is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.

Basically, most social media either employs algorithms to show us the shit we like, or we self-select into following only things we like.

For example, on my FB feed, I tend to “hide” spiritual or woo-heavy posts. I dislike them. FB, realizing I dislike them, adjusts their algorithm so I don’t see posts that reference scriptures, religion, prayer, etc. FB wants me to spend more time on their feed, so they fill my feed with the sorts of things I click on and read–Science, politics, writing jokes, and the occasional funny meme.

Twitter is full of posts from people I’ve followed, and it has an algorithm to suggest “similar” posts. Again, keeping me in my ecosystem.

Even Reddit, which is user-upvoted content, ends up being a bit of an echo chamber because I choose which subreddits to populate my feed with and which to ignore or silence completely.

In order to combat the echo chamber effect, I have to intentionally leave my comfort zone and seek out information sources and points of view I disagree with. I do this, but I don’t like it. It’s like taking medicine, and it is rage-inducing. However, I feel it’s necessary, because otherwise I end up assuming that my views are very mainstream, and the information/ news sources I prefer (not to mention my interests!) are the default. If I don’t broaden my horizons, it makes understanding the perspectives of others more difficult.

2. The Difference Between On-Line and Off-Line Personas.

Have you ever met someone in person and you’re like, whoa! They’re kick-ass! How cool! and you love hanging out with them? They’re witty and compassionate and knowledgeable about all types of shit, and you just enjoy their company?

Then you friend them– or accept their friend request– and it’s like a totally different person. Just so different. Maybe they’re one of those people who are agreeable in real life, but argumentative on the internet. Or maybe they seem totally rational in real life, but their social media is full of anti-vaxxer memes. Or maybe they were low-key and chill in person, but their social media is just post after post of scriptures and prayers, or politics galores.

We all have buttons we prefer not to be pushed, and what is one person’s relaxation or uplifting thought is another person’s irritation trigger (I’m lookin’ at you, ‘Spirit Science‘). When someone’s online persona is severely different from their offline persona, it does kinda make me look at them different. I have unfriended a few racists and sexists that I thought were okay people … until I saw the shit they posted online.

I have no doubt people have learned things about me from social media that they never would have learned in real life (or only after years of acquaintance), and it completely changed their perception of me.

3. Vaguebooking, and Complaining About Vaguebooking

Ugh, vaguebooking is the worst, right? Yes. Yes, it is.

Yet we’ve all done it at some point. Everyone fails. Everyone occasionally gets a little passive-aggressive. Sometimes everything just sucks, and you’re mad but you don’t wanna trash-talk your SO or your kids or your friend or whatever, so you vaguebook.

Obviously, constant vaguebooking is a no-no. It’s annoying and whiny and needy, and nobody likes it. But goddamn, have a little compassion for the occasional slip-up. Some of these vaguebookers just need to vent. Or they’re fucking teenagers/ early-twenty-somethings, who are kind of notorious for courting drama. Or maybe they’re in a hurry because shit is going down, and they didn’t mean to vaguebook. I suppose that’s a possibility?

4. Comparing, falling short, and hating yourself.

When I was 21, I got pregnant. Over the course of the next year, I was introduced to what I consider the scourge of any parent: Parenting magazines. These curses in print awaited me at every doctors office, every WIC office, and in every checkout line. As my belly swelled with the life inside me, they blared headlines like, “Are you eating too much? Exercising enough? Beware this toxin! Don’t eat tuna! Check your medicine cabinet!”

Then my son was born.

“Breast vs. Formula! Cloth vs. Disposal! Circumcised vs. Uncut! Why your crib could kill your child! Top Ten Lists of Parenting Advice (Are You Doing Everything Wrong?)”

I read the articles hungrily at first, perusing them like I could find the antidote to my new-parent fears. I thought that surely, somewhere in these pages of arguments between experts, I would find the answer to raising a strong, happy, emotionally secure child. But all that happened was self-doubt. My husband and I began trying for another child, and I would lay awake in bed at night staring at the ceiling and planning what I would do different with a planned baby.

I would breastfeed. Cloth diaper from birth. Co-sleep, maybe. Definitely use a sling instead of a Baby Bjorn. Teach my baby sign-language. Do a natural birth, definitely. Maybe even a water birth. I’d make all the baby food from scratch.

On and on and on, until one day it hit me: I was planning a do-over, not a baby. I tried to imagine this second baby as a toddler, and I couldn’t. I tried to imagine them as a child, a teenager, an adult. I couldn’t. I tried to imagine the things I wanted to teach this child, the world I wanted them to explore … and all I could think of was the things I’d failed to do for my son, because I was young and scared and I followed my doctors advice. And what? I had a healthy, happy child. Why was I so focused on doing it “right”? What was the big fucking deal?

The next day I told my husband I was no longer interested in a second child, and he breathed a huge sigh of relief (turns out he wasn’t, either). After that, I stopped reading the parenting magazines with their contradictory, alarmist headlines, and just focused on my family.

Sometimes social media reminds me of those magazines, with their perfect, air-brushed families and top-ten lists of things you need to buy or do to raise a perfect child. If you end up on certain pages or feeds, there’s an unattainable perfectionism that permeates them. A parent can get to feeling pretty inadequate. Or a creator can feel pretty unimaginative and lazy. Or a teenager can feel ugly and useless. Or a friend can feel unwanted and unloved. And this brings me to my final point.

5. That Everyone Thinks Social Media is a Problem, or an Obligation. 

Basically, social media is a tool. Wield it wisely. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings and check them at least once a year (preferably more often). If you don’t like drama, unfriend/ unfollow people who cause it. If you do like drama, admit it and stop complaining about it. If you’re worried about your boss or grandma not liking the shit you say, then try:

  • not friending your boss or grandma,
  • watching the shit you say, or
  • putting your boss or grandma in a closed group so they can’t see the shit you say.

Don’t bitch about your SO online. It’s the equivalent of bitching about them to your family: If you end up making up, you’re going to feel embarrassed and everyone in your family is going to think you’re married to a douche. So just don’t do it.

Don’t embarrass your kids online. That’s some fucked up psychological trauma right there. They’re independent human beings with their own personalities and long-term psychological growth to worry about. Don’t be humiliating them online.

Say what you mean and mean what you say, but also recognize that people (including you!) change and grow over time. In some ways, we become more narrow-minded. In others, we soften and become more compassionate and easy-going. Regardless, everyone shifts in their values and worldviews, whether they realize it or not. It’s part of being human, and as long as you can stand by your actions and behavior and defend (or apologize!) for them, you’re probably cool.

Finally, like so many other things, the people you surround yourself with affect your experience for good or ill. This is just as true online as it is in real life.

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