“Social media blows,” says Mike as he opens up the Facebook app, his face illuminated by the pale blue glow of his iPhone. “People are controlled by it. Ads tell you what to buy, listicles tell you how to live, and friend’s status updates make you feel inadequate,” he says as he scrolls. “I wish I could get off of it, but you know, it’s the only way I keep up with events and stay in touch with friends and family.”
I am Matador Network’s Social Media Manager, and I’m used to folks like Mike knocking social media while justifying why they can’t stop using it, like someone on a diet explaining why they can’t stop eating Oreos. I wish people would stop being so bashful about their social media usage. I’m not the social media police! I’m not judging you for how long it takes to craft the perfect 140 character comeback, or how much effort is put into staging your Kinfolk-like photo of this afternoon’s brunch. Just admit that you use social media. Maybe even admit that you like it! Because, I’m just like you. I acknowledge that social media has a huge impact on our us, but I’m totally stoked that the selfie I posted on Friday got 87 likes.
A few weeks ago, 1 billion people logged into Facebook on the same day. That means roughly 1 in 7 humans on this planet were virtually connected. Yet the world is still pumping out articles, studies, and opinion pieces about how social media will turn us into depressed selfie stick-wielding consumer drones. Pointing out the possible problems is a good first step in understanding the power of social media, but not discussing how to adapt to this new media landscape can leave people feeling like the time they spend perusing Facebook is stigmatized. It’s like teaching about the dangers of sex without educating children on the safe and healthy ways of engaging in it. We’re going to use social media anyway, so we might as well go about it responsibly.
Picture this: You’re at the bar with your friends, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and suddenly a wedding photo slaps you in the face. That creepy girl from high school just got married before you did. You swallow your beer, a tear, and your pride because there’s no way you’re going to admit that you just got subconsciously incepted by Facebook. You weren’t even thinking about marriage, but now you’re wondering where you went wrong on the socially acceptable checklist of life, maybe even questioning your decision to break up with that stripper-licking boyfriend from last year. “Maybe I could have made that work,” you think to yourself, “and then I could have added a ‘life event’ to my timeline.”
This may or may not apply to you, but for many of us, news of a friend’s life event, images of models whose clothes fall perfectly on their bodies, and listicles about “25 things to do before 25” can instantly make us reflect on our own lives, and make us feel like we’re missing something. Social media wasn’t designed to make us compare our lives to others, but we ended up using it that way because “keeping up with the Jones” is something that we do to ourselves. The phenomenon is called Social Comparison, and it states that “in the absence of objective measures for self-evaluation, we compare ourselves to others to find out how we’re doing.” We live in a society of comparison that tries to quantify happiness and benchmark success. There’s no teacher to give us an A+ on life, so looking outwardly gives us a false sense that we’re going about this “living life” business correctly. Many of us do it in all aspects of our life. Social media is just a new arena for us to play these mind games with ourselves.
But whose fault is that? Many default to blaming social media for bombarding us with content that fans the flames of our deepest insecurities. Sure, it’s a blow to the ego to admit that we may not be as immune as we thought we were to celebrity gossip and our ex’s Twitter. But it is our responsibility to browse social media mindfully, changing our habits and setting up new boundaries for ourselves based off of our own emotional needs. Perhaps these new boundaries mean unfollowing those toxic friends who post passive aggressive status updates, or blocking those pages who produce nothing but clickbait. It might even mean turning off our phone notifications and limiting our daily social media intake. Practicing some emotional intelligence by identifying the causes of our emotions and then taking steps towards managing them is a more empowering approach to social media than just accepting defeat.
Aside from who we follow, the content we engage in also dictates what shows up in our newsfeeds. Social media platforms are moving towards algorithms that build our daily newsfeed based off of our online behaviors. With every Like, Share, Retweet, and Comment, we are creating the trends. If we’re tired of looking at Kim Kardashian’s ass then we should stop clicking on it! Let’s make a point to engage in content that is intelligent, inspiring, and clever, because it will fuel more of the same.