Most of us have tossed around the idea of restricting our social media consumption, or even giving it up altogether. It’s not that we don’t like it. We love it, sometimes too much. But inherently, something about social media just seems wrong. But what is it?
Social is Not a Neutral Tool
People often say that social media is just a tool, and like any other tool, it can be abused, but it can also be used for good. After mulling on this for several months, I have to disagree. Social media is not a tool. It’s not neutral. And that has nothing to do with the platform. Social can’t be neutral because it’s comprised of people, and people are not neutral.
Think of it this way. Imagine you’re at your favorite hangout. Maybe it’s a coffee shop, restaurant, the library, zoo, whatever. You’re having a good time, when suddenly, a large group of people appears. They all start talking to each other, LOUDLY, and what they’re saying is seriously ticking you off. They’re spewing some of the most unpleasant, irritating, obnoxious garbage you’ve ever heard.
What do you do? Most likely you’d put on your headphones, if you have any, or you’d leave. Yeah, you might engage some of the people for a while, if that’s your personality. But would you purposely subject yourself to that noxious experience day after day? Probably not.
And yet, when it comes to social media, many continually subject themselves to that kind of toxic social interaction multiple times a day.
Technical Solutions Don’t Work
Even before social media was big, people have tried to come up with a technical solution to this problem. Banning, shadowbanning, muting, blocking, throttling, etc. have all been tried.
But none of it has worked, or even helped much. If anything, social media interaction has gotten worse, not better. These solutions are predicated on the notion that social media is just a neutral platform, and if we enforce the right rules, we can maintain that neutrality. But that’s a false notion. Again, social media can’t be neutral because people are not neutral.
The only way for social media to work is for people to properly police their own behavior. This is exactly what happens in real life social situations. Nobody dares to walk into a noisy restaurant and launch into a profanity-laced tirade against a perfect stranger. But much of the time, that inhibition is driven by self-preservation rather than a moral imperative. Remove the risk of getting physically assaulted, and many won’t hesitate to say the vilest, ugliest stuff. That’s what social media does.
Bad Behavior is Contagious
Is social media bad? Not inherently. But it’s not inherently good either. People choose to behave in morally good or bad ways. When immoral speech spills over into social media, it spreads like a cancer. We love to think of ourselves as being in control of our own thoughts and choosing our own influences. But that’s just not true. Bad company corrupts good morals, as the Apostle Paul said, and being exposed to trash on social media day after day does affect you, even if you don’t consciously realize it.
How often have you gotten viscerally angry at something you read on Twitter or Facebook? Sure, you can get mad reading something on any website or even in a book. But those occurrences are few and far between. On social, they’re the norm. When you saw something that made you really mad, how long did you stew about it? Did your mood affect your interactions with other people?
This domino effect isn’t unique to social, of course, but it is amplified. Our use of social media is 180 degrees out of phase. For our own sanity, it should comprise seconds, maybe minutes of our day. Our one-on-one and in-person interactions should be the bulk. That tweet that made you burning mad should be a once-a-week event. Most of your disagreements with another person should be hashed out one-on-one, privately, not in a public forum with spectators.
Is Social Media Worth It?
Should you stop using social media? I think that’s the wrong question. A better question is why should you use it? What value does it hold for you? And is it worth the price you pay in terms of time, sanity, and relationships with others?
It’s not unusual to see someone take a break from social, usually for a week or two, but sometimes a month or more. This is common and doesn’t usually raise any eyebrows. But if you heard someone say, “I’m taking a break from all social interaction for a month!” you’d immediately think something was amiss. This is evidence that instinctively, we know something is off about social. You only take long breaks from something when you detect that it’s not healthy to continue at your current pace.
As ironic as it seems, cutting back on social media would probably make everyone more social.