Why social media might be last thing you need right now

You’d kinda expect it would be the opposite, right? While many of us are self-isolating – either out of choice or by mandate – you’d think the internet connecting us to friends, family and acquaintances near and far, would be just what the psychiatrist ordered. If ever there was a moment for the internet (and its proudest child; social media) to shine, this would surely be it, right? Er… I’m afraid it’s looking more and more like the opposite, sadly.

Never, in thirteen years of using the thing, have I felt compelled to check Facebook as often. Nor has it ever made me more depressed, anxious, judgmental or even hateful of people. Which is the exact opposite of what any of us – individually or collectively – need right now.

Here are some reasons why Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, other social platforms) is probably not a great idea right now. Followed by some suggestions as to how we might make it better for ourselves and others…

1. It’s the same damn thing, over and over

I’m gonna start this one with a quick disclaimer that, when I say “we” throughout this post, I’m generally including myself as well. This isn’t me trying to suggest I’m perfect. I’m checking my own behaviour too.

Yesterday I went through my own posts to see how many were corona-related. About 3/4 at least. Makes sense, I guess. It’s what’s happening right now. It’s global. It’s literally one of the biggest things ever. Certainly in my lifetime. But seriously, how many times to do you need to hear, or to say, the exact same (f*king upsetting) thing? There is still all of the rest of life. Let’s remember that – even though your timeline might be 90-plus-% covid-19 – it doesn’t mean it should feel like that’s all there is left to real life too.

2. People are (understandably) depressed and panicking

Some of us a little. Some of us a lot. Some of us are going right off our rockers completely. And, some are acting like nothing’s changed at all (the less said about them right now, the better, lest this become an 80-page tirade). People are not rational right now. They are not calm. They are not thinking clearly. And as such, are not generally very calming, soothing, reassuring, or pleasant online. Which, I think, are all the things we kinda really need right now.

3. Your friends are generally neither experts, health professionals, nor journalists

The internet has taken the world forward in countless ways. I remember the 90s, yo. VHS, cassettes and three TV channels… But one area where it has drop-kicked us straight back into the cave, is the spread of bullshit masquerading as news. People style their blogs, business-related sites, political propaganda, or even hate and fear-mongering to look like news, say whatever they want, and watch us lap it up with the trust and acceptance that our parents used to have for newspapers.

Why? Because newspapers and news TV channels have rules and regulations that control how much due-diligence is needed before they are legally allowed to publish things. Sure, different outlets have different political leanings. They put a slant or a perspective on a topic. But they can’t just make shit up, without risking losing their jobs or even going to jail.

If your friends – even the smartest ones – aren’t professional newspeople, don’t assume they wouldn’t share something without being sure it’s legit. If they’re accountants, believe their math. If they’re doctors, take their medical advice. If they’re not, maybe don’t. And so on. In the time of corona especially, and in general.

4. Nothing is fact-checked

Sure, I get things wrong too. I really wanted to believe that those elephants had wandered into an empty village, found the wine stash, and passed out in the field. So I let my bullshit-detector’s guard down. But it wasn’t real. Sigh.

A lot of what people are sharing is just total, absolute bullshit. I could write, right here, into this website’s backend, that people who love Hitler are “scientifically proven” to be immune to covid-19 and – especially if I spent 45 minutes dressing the site up to look all “newsey” – some asshole, somewhere would read it (probably just the headline, though), share it, and then fight people on it. But that would be obvious, hateful bullshit. Most bullshit just seems and feels like real stuff. And your brain silently goes, “Why would anyone lie about this kind of thing?” Why indeed. But they do. All the time.

As always, look at the URL (or “web address”) stuff comes from (e.g, mine is “gordlaws.co.za”). If it seems sketchy, it probably is. When in doubt, type the article’s name or general theme into Google. See what, if anything, else comes up. It takes 30 seconds or less. Or, for even quicker results, just copy/paste the article’s title into Snopes.com, or into Google with the word “Snopes” added. Rule of thumb: if it seems either too good or too bad to be true, it probably is.

5. Causes (some of them good ones) are hijacking the zeitgeist

This also speaks to the two points above. National Geographic posted an article about how much fake environmental news (which I truly wish was true) is bullshit. I had a long rant two days ago about a poem going around. Some bullshit about how Mother Nature (an actual person, it seems some adults genuinely believe) “created” this virus and “sent” it to teach us a lesson (not how viruses work at all) and that we “need to wash our hearts, not our hands”, which is not only idiotic but dangerous. Most dangerous, though, is the fact that all this misinformation feels kinda good. It feels kinda right. It feels like an upside and a silver lining. But it’s just not the truth. Even if in some cases I wish it was.

One person commented on one of my posts about this; “Why can’t you just let people have something positive to hold onto in a dark time? Fantasy can be a great escape.” Fair, I guess. But if your personal cause is – say, I dunno… feminism – you probably want women in the Middle East to stop being so goddamned oppressed, right? So, would you be happy if someone lied and convinced you that huge strides forward had somehow been made in that regard as a result of covid-19? No. You’d be pissed off, because it’s a lie. About something that matters. People who want better treatment for the planet should not think their race is partially run because some cities (and indeed countries) have shut up shop for two weeks. It does seem true that the skies are clearing a bit in some places though. Which is cool, even if it is a by-product of total devastation to most of humankind.

This point isn’t meant to be about any one issue. Not women’s rights, nor the environment, nor Left v Right politics, nor any specific thing. Nor what anyone should or shouldn’t believe. I don’t care. I’m not right about everything. Whatever the topics, it’s just about stopping for half a second and thinking whether a thing is logical. And, whether there’s a secondary subtext beyond the core issues of corona, global health and safety, tagging along for the ride. That’s all. “What is this thing really trying to tell me? Is that thing true? And can I trust the source?” That’s it.

6. The last thing we need is to be pissed off with each other right now

Even typing this out so far has harshed my mellow a little bit. And I went in having fully briefed myself to stay positive and not get too ranty. I give myself a B- for effort so far. But it does show just how on-edge this whole thing has us. I have never stared at my screens so much. Wanted to be involved in big group discussions so much. Been so excited to see what a notification is about… And yet, I can’t recall fury-typing, rolling my eyes out of my skull, nor wanting to punch strangers (or even good people who I actually like in real life) so friequently either.

We have a responsibility to be kind to ourselves here, and to each other. Doing both of those might mean seriously rethinking what we say and how we say it on social media. What kind content-spreaders we want to be. What we will allow ourselves to say, and what we will allow to be said back to us. It’s a time for love, kindness, compassion and cheering each other up if we can. Don’t let social media be a million little extra straws on an already terrified camel’s back.

Some suggestions as to how we might do better:

Again, use them or don’t use them. I sure don’t always get them all right. But I try. And they definitely help…

1. Triple-consider whether you really need to share that corona-related thing

Is the joke really all that funny? Is it mean-spirited? Is it definitely true? Is it genuinely going to help or entertain everyone? And, realistically, how many of your friends really probably haven’t seen it already? If you’re not sure – or if it has anything to do with f*king toilet paper – maybe leave it out. Please.

Same goes for news, stats, graphs, all that. Unless you think you’re onto something brand new, unknown, credible, and really important for everyone’s wellbeing, maybe just be okay to know and not to broadcast. It’s a bit like walking around your office (back in the day when that was a thing) and making everyone watch the same distressing news clip, person by person, whether they’re busy, or they care, or not.

2. Follow actual news outlets for your news

I can’t stress this enough. In the time of corona, afterwards, and forever. Sure, news outlets might each have some kind of political bent or another, and that’s normal. Pick the one that you like, and either shun all the others, watch them all like a suspicious hawk, or – in a perfect world – follow a few to get a balanced view. Even if they lean a certain way, actual news outlets have to hire actual journalists, and have to be able to at least partially prove what they wrote. It’s the law. Just like turning on the news channel on TV at home (that’s still a thing, right?), you can decide not only where to get your news from, but when. Let news time be news time. And let it piss off out of your life the rest of the time.

Oh, except Fox News. Fox is total bullshit. The rest are mostly decent though. I like Al Jazeera and BBC News, personally. But that’s just me.

3. Unfollow doomsayers, panic-mongers, and idiots

…or even just people with endless crap dad jokes about it, or off-colour humour that makes you cringe. We all have those friends. As mentioned, there are people I love in real life, but simply cannot abide online. Some never stop with politics, some just aren’t the same people from behind a keyboard, some will believe any old bullshit, and some just want to argue. I have one mate who is the nicest person in the world, but his concern about covid has turned into an endless, well-intended stream of near-panicked begging people to isolate. I’m f*king isolating, Bradyn! I promise! (Ps, I love you).

4. You can still love or like people, without following them

I post quite a lot. And I can be pretty wordy about some of it. I know some of my good friends (and a lot of my family) aren’t into it and have unfollowed me. That’s totally okay. You wouldn’t want all of your friends always living with you in your house, all of the time. There’s a time and a place for everything and everyone. I have one friend, whom I adore, who posts millions of pictures from any social activity they ever do, always one pic at a time. They dig it though, so that’s awesome. It’s just not for me, thanks.

It’s not an act of unkindness or disloyalty to unfollow someone. They’re still there if you wanna talk to them or check up on their goings-on. Do it. Mass unfollow those who don’t add to your online happiness. You owe it to yourself. Especially now.

Hint: Try Facebook’s “snooze for 30 days” option, and see if you’ve missed the person when they reappear.

5. Now is a great time to curate the shit out of your feeds

A similar point to the one above, but it extends beyond individuals and even Facebook. You have the power to not only distance yourself from negativity (or being beaten with the same scary messages over and over), but also to invite good things in. Look for accounts, pages and groups across various platforms that speak to your passion points, resonate with your sense of humour, lean towards positive vibes, or can teach you things. Social media is quite literally what you make of it.

6. Create new content, jokes and ideas

Not everyone is an extrovert, or seeks an audience, or wants to be a content creator, and that’s fine. But if you can say something new, say it. Ask for recommendations about things you like (it’s an especially good time for TV shows and music), ask a question, share songs, crack a joke, find a really interesting article about stuff you’re into, whatever it may be, and share it… Just make it something new and, ideally non-corona-related.

Corona stuff can, will and, to an extent, needs to still pop up a lot anyway. The rest of the time, though, try post about literally anything else you care about.

On that note, I started an instagram account for my cat Blacky Chan. @TheBlackyChannel. Check it out.

7. Try stick to a non-corona/corona topic ratio

I mentioned earlier that I conducted a little survey of my own timeline two days ago, and it was about 80% corona-related. I have since become more aware of it, and am trying hard to post at least three or four totally unrelated things for any one virus-related thing I post or share. It helps me be aware of the fact that there are many other things I care about, and that we are all accountable for the doom-and-gloom-levels out there. I’ve been talking music and football a lot more, and I already feel lighter for it.

8. Video chats and Whatsapp groups

I am feeling really, well… isolated, I guess. I’m a very social creature and I love to spend time and chat with people. It feels like Facebook should kinda fill that gap but, as I’ve gone into at length, it really doesn’t. While Whatsapp groups can be the most annoying and invasive things in the world, I have some (one, for example, to do with puns, and another for a small group of tight homies) that always make me smile when I see them. Set some up with likeminded people (who have likeminded chat appetites) and have direct conversations.

It’s also a really good time to video call. I like Skype (I’m old-school like that) and Google Hangouts. But, there are so many ways to video chat one-on-one or in groups, and it can not only really help the cabin fever, but actually bring you closer to the people in your life, which we could all use right now.

9. Instagram (but carefully)

A lot of insta can be just as much a hail of corona machine-gun fire as Facebook, but there’s also a lot of really fun, lighthearted, or passion-based stuff on there. It’s a much easier stream to control and curate. Tik Tok can be fun too, even if I can find it a bit mindless.

Also, you might wanna start contributing more too. Why not work on building a following for yourself, your passion project, or your business? Did I mention I started one for my cat? I totally did. She’s awesome.

10. Tighten up with close friends and family. Distance the randoms

This is not the time to be arguing with strangers or friends of friends about 5G conspiracies and whether you can get covid-19 from your pets (you can’t End of). People are going to be wrong on the internet every day, forever. You can’t stop them all and trying will either crush you or turn you into one of them. But now, more than ever, it’s time to just turn the shitty people off. Don’t go into the comments section. Turn off notifications. Resist the urge to comment on as asshole’s dickish post, and just unfriend/unfollow them instead.

By the same token, your family and friends are everything right now. Keep them close. See if they’re okay. Make sure their mental health is hanging in there, and speak to people you trust about yours. Like the shield-deflectors in Star Trek; redirect all power to the people who matter, and let those who don’t drift away into space.

11. For God’s sake, please stop with the memes

Especially the toilet-paper ones. We know. People have panic-bought the toilet paper. It’s no longer news. Only one in every thousand of those memes was ever chuckle-worthy, and that was two weeks ago. Everyone has seen it. Please. Stop. Thank you.

12. In closing… Just shut it off.

I follow Lex Fridman on social media. He’s a fascinating, ultra-smart polymath. Check out his chat with Joe Rogan, if you’ve got a couple hours to spare. He put it posted this on the night of my writing this piece:

Lex Fridman is a really smart and inspiring dude.

And lastly, here’s a song…

It’s very heavy and might not be your cup of tea. But I’m huge Lamb of God fan, the song just dropped, and it’s all about disconnecting from social media. If you don’t like metal, then this excerpt will do:

There’s too many choices,
And I hear their relentless voices,
But you’ve gotta run them out,
Return to now and shut it down.

A depression fed by overload,
False perceptions,
The weight of the world.
Because there’s too many choices,
Gotta kill their relentless voices.
I know I’m waking up from this wretched lie

[The end]

Note on the cover image: I do not own the awesome illustration of the lady falling. I did not create it either. I just found it on the internet. If you own it or know who does, please let me know. I’d like to ask permission to use it. Thanks