The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media, Part 2 – The Bad
In my last post, The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media, Part 1 – The Good, I talked about how valuable social media can be in connecting us with people and knowledge that we may have not otherwise accessed. The challenge with that open connection and knowledge comes in intentional self-management. It is in framing yourself in intentional ways to make sure you are thinking about the consequences of what you post. It is truthfully an exercise in continual self-reflection (which we all know is something I think is incredibly valuable). At the center of all this is considering social media as a tool that you have control over, including sectioning which platforms house what information and the level of privacy you set.
Social media has so much potential to be a force for good, and it does many great things by raising awareness, starting conversations, and keeping people connected. However, one of the bad parts of social media it can also be an incredible distraction.
The Bad: Distraction & Noise
Social media is similar to the vortex of emailwhere it can become this addiction where we can’t seem to stop ourselves from checking it constantly. The worst part is that much of the information we see is often not even particularly stimulating or informative. And yet… there is still this strong pull to check what’s going on, who liked your post, who retweeted your tweet, have any new pictures been posted to Instagram, all the FOMO etc. Each type of social media has its own notifications and content types that perpetually draw your attention, but have dubious value.
To be honest, I sometimes find the amount of interaction and data on social media to be overwhelming. It is a lot to process (both passively and actively) on an ongoing basis. I think the sheer volume contributes to sensory overload for me. Part if this has to do with my profession. I run a software company so between Slack, Messages, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and email (oh and IN PERSON lol?) I am generally fielding a lot of interactions at any given time. Being introverted also adds a whole other layer where nearly every type of interaction is energy draining. These factors combine to mean that I need to be conscious and intentional about how I engage with social media.
Based on the premise that consuming and engaging on social media has great potential value, it is reasonable to also assume that the byproduct of all that content and interaction is an astronomical amount of noise and distraction. We can filter much of that noise by being intentional about who, what and when we consume this information on social media. Let’s talk about how.
Managing whose content you consume and why
It is valuable to regularly reflect on who are you interacting with on your various platforms, the type of content they share or produce, and why you want to be connected to them. All of the social media platforms give you at least some control over who is in your feed and the content you see from them. This means you have to make an intentional decision about who you want to see and hear from.
There are people on my Facebook feed that I am happy to stay friends with, but who I have unfollowed because they tend to post things that I am not interested in seeing. There are also people who have friended me on Facebook that I have not accepted because, as mentioned in my previous post, they are acquaintances that I would rather interact with on a different platform. There are also people who I love to follow. They post interesting articles or keep me updated on neat happenings.
The gist is that if you are not intentional about regularly filtering who you follow, it is harder to see the things you want to see. To filter who you are interacting with on your platforms you can consider the following:
1. Create Twitter lists.
These are a curated list of other accounts, made by you or others, that you can follow. You can find the instructions on how to create/manage a list here. Twitter moves very quickly and the more people you follow, that greater amount of information (and junk) there is to consume. The benefit of lists is that you can select particular groups of people that you actually want to see/interact with and only see tweets that are connected to that group.
2. Update your Facebook feed settings.
Despite the fact that Facebook seems to be constantly changing their feed and privacy settings, you do have some control over what comes up in your feed. You can unfollow someone so they don’t show up in your feed, but not unfriend them. You can also select people you want to see first.
Managing what you consume
Social media allows us unprecedented access to information (and misinformation). For example, one of the major narratives that that came out in wake of the of the presidential election was around fake news and how it contributed to Trump’s win. While even this information is something to consider with a critical eye, my general reaction is one of complete horror. Now, we all get to reap the frightening consequences of people creating and sharing total falsehoods. So what can we do to be more discerning?
To me, there are two major ways to effectively manage the information you consume:
1. Passive versus active information consumption.
The internet has changed the way media is consumed so much that it is now the responsibility of the consumer (that’s you!) to do their due diligence and decide if the information being provided to them is “true”. Absolutely everything you read should be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has an agenda. Every story has multiple sides. It is up to you to critically think about your sources, whether you share that info, and how you present the info you are sharing.
2. Reflect on your own biases and the biases of your network.
We all have our own belief systems and biases. We are likely to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share and reinforce these belief systems and biases. Social media generally acts as an echo-chamberfor these because we are likely to filter out the people who we don’t share values with. I think it is vital that we all reflect and, at the very least, recognize that our biases exist and find ways to challenge ourselves and our views in healthy ways.
This is where things get a bit sticky for me. On one hand, I think it is valuable to balance your news/information sources so that you can have multiple points of view and come to your own, educated conclusions about certain issues. On the other hand, it is (at least for me) anxiety inducing and upsetting to read opinions or “news” that is so far outside of my values. It is a battle between being informed and protecting/insulating myself from the bombardment of what is often complete rubbish. Which brings me to my last point….
Managing when you consume
The only way I have been able to keep up with social media news in a way that I feel keeps me informed, but doesn’t make me feel overwhelmed and upset all the time is by making intentional decisions about when I access social media. These tactics also help manage the addictive nature of social media and reduce the frequency of distraction it can cause.
1. Don’t read social media before bed.
Same as email, it is generally a bad idea to engage with social media before trying to sleep. For me, I am at my most emotionally vulnerable late in the evening. It is also the time of day that I can take the least amount of action on something which makes me feel helpless. As an introvert, I only have so much energy reserves and social media engagement is an energy suck. I have to unplug from social media each evening or I run the risk of making myself so anxious before bed that I can’t sleep. I instead like to check my social media over coffee in the morning, and over lunch.
Consider when you are at your best and worst during the day and how your energy levels might influence how social media makes you feel.
2. The Pomodoro Technique.
As per Wikipedia, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. This can be helpful in preventing you from checking Twitter every 5-minutes while you are in the middle of working on a particular task.
A software tool that uses this technique that we have just started using is heyfocus.com. It blocks distracting websites, email, and apps for certain durations and then lets you take breaks if you want to access them.
3. Turn off notifications.
I have almost no notifications for any of my social media. I don’t need to know the second someone likes or shares one of my tweets. I do not want to be interrupted when I am working on something to find out that someone commented on my Instagram photo. To be intentional about when you engage on social media, you also have to be intentional about how you allow it to engage with you.
4. Unplug for a bit.
I know many people who have taken breaks from various social media platforms. Some come back after a few days or weeks. Others decide they don’t really need them in their lives. Regardless, it would likely surprise you how good it feels to disconnect from all the noise for a bit and engage with the people in your life in other ways.
Social media is truly amazing, but it is simultaneously a source of great distraction. By making intentional decisions about who you follow, what you consume, and when you consume it, you can better equip yourself to filter through all the noise and find great value.
In my next post, The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media: Part 3 – The Ugly, I will talk about the how to navigate the worst of parts of social media: cruelty and bullying.