Drawing the line on social media

I have a former friend in real life who was always on one of the crazier Trump subreddits. I should have foreseen how that would end. Wrong Hands by John Atkinson.

I’ve never been much of a fan of social media. It wasn’t until last July that I finally joined Facebook, only to find that the person who induced me to do so was a scammer I met through my team in a game. I stayed, though, because I had gotten back in touch with so many people and built new, stronger friendships with some of them that I couldn’t see a good enough reason to leave.

Besides, the chance to rag on my brothers (and them on me) in front of my friends, as well as receive words of encouragement from dear neighbors from home was much too enticing.

Other than Facebook, I blog twice weekly on WordPress, the blog is republished on a Tumblr page, and I have a LinkedIn profile. Twitter? Nope. Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok? Ha! I once had a profile on Google+, but that disappeared when the service did, and I never posted much anyway.

Considering how easily I can become so obsessed with something that I forget everything else (I often forget to eat while working, for example), I purposely limit my exposure to social media platforms. Most of the time when I’m not working, I’m not scrolling through my newsfeeds, but watching a movie or doing something constructive with my time.

I can pull myself away, as can most people, but some can’t.

One of the reasons I don’t have social media apps on my phone. I use it mostly for calling, texting and playing a couple of relaxing games and I put it away when I’m with someone. Image found on Healthline.

According to the Addiction Center, “Although the majority of people’s use of social media is non-problematic, there is a small percentage of users that become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use. In fact, psychologists estimate that as many as 5 to 10 percent of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction today. Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.

“Addictive social media use will look much like any other substance use disorder and may include mood modification (i.e., engagement in social media leads to a favorable change in emotional states), salience (i.e., behavioral, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with social media), tolerance (i.e., ever-increasing use of social media over time), withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media use is restricted or stopped), conflict (i.e., interpersonal problems ensue because of social media usage), and relapse (i.e., addicted individuals quickly revert back to their excessive social media usage after an abstinence period).”

Gimme that sweet Facebook love! OK, not me, personally; you know what I mean. Image found on Yale Insights.

Bev John and Martin Graff, researchers on social media and addiction at the University of South Wales, wrote on The Conversation that too much social media can be damaging, but social media addiction isn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.

“There are important differences between excessive social media use and substances in terms of addiction,” they wrote. “For example, withdrawal from the latter is often physically unpleasant and sometimes dangerous without medical supervision. Users often suffer stigma, which can be a barrier to seeking help. In comparison, it hasn’t yet been established that there are physical withdrawal effects when people stop using social media.

“Considering social media use more as a continuum of possible harm might allow more scope for appropriately targeted messages that could prevent problems developing in the first place.”

One of those problems as I see it is that Facebook and other platforms make it so easy to spread hate and misinformation, as well as foster different realities. You’ll see that in posts by non-moderates of conservative or liberal stripe on comment boards at newspapers and elsewhere, as well as on their social media accounts. In letters received last week, I found multiple claims of things happening that haven’t; in one, Arkansas history was completely rewritten (a traditional Republican became a Democrat, and the loser in a gubernatorial election won, among other things).

It’s not hard to track some of that misinformation down to posts on social media.

No, dammit! I’ll believe what I want! I’m no sheep! Editorial cartoon by S.W. Parra.

And now we have an entire cohort that doesn’t remember living offline, since social media has always existed in their lifetimes (believe me, kids, playing outside is fun, especially if you live out in the country).

Unplugging seems harder than ever. But you should … at the very least, take a social media break every once in a while.

I’m not saying you should ditch your accounts on Facebook and other platforms. I think social media can be beneficial as long as you limit your exposure and are willing to get out of your bubble. Sometimes it’s easier (especially if you’re like me, an introvert who is extremely awkward on the phone even with people I’ve known all my life) to share news there, being careful, of course, to safeguard certain information. (Stop answering those random questions that are fishing for information usable for identity theft, or do what I do occasionally; give outlandish answers.) I keep most of my posts visible only to friends, which cuts down on the random trolls and scam artists.

Social media allows you to stay in your comfort zone by using algorithms serving up groups, media sources and friend suggestions that will keep you mostly protected from the prospect of interaction with people who don’t believe the same things you do. Sometimes, though, you have to take off the water wings and dive in.

There have been some questionable ads, like for thongs, that have popped up in friends’ feeds. The weirdest one I got, I think, was the one for cheddar cheese powder (probably Penzey’s or Nuts.com; I’m pretty boring). Image found on imgflip.

Facebook’s algorithm is often the target of ire, and for good reason. Will Oremus, Chris Alcantara, Jeremy B. Merrill and Artur Galocha reported in The Washington Post: “Since 2018, [Facebook’s] algorithm has elevated posts that encourage interaction, such as ones popular with friends. This broadly prioritizes posts by friends and family and viral memes, but also divisive content. This was a departure from Facebook’s previous strategy in the mid-2010s, which optimized for time spent on the site, and notably gave greater prominence to clickbait articles and professionally produced videos. Each user’s feed reflects their expressed interests. For a subset of extremely partisan users, today’s algorithm can turn their feeds into echo chambers of divisive content and news, of varying reputability, that support their outlook.”

My own feed is pretty heavy on reputable news sources that I follow (like The Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; of course I’m going to flog my employer!), fact-checks, posts by friends and family, word-nerdy and sciency group posts, and cats (what’s not to love about cats, other than they don’t live forever?) because that’s the content I interact with most. The occasional crazy post will show up, which I can hide or just ignore completely, but they come a lot less frequently now that the last dumpee from my friends list is gone.

But I have the advantage of years of education and working in the news field and understanding what makes a source reliable. Many others, especially in the past 15 years or so, have turned increasingly to the sources that tell them what they want to hear, whether true or not, and have been conditioned not to trust anyone who tells them something they believe isn’t true. Facebook’s algorithm has made that even easier. So, yeah, thanks, Zuck, for giving us so many rage uncles and aunts.

Literally how some people do research. This is why I eat chocolate and binge-watch “Doctor Who.” Chainsawsuit.com Web comic by Kris Staub.

The Post reporters wrote that in 2016, “Facebook executives grew worried about a decline in ‘original sharing.‘ Users were spending so much time passively watching and reading that they weren’t interacting with each other as much. Young people in particular shifted their personal conversations to rivals such as Snapchat that offered more intimacy.

“Once again, Facebook found its answer in the algorithm: It developed a new set of goal metrics that it called ‘meaningful social interactions,’ designed to show users more posts from friends and family, and fewer from big publishers and brands. In particular, the algorithm began to give outsize weight to posts that sparked lots of comments and replies.

I do this; it’s addictive. However, if this were me, it would probably be cranberry ginger ale in that glass. Image found on Know Your Meme.

“The downside of this approach was that the posts that sparked the most comments tended to be the ones that made people angry or offended them, the documents show. Facebook became an angrier, more polarizing place. It didn’t help that, starting in 2017, the algorithm had assigned reaction emoji — including the angry emoji — five times the weight of a simple ‘like,’ according to company documents. …

“Internal documents show Facebook researchers found that, for the most politically oriented 1 million American users, nearly 90 percent of the content that Facebook shows them is about politics and social issues. Those groups also received the most misinformation, especially a set of users associated with mostly right-leaning content, who were shown one misinformation post out of every 40, according to a document from June 2020.”

And a lot of those people send letters to the editor and refuse to believe nonpartisan fact-checks. Yea. Woo hoo. It’s little wonder some people have decided to start with social media when shedding negative things in their lives.

It’s not all fun and games on social media. Image found on The Journalist’s Resource.

If you’re worried about how social media is affecting you, Tech Times recommends a detox that begins with cleaning your feed: Follow only topics and people that are good for your mental health (I’d argue that this would defeat the purpose of stepping outside your bubble, but if your feed is causing you stress, I understand; I recommend joining groups devoted to pets because fuzzy-belly therapy always helps). Then download apps that track how much time you spend online as motivation to get off once in a while, and turn off your notifications so you won’t feel the need to constantly check your feed. You can also delete the apps and instead use your browser to access social media, which is less convenient and thus will make you less likely to log on. (I’ve never used the Facebook app; I deactivated it on my phone and iPad, where it was pre-loaded, and never downloaded it on my computer. I usually only check Facebook a few times a day, and even less on weekends.)

If all else fails, you can always deactivate or delete your accounts. I hear good things about going outside …

🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏

On a personal note, my youngest brother is in the hospital with covid right now, so our family could use all the prayers and positive thoughts we can get. Thanks.

This guy is really hard-headed, but still mostly lovable and can spin a tale with the best of them.