Social media is a complex space, one with just as many helpful gains as hurtful pains.
In a time of dual pandemics, one of physical illness and the other of social justice, social media is our ever-present frenemy, the place where people turn for important headlines, comfort, support, and education, as well as where you’ll find heated arguments, unadulterated anger, and countless trolls.
Our current climate also carries a heavy load of dissent, which manifests deeply in the space of social media. There has been plenty of content to consume online as of late, much of which sends mixed signals.
As a white female and a fierce ally of all minorities, racial and beyond, it can be confusing and difficult to discern what the “right way” to help is. Social media tells me that silence on my personal platform qualifies as dissent, but also warns that I shouldn’t be sharing anything if I am uneducated on the topic. Social media provides me with content that urges me to understand the actions and emotions of others, and feel essential discomfort with my own white privilege; yet it tells me that I need to log off completely in order to show solidarity.
My confusion with social media’s role in the fight against racial injustices draws a parallel to the initial confusion that we all felt with social distancing in the beginning of quarantine. Opinions on social media ran across a vast spectrum of what was considered okay to do and what was considered dangerous. Some were fiercely defending that they could go out without PPE as they pleased; others urged followers to reject even grocery shopping in favor of strictly online purchases from their homes. The government was tweeting one argument, schools and universities another, businesses and individuals arguing with even more variation.
Especially in times of turmoil (i.e. right now), it is so important to find ways to be healthier with our own relationship to social media. In order to appreciate and utilize all that social media has to offer, we have to create just a little bit of our own social distance. Here are six methods to practice in order to have a healthier relationship with social media.
Consider yourself first.
Your own mental health is the most important aspect to consider when using social media. If you find social media triggering your anxiety, depression, loneliness or dysmorphia, or even if you just have painful FOMO, that might be a good indicator that it’s time for a break.
Meditation guru Sah D’Simone speaks on the importance of considering mental health when logging on: “Ultimately, you have to think: how are you using social media? Is it supporting your mental health or is it adding more chaos? Are you retraumatizing yourself every time you open social media, or are you becoming inspired? You just have to check in.” D’Simone recommends some guiding tips as well for when it becomes too much: “If you do get triggered, and you are spiraling, do a breathing technique that leads you to a meditation.” Find tons of amazing resources on D’Simone’s library to reconnect with your breath; How to Love Yourself and Others is perfect for turning social media stress into much-needed positive energy.
When my alarm goes off every morning, my first reaction is to head on over to Instagram and scroll away. Rather than jump right in, consider this: what is your purpose on social media today? Especially right now, think about what you’re sharing and why. Are you reposting something because it is trendy to do so, or are you reposting because you firmly believe in it? Get rid of the blind repost, and instead, use your platform as an intentional representation of your thoughts and opinions.
Put your phone away (yes, totally and completely).
If you find yourself tapping mindlessly through stories or looking at the clock and realizing you’ve been scrolling for hours, take a break. Social media should be fun and productive, not a waste of your time! Go out and take a walk, meditate, paint your nails, bake some cookies, and return to your phone when you feel calm and enthusiastic to see new content. You can even schedule your day with social media time built in—use apps like RescueTime or activate time limits on your Facebook and Instagram apps.
It can be too easy to fall down a rabbit hole on social media. Oh, she’s on vacation? Oh, he has killer abs? Rather than compare your own life to someone else’s curated content, do it for YOU! D’Simone agrees: “People feel scared when they have to check their social media, or their bank account, or Twitter or Instagram or TikTok…the moment they have to check their status or the amount of likes, they have an anxiety bubble about it. So I wrote this little mantra about it: ‘I accept everything as it is, because I know it does not define who I am.'”
It can be hard to remember that a lot of the time, somebody’s feed is simply a highlight reel of their life. Instagram doesn’t often show that day that you got a flat tire or a terrible hangover. Some people want to post a ton of stuff all the time, and some people want to post once a year. Make, share and reshare the content that YOU want—don’t worry about what everyone else is up to. It certainly does not define who you are.
Edit, edit, edit.
People on the internet say some really mean things. You can’t change that. But what you can affect is what you’re contributing to the conversation. Perhaps all you want to do is write a raging response to an aggressive troll’s comment. Before you hit post, edit yourself. Ask yourself if that’s really what you want to put out there. It’s okay to feel angry, upset, or uncomfortable towards something you see on the internet. And it’s totally okay to respond—just make sure your words are educated, clear and constructive.
Contribute to a community of support.
Despite its flaws, social media is the perfect place for activism and advocacy. There are so many amazing, productive, helpful creators out there who are using their platforms to put their own unique, positive voices out into the world. Take advantage of their hard work and learn from them!
Many of us, myself included, are struggling with the role that social media is playing right now. And yet, I am so thankful to social media during this time, because it has allowed me to see, read and watch so much essential content that the greater community is making and sharing, guiding my own personal path to education and resulting action. But sometimes, if things are feeling a bit overwhelming or negative, take a few steps away—perhaps even six feet, if needed—to gain a little bit of helpful perspective.