The Social Media Trap

I haven’t blogged much since before COVID began; I’ve been heads down into my business during the pandemic. I’ve also continued to be heads down into social media, literally. I think that part of my self-diagnosed Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is related to the smartphone posture – you know what I mean.

As the United States’ presidential election heated up last fall and tensions continued to increase on all sides post-election, the toxicity of social media shined brightly in its ugly evilness. I’ll be quite honest and get to the point – I saw sides of a few people that I wish I had never seen. I thought about giving examples here, but I still care for those people I’ve had to let go on social media. While my perception of them has changed, maybe permanently, the underlying aspects that created our friendships are still there, I like to think.

I used to think that social media isn’t evil, that it’s like any other tool, and how the tool is used determines its goodness or evilness. But I’m not so sure. Social media is designed to fuel negative feelings more than positive feelings – there are several studies available that I’ll leave the reader to search for and consume as they wish, or not. The instant gratification and chemical effects are classic fuels for addiction, and any addiction is evil, in my opinion.

Social media’s dopamine hits of getting “likes” or validating opinions by insisting being on the right side of the argument depresses the ability, or desire, or some other aspect to actually engage in useful debate. They post things publicly that they would never say in a crowded bar. That’s essentially what social media is, a public platform where even if you’re posting a response to me, you’re shouting so loud that a room of hundreds can hear. How embarrassing is that to my other contacts, that here I am talking with someone who is so blatantly opinionated and, well, rude? Would you ever want to hang out with that person in a bar again? I wouldn’t.

That’s not to say that all are like that; actually it’s only a small percentage, from my experience. Most scroll on by; they may agree or disagree but choose not to engage in what could get them “slammed” – after all, they’ve seen the few but powerful, unreasonable responses on my wall and want to avoid being the next target for simply expressing their opinion. Trust me, I get that; I hold off often responding on others’ walls for the same reason, having seen the unreasonable hate that some of their contacts have generated.

I know what you’re thinking – why not just create groups and post to limited people accordingly? I’ve done that over ten years; it’s tough to manage and sometimes just doesn’t work. The most effective method to maintaining sanity, decorum, and respect is to defriend or, in extreme cases, block. I say most extreme because I had a “defriend” harass me on a mutual friend’s wall, and blocking was the only option to ensure that I would not be subjected to that cyber bullying again.

But defriending doesn’t mean I don’t still care for or have affection for those who no longer have the privilege in participating on my wall. My views of them inherently have not been shattered, except for the blocked harasser – I can never have a relationship with him again. There’s just no common ground there to connect, from what I can see.

But social media can be good as well, if used and managed properly. Some of that management is taking a break occasionally. I have deactivated my Facebook account for a week, after which it will automatically come back to life. At the end of that week trial, I will see how I feel. I may extend the deactivation, or I may go back to as I was before, or I may further manage my use. I don’t know.

I am convinced that social media use is a real problem. Look at how it perpetuates conspiracy theories. That’s not a political statement; while it’s in style to apply it to far-right extremists at the moment, there have been and will continue to be far-left conspiracy theories perpetrated by their extreme base as well. There are reasonable people who truly believe these extreme things because of social media. One can simply look at the events of 2020 and early 2021 to see that.

Why will the social media trap continue to ensnare some? Because tribal mentality, coupled with dopamine hits, form a powerful addiction. So long as it feels good to themselves, they will continue, without regard or even awareness of what overall effects their words have. To them, all that matters is they are right, and that satisfying feeling of crafting the perfect rebuttal post.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

The Daily Dog (or My Answer to my Facebook Conundrum)

Earlier I wrote about how Facebook has impacted me negatively. With the polarization of opinions on COVID, politics, rioting, and so on, I had to quit altogether for a short period of time.

underdog-2020-05-18_22-43-41I returned by rebooting, and my choices of profile picture and background reflected such. First, both were a Windows Blue Screen of Death (the classic Windows 95 type because I’m old school). I followed that with a random computer code background pic and HAL-9000 as my profile (as of today HAL is still my profile photo – something about that red camera just intrigues me).

My reboot completed, I had already decided what the next step was. All of my posts for the foreseeable future would be of dogs. I selected one each day from Unsplash, and always made sure to give props to the photographer, though not required. Named The Daily Dog, there were many ideas behind the series. It is a protest against polarizing posts. Just about everyone loves dogs (and I don’t know how much I can trust someone who doesn’t). This would hopefully eliminate hurtful comments. Plus, in the English language Dog is God backwards, sort of like a mirror reflection – and I think that a dog’s unconditional love is a reflection of Jesus’ love.

The Daily Dog morphed from Unsplash dogs to occasionally photos of mine and also to fictional canines. Live action examples included Toto from the Wizard of Oz and Muffit from the original (and best) Battlestar Galactica. Cartoon versions have included Underdog and Scooby Doo. I would like to keep The Daily Dog going until Election Day if I can find enough dogs (I am taking Sundays off). No, division won’t end then but at least with the presidential election in the rear view mirror maybe polarizing posts would diminish.

But what about sharing views about topics I want to discuss, something that I feel I have a right to do without bullying or harassment? I value friends’ respectful opinions and insights, especially in these times, but I refuse to further subject myself and my other Facebook friends to  hateful, argumentative, sarcastic comments. My solution? I have returned to posting current event topics but those who previously had a habit of leaving snarky comments have lost the privilege of participating, as I now use a group for most current event posts that excludes them. That’s too bad, as I would have valued rational exchange, but the thought of hateful responses is too much for me, honestly.

I’d say this approach has so far worked quite well and has preserved my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, while securing my need to discuss such on Facebook, especially since in-person gatherings are still limited. But I guess anything can happen. I don’t want to permanently block anyone on Facebook (I’ve had to do that only once), but to preserve my right of free speech and to pursue happiness, that may be necessary. Only time will tell.

Featured Photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash