If you’re anything like me, you’ve by now come to question whether social media is a value-add to your life. I remember how cool it was when I first signed up for Facebook.
It was great to get back in touch with people from the past and connect online in a new way. But that seems so long ago. Now I feel like there is so much negativity involved in my Facebook experiences that I just sometimes wonder if it’s still worth being a part of it all. Ever asked yourself that question?
Facebook commentary has left me feeling like I didn’t really know someone I thought was a friend. I just can’t understand how some people arrive at certain positions on various topics- usually relating to politics, sometimes faith and theology. I have found myself acting in ways I’d rather not act. Are you with me here?
Although tempted, I don’t think I’ve ever actually screamed at my computer or phone. But the angst has been real, and I was ready to quit. Something needed to change, so I took some steps to reduce the angst in my Facebook and online experience. I want to share them with you here. I focus on Facebook, but I imagine some of these practices would be applicable to other forms of social media in general. I haven’t studied any of this stuff or anything outside of my own experience, I just feel like they might work for you too.
Be intentional about the time you spend on social media.
I have found myself scrolling Facebook for waaaaay longer than I want to. To avoid this, I try to be intentional about the time I spend on the site. For instance, I’ll allot 15 minutes of time in my day for this purpose. Really, that’s already more time than I need. I can check my notifications, update my status, check in on my family and friends, post a picture or two, scroll for a bit, all in less than 15 minutes. When that time is done, it’s done. I’m done for the day.
Unfriend friends who aren’t really your friends.
I have over 1500 friends on FB. Sometimes I’ll come across a name I literally can’t remember. So I unfriend them. Flat out. My brain doesn’t need the added noise. You can always add them again later if you need to. Also, say no to new friend requests from people you don’t know well and are not likely to get to know well. Again, you don’t need the extra noise.
(I’ve also been unfriended for reasons unknown to me, but I assume sometimes it is for similar reasons. I’m not offended, unfriends! I get it!)
Stop participating in behaviors that don’t build up your/our community.
Refuse to argue. Refuse to be snarky. If you have the urge to begin a comment with “Funny how…”, don’t. Stop and move on. Snark does nothing more than poke somebody in the social media eye. It triggers more negativity than it does anything else. It is 100% about making the person who posted it feel good about themself.
(Biblical interlude: I chose the title of this post based on a verse in the good ole’ Book of Proverbs. In chapter 6 verse 16 it says something like, …there are six things God hates. No, seven! Some translations use the word So I patterned the title after that. But the first thing mentioned is haughty eyes. As best I understand it, the word haughty has to do with being prideful in a way that is dismissive of others. I can’t help but imagine haughty eyes as rolling eyes- like I might when I read a statement on Facebook I disagree with or when I engage in snark.)
Avoid videos and articles which are headlined “So and so’s argument destroys so and so…” If I’m interested in destroying people, I’m not bringing productivity to the conversation. My belief is that people who want to influence people don’t seek to destroy, strictly speaking. They seek to engage. They use language which invites conversation and dialogue, not defensiveness and argument. Building community requires being aware of and working to mitigate Confirmation Bias. You’ll note I’ve hit the trifecta to emphasize the term (italics, bold, and underscored)! I can’t overstate how in tune we need to be with our penchant for confirmation bias.
Confirmation Bias refers to our tendency to read, watch, and listen to information which agrees with our personal beliefs and convictions. This information can be accurate or inaccurate in the same way that our positions on certain things are accurate or inaccurate. But when we’re listening to information we already believe, it will only strengthen our convictions, whether correct or not. If I truly want to grow as a person, I really need to be willing to hear the opinion of others by intentionally reading, watching, or listening to information I know I am likely to disagree with. Again, this requires intentionality.
Maintain your friendships with people who think differently than you, but stop following them in your news feed.
By “stop following”, I don’t mean “unfriend.” I mean stop actively following them. There is a setting you can change in Facebook so their activity will not show up in your news feed. If you have friends whose posts make you want to throw up, or if you see their posts and say something like, “I just can’t…”, then don’t. Unfollow them. But keep in mind their perspective is important and valid, at least to them and people like them, and they are a voice in our community- one we need to actively and intentionally listen to.
I like to say I’m a moderate, politically speaking. But I know I lean pretty far to the left. So when I watch cable news, I usually watch FoxNews just to keep me honest. I get the news, and I get a different perspective on it than I already have myself. I know what the opinion of CNN, MSNBC and the like will be. So I watch FoxNews to pick up a perspective different from mine. It’s usually not to hard to pick out the blatant bias and spin no matter what you’re watching. The point is, I try to listen for a perspective that might be valid and perhaps learn something, thus broadening my worldview.
I act in a similar manner with Facebook. Since I’m aware of my tendency to engage in Confirmation Bias, I’ll sometimes scour my news feed for positions which are different than mine. Further, I’ll go directly to the page of people I KNOW are saying things which will challenge my opinion. You can even have some fun with this and fish for differing information. Say something about the topic on your status and ask for feedback. You know you will get it! People are itching to re-inform your mistaken logic, especially if it’s political! Then grab your popcorn, sit back, and watch. My father-in-law is always shaking his head at me saying, “You really like to stir things up!” He’s right. I do. But it’s not just to stir things up. I’m looking for insight. And I’m never disappointed. When I get some information which challenges me, I engage. And I engage mano a mano.
When you do engage with people about politics or other controvertial topics, engage people 1 on 1.
I have this friend from when I was younger named Donnie. Donnie and I were never close friends, but were generally friendly with each other. Outside from Facebook, I’m not sure I would have opportunity to engage with him. For sure, Donnie and I don’t see eye to eye on political issues. I’ve seen him argue tooth and nail to defend his points- points I disagree with. Usually, he’s taking on people who are much more versed in the opposing viewpoint than I. He’s no intellectual slouch. Frankly, it can be intimidating. That said, even as confident of a debater as he is, I’ve never seen him (or anyone else) convince anyone of his (or their) position.
I’ve wondered how this person with whom I share similar values can have such a different perspective on politics. So you know what I do? I engage with him about his position 1 on 1. I send him a private message and ask genuine questions. Politely. And he responds. Politely. And we have a conversation like two grown, mature adults. No one is ganging up on each other.When I leave these conversations I don’t leave convinced to switch to the opposing side, but I do leave with a better understanding of someone else’s perspective. Frankly, It’s how I’d like people to engage with me. Just understand where I’m coming from, even if I’m coming from left field. And sometimes my perspective changes a bit too. As long as I’m making genuine efforts to examine evidence, I’m ok with a shifting conviction or two.
(Biblical Interlude, number 2: Part of what causes me such cognitive dissonance when perusing Facebook is how people just seem to be much different people online than they are face to face. This isn’t a new problem. Apparently the Apostle Paul was accused of it too. He defends himself in 2 Corinthians 10 and 11. Chapter 10 begins, “ By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you- I Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ toward you when away!”)
Take Facebook off your mobile device.
Just try it. Try taking Facebook off your mobile device. I take it off mine Monday-Friday to avoid distractions. It’s hard to waste a lot of time scrolling through my news feed for hours when the app isn’t on my phone. If I need to check in, I do so intentionally on my computer.I’m going to push the envelope here too.
Turn off all your notifications on your phone, tablet, or computer.
Again with the emphasis trifecta! You once lived without being immediately informed about things going on in the world. You survived, and you’ll survive moving forward. I did this and have never regretted it. You’ll be amazed at how much of your day frees up immediately. In a way, when you have notifications turned on on your phone, you are giving people you don’t know the permission to interrupt your day and decide what’s important for you to know when. Shouldn’t that be up to you? Shouldn’t you decide when to get informed? I suppose there are jobs and circumstances when you need to remain connected at all times, but I don’t think most of us are in that situation. On top of that, the little buzz in in your pocket telling you there is a new notification can have an addictive effect. Addiction is not something we need more of. Trust me, you’ll be ok learning stuff later in the day. Again, be intentional- like when you used to turn on the 6 o’clock news.
And 1 more… Remember what you like about FB and use it for that purpose.
There are things about Facebook I still like. I like to know what my family and friends are up to. I like to see pictures of their vacations. I like to see pictures of their parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, dogs and cats. I like to celebrate graduations, bar/bat mitzvahs, first steps and that first lost tooth. I like the blatant bragging about accomplishments of little ones. I like being informed about tragedy and deaths so I can be a part of people’s grieving process. I like making contact with old friends whom I might not otherwise be able to connect with. Social media is here to stay and to be honest, I’m glad. I’ve just realized it is another thing I have to know how to use in a healthy way. Sounds like a plan.