There’s this curious phenomenon on the internet; that phenomenon is the feeling that everyone in the world needs to hear every single thing you think about, and more importantly, that everyone cares. Everyone cares where you bought your outfit or what you chose to wear today; everyone cares about the food you ate, the drinks you had, the trip you took, the opinion you have on make-up. We, as a society, seem to believe that every thought and opinion we have must be shared online.
See something you disagree with? Why keep scrolling, when you could fight back and argue with someone you’ve never met? A famous person uploads a selfie? Why, of course, it’s your duty to list their failings and faults as a human, or tell them how bad you’ve decided they look. Someone lost weight? Tell them how they’re doing a disservice to young people by caring about their body mass and flaunting themselves online. They gained weight? Give someone unqualified medical advice and explain your sudden concern for their health. The internet is a bottomless pit of opinions, trolls, fighting, and shouting to be heard the loudest… but it doesn’t have to be.
In the current climate, we are spending more time online than ever before. Social media apps have replaced human interaction as we stay locked up inside, waiting anxiously for the storm to pass. Our news feeds have, to a certain extent, replaced actual factual and unbiased news, as our friends turn into unqualified medical professionals, sharing the latest unproven theories and clickbait headlines from articles they didn’t actually read, about how all vaccinations obviously make your skin turn purple*.
(*No actual evidence to support this parody of a claim.)
We’ve Created A Monster…
We’ve become obsessed with being seen online – sharing every life event, meal, and political theory we can muster. We get sucked into online screaming matches, and often fall victim to the never-ending ‘share if you agree’ nonsense. “Pickles shouldn’t be on burgers – share if you agree.” “Pineapple belongs on pizza – share if you agree.” “Teachers should earn a higher salary – share if you agree.” Even if you do wholeheartedly agree… you don’t have to share this stranger’s post. It will have no real world effect. McDonalds won’t ban all pickles because some people shared a post on Facebook, and a few retweets isn’t likely to get teachers a pay rise. Signing petitions, contacting politicians, and educating ourselves is what actually matters when it comes to issues we care about.
But we not-so-secretly care that everyone we are online-friends with, knows that we have these strong pineapple-pizza opinions. We also want to be seen to be good people – people with correct opinions, valuable information, and lots of ‘likes’. It begins to feel like if you don’t post something publicly, it didn’t happen. We need everyone to know how good, well-meaning, and intelligent we are. It’s this need for approval and validation that leads to performative activism – posting a black square on an Instagram account but not actually doing any of the real work to learn about the history of racism or how we can be a part of ending it. There’s this fantasy that simply posting the correct thing on social media means we’ve done our job. We’re good people and we can go to sleep at night knowing that we are great, but what we’ve done here is hyped social media up to be something bigger than it actually is.
Things social media can be good for: spreading the word about something, and keeping in touch with friends and family. Things social media can be bad for: our mental health and happiness.
Just Keep Scrolling…
So, in a world of competitive ‘liking’, trolls, and online arguments with strangers, how do you protect yourself and stay sane and happy? It can be very simple. You either put down the phone completely, or keep scrolling on by. See a post you don’t like? Keep scrolling. Have a negative opinion about someone else’s appearance that will literally do nothing other than upset a human in the real world? Keep that negativity to yourself and keep scrolling. Have some unproven medical advice based on no evidence at all (that Facebook status your friend wrote doesn’t count as evidence)? Keep scrolling and don’t spread misinformation.
Don’t like someone’s Instagram pictures? Unfollow them and keep scrolling. They don’t need to know you don’t like them – they’ve managed their life so far without your opinions and they’ll be fine going forward. Don’t agree with a political tweet you see? Are you really going to change a stranger’s mind just by yelling at them in the comments? Or is this going to start a toxic argument that will leave you drained and upset? Unfollow. Easy. I’m all for fighting for what you believe in and debating important issues, but not at the cost of your mental health.
Remove the negativity and toxicity from your feeds. Block trolls as soon as they rear their ugly heads rather than getting sucked in and losing an hour of your life to an online argument with someone whose mind is far too closed to ever be changed. Report posts if they’re dangerous or breaking the rules of the app – they will be taken down. Don’t feel like your every real-life moment needs to be shared – enjoy the real moments with the people around you. Social media doesn’t carry as much weight in life as other important things. When you look back on your life, you’ll remember the love and happiness, and your positive effect on others – not how many followers you had. No-one will be giving that funeral speech to tell everyone how that amazing picture of a cheeseburger you shared on October 8th got over 300 likes.
Perspective is a wonderful thing and definitely necessary to hold onto your sanity whilst scrolling through the many apps on your phone. Take a day off – a week off – even delete the app for a month, and see if your mood improves. Your social media happiness truly begins the day you stop caring about who is following you or how many likes your pictures get, and when you learn to scroll straight past and avoid the negativity.