- *click, Instagram opens, taps on stories; swipes past, reposts, swipe down to timeline, double-like, comment, swiping continues*
- *scrolling down responses, swipes left, keeps scrolling down timeline*
Do any of these actions sound familiar? That’s probably because you’re doing one of these several actions about 30 or more times a day.
Side-note: fais attention is a French saying meaning “be careful”, but coupled with à toi, it means “take care of yourself”.
Instagram isn’t the only social media app we spend hours on, yet has approximately 500 million users every day. Leading ahead, we see Youtube and Facebook as the two most dominantly-used applications in terms of numbers, from 1.9 to 2.26 billion users. The majority of our world has moved online, but this isn’t news. E-commerce is slowly replacing the tradition of walking to clothing stores and trying things on (especially in this pandemic).
We are living in this new ‘it’; we have been living in it so much that doing things the old-fashioned way seems arduous and unnecessary. Everything can be done with just a click, and now we can even get monetized for our content. Older generations are finally seeing how the time we spend ‘pressing phone’ isn’t all that detrimental, and are even more engaged as we are.
“Human connections, but with more memes and opportunities”
The rise of social media usage has been a significant element in how our generation is changing, both for better and for worse. In terms of the better, social media has brought a canon of different global issues and news together in one sitting for the world to see. Despite the nature of global news having a predominantly Western-focused angle, more writers and journalists are stepping into the scene and reporting their realities for us to see. Journalists such as Jamal Jordan, Ben Hunte, and online publications such as The Republic have significantly contributed to covering opinions and insights from all races, especially queers, POC, and black people.
Other than news, social media has shown great use for us both personally and professionally. Rising LinkedIn Culture has created a thriving environment where students, workers, and other people can connect and network with professionals, CEO’s, etc. Twitter, despite its character as the ‘bird app’ — where activism, gaslighting arguments, and unknown profiles attack others recklessly — has contributed to the nature of finding opportunities through endless RT’s by individuals either in the industry or a friend promoting their search. Individuals and activists with niche interests can connect and form groups in real life where powerful things happen. Nike Run, The Arab Spring, and BlackLivesMatter lead-protests are just to name a few.
Social media has gone from being a source of entertainment to a necessary routine embedded in our daily lives.
While social media has proven to be effective in public opinion and socio-political change, it does harbor its own seeds of pain and discontent that affects the way we take care of ourselves. The rise of influencers and alluring Instagram photos of exceptional bodies. Hateful slurs. Unwarranted attacks from passersby in the comments. All of this, coupled with constant comparison to others forces us to question and look at ourselves in the mirror with fear inlaced in our eyes. A sense of validity and worth becomes created as we put our happiness on a pedestal with others.
According to a UofR student Karl Egbe, “Because the only thing we see is exceptional bodies and ravishing looks, people who don’t look like those worry and obsess with achieving these looks. This is inherent to the way in which social media works”. Issues such as body image, feminism, and human rights haven’t been fully tackled, just moved towards a different pattern with a wider global audience. A corollary of this argument can be seen from the Social Media Beauty Cult documentary, where a group of different German girls comments on how staying slim has become a status symbol, shaping a “sediment of sadness” inside young people’s minds from not being able to look like people they have no idea about online.
“Social media isn’t a utility. It’s not like power or water where all people care about is whether it works. Young people care about what using one platform or another says about them.”
From this, there is also the ever-present algorithm system that has refined the way in which social media works. American journalist Jaron Lanier states that we are being manipulated by algorithms, watching us, adjusting what we see, and engage with to the wants of an unseen advertiser. The new wave of social media, with everyone being under surveillance, has made, in his words:
- People jittery and cranky
- Teens depressed
- Politics unreal and strange
In this documentary with Channel 4 News, Lanier further comments on how social media usage is a type of statistical addiction, with rewards and punishments intertwined. Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Facebook, ironically, have admitted to using addictive patterns and methods to keep people in this constant loop. When looking at how this is detrimental to our lives, the presence of a “manipulation engine” within the way social media services are designed gives “bad actors” comparative advantage in using the power of social media to exploit and control consumers’ rationality.
In making sense of how and why negative trolls always rear their ugly heads on your social media pages, traditional behavior experiments that consisted of giving an animal a treat with positive and negative shock responses can explain this. Only in this case, the algorithms following us are created to respond rapidly to whatever type of response is generated more. Consequently, negative responses are generated more than positive ones as there is more engagement. Most elections and other public polls are subtly affected as a result of this. In scientific terms, people on social media get their daily dose of dopamine through any sort of engagement, which may not build trust or useful networks and can at most times be abusive or provoking.
For certain apps, TikTok has been a host in promoting racist sentiments. With the rising number of white youths expressing harmful and violent remarks in short video clips towards Asians, Latinos, and black people, the app makes no direct effort to address these accounts as more videos are still being posted. This indirectly makes it guilty of using the manipulation software method, as those videos gain more attraction and engagement consequently. In relation to social media’s impact on real-life people, Donald Trump is a key example of this. The US President’s disturbing tweets, coupled with his unhealthy addiction to Twitter has left permanent damage to his personality and career.
If the leader of the world’s most powerful and media-influential economy has been and is destroying both his own health and personality through social media, what makes you think you don’t have to take care of yourself while you’re on it?
Does this necessarily mean social media is toxic for our mental well-being? To a large extent, yes.
In addition, social media is not that much of a safe space as we think it is. From the pick-me’s, detractors, and unknown accounts dragging you without considering your viewpoint, as well as the algorithm system, it’s nearly impossible to have healthy conversations with the way social media is set up. Everyone is constantly at odds while attacking or belittling you: directly or indirectly. The ‘manipulation machine’ aspect ingrained in modern’s social media practice is the primary root of the problem. Seeing as this isn’t a problem that can’t be easily expelled, the biggest benefit we owe to ourselves would be to unlearn toxic social media behaviors and manage the way we engage on the Net.
How can we then take care of ourselves better whilst in this ‘online reality’?
- Know Yourself
This sounds easier said than done, but it’s literally one of the strongest shields that can perforate through any toxic ne’er-do-wells we find ourselves facing. Especially for young people who are shaping their perspectives of reality and the world at large, it is important to take time to explore every crumb of what your interests are outside the screen. Find what in this world stimulates you than triggering tweets, alluring photos of socially-acceptable body types, or regressive socio-political opinions. Traveling, engaging socially with people in real life, real-time, as well as reading books helps craft one’s viewpoints of the world before the claws of the internet warp and mar your understanding of reality.
2. Delete, Disconnect. Then sleep
I say these two options as the former or latter equally work to reach the last one, but the less time you spend or feel inclined to respond to the stimulus present on social media apps the better for you. When was the last time you saw a tweet so foolish you felt the urge to clap back with facts and resources? It’s not a bad thing to want to educate others, but that’s what Google is for. Most of us also find it difficult to hit the hay earlier, due to the obsession of checking updates before we sleep. Whatever hasn’t killed you shouldn’t deprive you of sleep at night. Disconnect from social media apps often and engage in reality, as that is where the real magic happens.
3. Remember everything is based on algorithms
You’re back on that app because they know you’ll be back. Everything is designed in a way to keep you in the loop, especially in recent times with the widespread information being distributed to educate yourselves on current and historical affairs. In as much as Twitter threads and Instagram reposts bring this information in a cohesive space, it also brings in unwanted pressure from influencers and provocative critics. Don’t engage unless it benefits you, and take control by following those with content you actually want to see. Manipulate the system to work for you.
If there’s one thing social media is good at it’s taking time away from your day, especially when you are less busy. Fais attention à toi and always remember everything is not what it seems. With that, happy scrolling.