If You Hate Social Media Stop Using It
There's no use whining about a problem only you can fix.
I’ve been writing about social media and its effects on us for a number of years now. In February of this year, I published a book called Terms of Service that outlines some of the most insidious ways social media infiltrates our minds and leads us to become people we never set out to become when we agreed to terms we never read and scrolled on feeds that only made us more hungry.
One of the most common complaints I hear about social media from users of social media is this: “Social media is just so negative. I hate it. I think it brings out the worst in people.”
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Now, look: I totally get this feeling. As I am about to pick apart this common whiny complaint, I have felt it myself. It is a real and valid feeling to have. And as I said: it’s common to hate social media. But if you hate social media and you think “social media is negative” I have some bad news: you are the problem.
I don’t mean to say that you are negative on social media, and that you are the reason social media feels like a terrible place to be. You could be, but that’s not what I’m saying. This is what I am saying: if your social media experience is awful and depressing and makes you feel worse when you engage, that is more than likely your fault.Why?
You decide who you follow.
You decide who you do not choose to mute.
You decide who you do not choose to block.
All the negativity and nastiness that you see on social media is possible to avoid, at least in part.No one forces you to follow mean people. You really don’t have to accept the friend request of that uncle who goes on political rants all the time. You are not obligated to use social media in any particular way, especially any sort of way that makes the experience miserable for you.
My Own Experience
During the 2016 presidential election cycle, I grew to be more discouraged with social media than I had ever been to that point. I didn’t like either of the presidential candidates. People I knew and loved were being nasty to other people on social media while still claiming the name of Jesus…sometimes being nasty in the name of Jesus because they felt like they had license to do so for one reason or another.
It was during the 2016 election that I most strongly felt the, “Social media is negative and makes me feel worse after using it,” feeling that I described above. But I guess I realized after complaining about how awful social media was that I really had three options:
I could continue complaining about how awful social media was while not changing how I used it…making myself both more miserable and hypocritical at the same time.
I could totally abandon social media entirely and just extricate it from my life. (This wasn’t entirely possible because it was an integral part of my job at the time, but I could have made steps in this direction.)
I could radically change the way I used social media, but continue to use it.
I went with option three. Around the fall of 2016, I unfollowed every news organization I was following on Twitter. I unfollowed, unfriended, blocked, and muted people I knew personally on social media who were posting mean content about politics, politicians, or anything mean in general, really. Basically, if I didn’t like it or it made me feel bad, I got rid of it one way or the other.
I did all of this in pursuit of cleansing my various timelines of any political content or other matters of controversy.
Making this small change only cost me some time. It didn’t cost me anything else. It didn’t even cost me friendships. (Anyone who stops being friends with you because you refuse to engage with them on social media isn’t worth befriending anyway.)
At the small cost of my time, totally revamping who I followed on social media completely changed my social media experience, and it has made social media a much more interesting, joyful, and fun place for me, regardless of platform.
Since making that major change in 2016, I have made some other changes, too, that aren’t as relevant for this discussion. One such change I’ve made it setting up a “burner” anonymous Twitter account that I use to simply follow people and topics on Twitter that interest me. I don’t follow any friends. I don’t follow Christian authors or leaders that I felt sort of obligated to follow on my personal Twitter account.
These days, if I want to tweet something, I largely schedule occasional tweets through a third party app to be posted on my personal Twitter account days into the future. This prevents me from giving into the temptation to chime in on whatever controversy my friends are bickering or subtweeting about in the moment.
A Final Word
Your mileage may vary, but let me encourage and admonish you: if you are having a terrible experience on social media, you are the only one who has the power to change that. So do something about it. If you sit on your phone all day doomscrolling Twitter or angrily swiping past ranting relatives on Facebook, don’t whine about how awful social media makes you feel.
Yes, social media can be awful and generally is a net negative on society (in my view, anyway). But that doesn’t mean it has to make you miserable. We can bemoan the social ills of social media—and I think we should!—but only we have the ability to limit how much those ills impact us.
And continue to feel the freedom to use social media platforms you enjoy! I spend almost zero time on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week—I don’t even have the apps on my phone—and my time on Twitter has decreased over the years, even as I made it more enjoyable. But TikTok has begun to chew up a lot more of my allotted social media time each day and it’s because the content that it serves up is genuinely interesting, funny, or otherwise enjoyable and virtually never makes me feel angry or discouraged.
We can have healthy relationships with social media. We really can. It just takes a lot of effort, often more than we are willing to put forth.
There is one exception to this rule, I think, and it is if you are a famous person. Social media can be a terrible experience for you if you are famous because people constantly attack you online despite any attempt you may put forth to resist those attacks. This makes social media a terrible experience out of the famous person’s control. Of course, such famous people have the option to totally opt out of social media completely, which would limit the personal effect of the nastiness they experience. But this can also hinder the career of the famous person.
With the way recommendation algorithms work these days, it is likely you may be seeing more and more content from people you do not follow on your feeds. Social media platforms have, it seems, been making it more difficult to only consume content we actually find interesting, and it’s making it easier for us to have a poor experience on social media.
Comes for the clickbait-ish title, stays for the balanced, sane, and fantastic post :)
I do have one question though: where does hating social media by proxy fit in here? That is, where does hating social media because of the problems it creates for other people - and eventually their problems cause problems for you?
This is a regularly recurring ministry reality for me. I've long tightened up my social media with the suggestions you give here, as have most of the staff I work with. And yet, we regularly find ourselves putting out fires in the lives of our people that were directly caused/influenced by social media. As you know, its the biggest discipleship issue we face - but my individual social media habits/tailoring doesn't impact the problems our youth ministry students face through *their* social media usage. In that sense, I hate social media not because it directly causes problems for me, but it causes problems for people that I love and care about and am largely powerless to address in a meaningful way.